A Basket Full Of Missed Messages

By Bill Neri-Amadeo
Updated: September 17, 2008

LANSING, Mich. — As a sports fan, writer and someone who plays sports as much as I can, I have watched Josh Howard for several years now. There is no doubt Howard is a tremendous talent and despite his off the court problems, (And there has been many of them) I have always admired his game.

Sometimes it is difficult to separate the person from the athlete but I feel anyone involved in sports should try and do so.

When Howard declined an invitation to play in the Olympics and start training in 2006, I had mixed emotions. For starters, I could only imagine being a good enough player in any field to be asked to represent your country so when Howard refused, I didn’t quite understand.

Josh said the Olympics would interfere with his summer camps so that excuse was plausible. To make the argument stronger about skipping the Olympics, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban does not like his players playing in the Summer Games because he is worried they may get injured.

I don’t necessarily agree with this philosophy, but it makes sense from an investment standpoint. Then there was the marijuana incident. Howard came out and openly said he and many other NBA players smoke weed.

Not a great idea, Josh.

Whether or not this statement is true, it was the wrong thing to say. Children look up to pro athletes and anyone making the kind of money and obtaining the kind of fame he has gotten should not publicly be endorsing the use of marijuana.

Nevertheless, I still liked Josh Howard….until I saw a 12 second clip on ESPN that will change my opinion of him for life.

ESPN showed a YouTube clip of Josh Howard this summer when he was at a Flag Football game sponsored by Allen Iverson and while “The Star Spangled Banner” was playing in the background before the game.

Howard looks into the camera and says, “The Star Spangled Banner going on in the back. I don’t even celebrate that Shi*. I’m black. Obama and all that shi*, Obama ’08.”

As I’m watching one of my ex-favorite players rant and rave, I just sit back and shake my head. Where is the line drawn between free speech and political correctness? Was this some sort of joke?

Howard the basketball player is a tremendous story. He was an underrated player who earned a first round selection after a stellar career at Wake Forest University. He worked hard ON THE COURT but what he does and says off the court, should that be relevant in our opinion of him?

There’s no question about it, the First Amendment does protect Howard’s right to say what he wants to say and the media has to sit back and wonder, is this how he really feels about America?

It’s hard to draw any other conclusion and unfortunately, there are many people who will want to draw this conclusion. And then there’s the politics of it all. Howard references Obama ’08 as he makes his commentary.

This is actually tragic because you know people will use this when discussing politics. It’s sad that in 2008 someone would vote or not vote for someone strictly because of the color of their skin but many members of the media have made this election into a potential cause of social unrest.

We should realize that no matter which party wins, either a Black man will hold the most powerful seat in our country or a woman will become Vice-President. Isn’t that fact alone enough to show that while this country is not perfect, we have made great strides?

Sadly, when someone like Howard spews off un-Patriotic rhetoric, it sets us all back.

For years, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not the National Anthem should be played during sporting events. Was this a freedom of religion issue? Was this a free exercise issue?

The actions of Howard have trivialized this argument and given racists everywhere unneeded ammunition to point their heinous fingers at unfair and unrighteous traditions.

I don’t personally know Josh Howard, but I do know he was a major reason I ordered the NBA Season Pass which helped contribute to his salary and more importantly, I do know he plays one of the greatest games in the world and gets paid $9,500,000 a year to do so.

Is it really too much to ask him to be quiet and respect the flag during the singing of the National Anthem?

Howard’s rants have a profound effect on all of us and may play a role in the U.S. Presidential Election. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, this is wrong.

I would hope the Republican Party would not use this to their advantage and I know that not every supporter of Senator Obama feels the way Howard does, but with so much at stake for not only sports but our country, is there any way this won’t get twisted?