When the NBA returned to action in the Orlando bubble, nearly all of the players and coaches kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. They also wore Black Lives Matter shirts and drew the ire of a GOP lawmaker. Oklahoma Rep. Sean Roberts responded by releasing a statement and threatened to reexamine the tax benefits that the Oklahoma City Thunder receive from the state.
"By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for," Rep. Roberts said in the statement. "This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA's support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation's police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families." The coaches and players kneeled on Saturday prior to a game against the Utah Jazz. OKC player Chris Paul said that the moment "was special" considering that the team did so in front of the Black Lives Matter text on the court.
"If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday's game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma," Roberts continued. "Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024. Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family."
The act of kneeling in protest of police brutality first drew attention in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did so. He explained that he couldn't "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." He continued to kneel prior to every game during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. This action drew the ire of many political figures and fans alike, including President Donald Trump.
In the years since, more athletes have kneeled during the national anthem across multiple sports. This includes MLB, the NBA, MLS and Formula One. The number of demonstrations also increased after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, prompting protests and demonstrations around the world.
With the majority of major sports returning from a COVID-19-forced postponement, more players are kneeling than ever before. This action has drawn a number of reactions, including praise and critique alike. Now the kneeling has prompted a warning from Roberts, and it's unclear how the NBA team will respond.