ESPN host Stephen A. Smith compared the recent suspension of Kyrie Irving by the Nets to the death of George Floyd in 2020. The team suspended Irving on Nov. 4 for not apologizing for tweeting a link to "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America," a film that promotes ideas aligned with Black Hebrew Israelites.
Friday, Smith made the bizarre comparison by arguing that the NBA should rarely suspend black athletes. He accused the Nets, and society, of figuratively putting their knees on Irving's neck.
According to Stephen A:
You are emasculating this man. And when you emasculate a black man, I'm going to say something about that. It is uncalled for. It is unnecessary. Black folks, we don't get enough credit for this; we forgive people all the time. How many things have been accorded against us? How many things have been spoken about us inaccurately? How many times throughout history have we been demonized? And marginalized? And insulted? We've shown forgiveness; we've shown compassion.
We got riots that took place in the streets a couple of years ago. And I told everyone back then; I said 'when George Floyd had that knee on his neck, what people didn't get,' outside of the black community, is that black folks were going off because we were saying from a figurative perspective, from a metaphorical perspective, we always feel like we got a knee on our neck. And that's where the frustration and the fulminant of vitriol and hostility and, dare I say; violence came shining through.
So here we are again. Now, this doesn't have anything to do with that in a literal perspective, but this is somebody or a bunch of people out there trying to put their knee and keep their knee on Kyrie's neck. Kyrie does not deserve that. He made a mistake. He made a mistake; he had to apologize for it. He's been embarrassed because of it. He's cost himself money because of it. He's been suspended because of it."
Stephen A. Smith's hyperbolic language weakens point.
Kyrie Irving's punishment outstrips his (thought) crime. Irving merely directed followers to Amazon, the nation-leading retail company that continues to profit from the film.
However, Smith weakened his argument when he likened the situation to a "knee on the neck." The public interprets the phrase as a metaphor for death. And Irving's career is not over. On Friday, ESPN reported growing optimism around the NBA that he'd return to the team shortly.
What does George Floyd have to do with undoing a suspension related to a basketball player and anti-Semitism, anyway?
Stephen A. argues for increased sensitivity around punishments for black Americans. He calls punishing black players "emasculating." He states black people have forgiven others, and thus Irving should be forgiven here.
The peculiar rant raises another question: what would Smith say if a white player shared a link to a supposedly hateful film? Would a suspension of a white star be a form of "emasculation" as well?
Last year, Stephen A. called for the NFL to suspend Aaron Rodgers, a white quarterback, for spreading what the pundit considers "Covid misinformation."
Imposing punishments based on skin color is a racist policy.
In short, Stephen A. Smith demands leagues punish white players for their purportedly controversial speech but give a pass to black players who do the same.
Here at OutKick, we oppose leagues punishing white, black, Asian, Hispanic or any athletes of any race for their opinions. Smith sees it differently.
And therein lies the issue with pundits latching onto a brand almost entirely reliant on racial hysteria, as Stephen A. has over the recent months.
Smith often injects race into topics where it does not fit. He frequently goes down rabbit holes in which he can not escape. Here, Smith set out to make the case the NBA should give Kyrie Irving a pass on the basis of race. But he struggled to close his argument and thereby resorted to George Floyd for emphasis.
That is how a conversation about the NBA's handling of Kyrie Irving landed on "knees on the neck."