Bridging our divide requires difficult actions. Plus: NBA puts politics aside, but what changed?

By Gary Abernathy

Bridging our divide requires getting outside our bubbles

It’s not easy to get outside of our comfort zones to bridge our political divide. But that has to happen if our country is going to survive. That’s the subject of my latest piece in the Washington Post:

Emerging from our comfortable bubbles isn’t easy. We’re encouraged by many of the most popular personalities on cable news to marginalize, demonize and even hate anyone who disagrees with us. We deliver that hate to the Internet, where social media welcomes us with open arms to share our vitriol with the world — and if we say something cleverly cutting enough, it might get amplified by our favorite cable host. Round and round we go…

…Our stubborn devotion to political tribalism deters us from opening ourselves to different ideas — some of which might actually turn out to be good — or making new acquaintances — some of whom might turn out to be interesting and intellectually stimulating… Those who haven’t tried it should know that it can be fun to make friends with people who disagree with you politically. Not only can you expand your horizons, you can also discover the many nonpolitical things there are to like about each other once you start talking. Americans used to know that, and nourish it, before social media and cable news started driving us apart.

From the left, people say, “I can’t possibly be friends with someone who refuses to accept the reality of the 2020 election, or believes the lies told by Donald Trump, and is basically a racist.” From the right, people insist, “I can’t be civil to someone who believes in socialism, tried to restrict my freedoms over covid-19, supports abortion and wants to do away with my Second Amendment rights.” And with those attitudes firmly entrenched, we don’t budge.

Reaching out doesn’t mean compromising your beliefs. I hold strong opinions, as you will read in this newsletter. But I won’t let that stop me from talking to people, and even befriending people, who are my polar opposites politically.

If ending our political polarization was easy, it would have been done by now. It’s hard. It requires people on all sides doing things they don’t think they should have to do, things they stubbornly, self-righteously and pridefully insist they will never do. The “America Talks” event happening June 12-13 is one place to start.

My Post column is at this link. Subscription may be required.

NBA is back to basketball, but what really changed?

After a lifetime of being an avid fan of the NBA, including advocating for it vociferously during the 1970s when being an NBA fan wasn’t cool with the general public (in part because the league by then was dominated by black players), I ended my allegience last year when the league decided to become a political action committee.

I have long supported the right of players to engage in the civil rights movement, and to support any candidate or cause of their choice. Great players like Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, two of the most politically active athletes ever, are people I have especially admired. Russell’s book, “Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man,” had a big impact in shaping my own attitudes about race. But when today’s players turned the games themselves into political theater, including kneeling during the National Anthem — which they insisted was to protest for racial justice, but had a real world impact of disrespecting everyone who has sacrificed their lives for our freedoms — and trading their names on their uniforms for political slogans, I said goodbye.

This New York Times story today is interesting, because it sums up — in ways it doesn’t necessarily intend to do — what the activism last year was really all about as this season’s playoffs begin:

Black Lives Matter slogans are not painted on the courts or stitched on jerseys. Players no longer lock arms and kneel during the playing of the national anthem… The league’s players, 75 percent of whom are Black, sparked a movement that spread to other sports when they boycotted games to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis. These days, as the 2021 playoffs get off the ground, shootings continue without such stoppages…

…The tinderbox days of the bubble seem like forever ago. This postseason is more about moving forward and sloughing off, however tentatively, the raw pain of the last year. It’s about welcoming new possibilities. It’s about basketball, the pure sport and entertainment of it.

As the story notes, the shootings have continued to happen, but the players and the league are moving forward. What really changed? The man in the White House, of course. Donald Trump is out, Joe Biden is in, so the NBA and its players are ready to get back to basketball. It apparently was always that simple. The Federal Election Commission really should require the NBA to register as a PAC.

But in the spirit of following my own advice and compromising even when I strongly disagree, I might have to start watching some games again. The league doesn’t care about one meaningless viewer like me — especially one outside its coveted demographics — but I’ll feel like I’m doing my part to make an effort. And I’ll probably enjoy some good basketball again, too.

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