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With Barclays as focal point for protest, arena/Nets denounce racial discrimination, pledge progress; will they offer donations, continue worker pay?

Yesterday, after two days in which the Barclays Center served as a focal point for demonstrations in Brooklyn (and before a third day) against police brutality, the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center, Long Island Nets, and New York Liberty issued a joint statement:
Today, we stand up and speak up against all forms of racial discrimination —overt or subconscious— especially against the Black community. 
We want to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
The statement was signed by seven people, but essentially can be attributed to Joe Tsai, who owns all the teams and the arena operating company.

On the one hand, the statement shows the Tsai entities ahead of other sports teams and venues in New York City, which have otherwise been quiet. (Most teams in the NBA have made statements, as has the league, though not the New York Knicks. None seem to have pledged any money yet.)

On the other, given the central role of the Barclays Center as gathering place--and, as I pointed out, the ironies of the arena's boosterish bluster--some response seemed inevitable.

Cautious conclusion: no specific initiatives

It's understandable that such corporate entities would be relatively cautious, calling for both an end to discrimination (and citing not just the death of George Floyd, with a police officer charged with murder, but also others victimized by racism) as well as an effort to find answers in a "peaceful response."

The context: years of high-profile killing of black people--some on camera, and often with little response--has catalyzed a huge response, with the Black Lives Matter movement growing. (About the protests, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote: "What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.")

There's been mostly peaceful, if angry, protest, with numerous, mostly younger people, willing to riskily waive social distancing amid the pandemic. There's been some harsh police response toward even peaceful protestors and the press. But there's also widespread looting and vandalization in New York and nationally, and attacks on police. See Gothamist coverage.

(Behind that: peaceful protestors are joined by disruptors and opportunists; this is a "perfect storm" for young people with nothing to do; "urban disequilibrium," with most people home to protect against the pandemic, enables criminal behavior and shows the city's inadequate tactics toward public safety and protest. And there's nothing helpful from Washington. Though here are thoughts from Barack Obama, president emeritus.)

Still, the Nets/Barclays statement avoided any specific initiatives, as NetsDaily pointed out. (Other coverage, such as from amNY, CBS, the New York Daily News,  and the New York Post, essentially reflected the statement without skepticism.)

Such initiatives can take time. Then again, there are some precedents for financial commitment. As I pointed out on Twitter, after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the Nets, arena, and developer Forest City Ratner each contributed $100,000 to a recovery fund.

In San Francisco,  Jed York, owner of the NFL's 49ers, announced a $1 million donation to “local and national organizations who are creating change," which provoked opposite responses from former team stars Eric Reid and Torrey Smith, as Yahoo reported.

The Nets/Barclays statement also represented a more up-to-the-minute response than the promotional interview 5/27/20 on the YES network, in which Tsai talked about supporting New York during the coronavirus crisis, allowing Barclays to be used as a food distribution center, donating leftover food, and, more broadly, donating a significant amount of ventilators and personal protective equipment. (Here's coverage in NetsDaily and the New York Post.)


What about the continuing to pay workers?

During that YES interview, Tsai began by saying that a business owner had a "duty to take care of your employees. First thing is to make sure they are safe. but also we realized that if there are no games and concerts at Barclays Center, and there are hourly wage workers that are going to be without paychecks, for several months. And we decided to cover them, for a few months."

His tone there was a bit neutral, as if realizing that, while it was an important, civic-minded gesture, it left something big hanging: that the pledge, announced in mid-March during a time of upheaval and uncertainty around the depth of the pandemic, would last only through the end of May, the end of the regular season for the Nets.

Tsai wasn't asked about whether that would be extended, and the team/arena hasn't spoken publicly about it, nor answered questions I've posed.

As of today, the pledge is out of date, and they owe an update. An extension could cost Tsai millions, even as the arena is losing money without any events. And such a commitment might exceed that of other team/arena owner-operators, at least locally. Then again, Tsai's a billionaire, and can afford it.

And if they don't pay the workers, whether it be an expectation that they'd get unemployment insurance or another rationale, they owe a public explanation.

Some comments on yesterday's statement



Others also noticed the ads.

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