Jazz Hope To Shift Narrative In Moving Past Westbrook-Fan Incident
Jazz Owner Gail Miller has "tirelessly tried for years to foster an inclusive environment around her team and her business," but after last week's Russell Westbrook incident, those years of work "have come into question," according to Tony Jones of THE ATHLETIC. The Jazz must now "thwart a long-standing reputation of having a fanbase that doesn’t hesitate to exhibit racism in the face of opposing players." That could be "one of the reasons Utah has rarely been seen as a free agency destination." Miller said, "I felt a personal responsibility to do something. That’s my building and my team. Why should I let someone behave that way in my building?" The "good that came out" of the incident was that Jazz players and others from around the league "all stood by Miller for how swift and decisive her actions were regarding the two fans." On Tuesday, Jazz President Steve Starks had an "emotional meeting" with the team. Since then, the Jazz have been in "extensive contact with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league." Starks contacted the Red Sox and "talked to them about how they handled an incident" with then-Orioles CF Adam Jones about two years ago (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/15). In DC, Ben Golliver wrote considering the "extraordinary pressure and intense judgment from outsiders, Miller’s overall handling of the controversy was impressive." However, it "wasn’t perfect." During her address to Jazz fans, she said, “We are not a racist community.” As "both a billionaire and a white woman, she was not in position to make such an unequivocal declaration." Meanwhile, though the NBA "was right" to fine Westbrook $25,000 for his reaction to the fans, the league and the Thunder "should have gone further to officially condemn violence against women" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/17).
BIGGER PICTURE: In Houston, Jenny Dial Creech wrote the "lack of civility some basketball fans have is out of hand." The NBA "does seem to recognize the problem and tries to take it seriously." Security guards are "on hand, rules are posted all over the place." Still, it is "tough in crowded arenas where fans are sitting on the court, sometimes inches away from players." The Jazz "did the right thing in handing down a lifetime ban to a fan who deserved it" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/17). A SALT LAKE TRIBUNE editorial stated that Westbrook "surfaced a dirty secret: The Jazz’s legendarily tough home crowd has been tolerating, even encouraging, some despicable hate speech from heckling fans." The editorial: "If we don’t want to [be] defined by the worst among us, we need the courage to speak up as Russell Westbrook did and to act as Gail Miller has. Let this be a turning point" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/17). A LAS VEGAS SUN editorial stated the incident "should prompt the sports world to take a hard look at its fan policies, and establish some higher standards for acceptable behavior in the stands" (LASVEGASSUN.com, 3/17).