For many players of colour in the NBA, it is not uncommon to have profanity, derogatory comments, and racial slurs directed towards them. On a nightly basis these occurrences are directed towards professional athletes by disrespectful fans, and during an incident on March 11th against the Jazz in Utah, Oklahoma City point guard and superstar Russell Westbrook had enough.
In an altercation near the bench, Westbrook was caught on camera verbally abusing and threatening a fan after receiving comments targeting his race, as a fan identified as Shane Keisel reportedly told Westbrook to “get down on his knees like he used to.” After the incident, Keisel claimed the words were misinterpreted and not intended to be racial remarks. Keisel was later permanently banned from all events at the arena, and Westbrook fined $25,000 by the NBA for threats directed towards Keisel.
All-star forward Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics commented on the incident, claiming: “It happens so often. Most of the time, it just doesn’t get documented.” Also claiming he’s “heard it all”, there is significant support from Irving and other players around the league behind Westbrook’s reaction. Racial slurs are a very serious issue within our society, and although threats and reactions like Westbrook’s cannot be tolerated, the incident should never have happened in the first place. The lack of respect is unwarranted, and goes far and beyond sport in that these ideas and beliefs are still upheld by people in the general world today.
Although these interactions occur often in sport and particularly the NBA, when caught on camera or confronted by the players themselves, the comments are often denied or their racist connotation minimized, and are often twisted or intended as a ‘joke’. This grey area creates a dynamic which can result in these comments being swept under the rug and avoided altogether, contributing to many of the issues behind racism in sport.