Two top White House officials on Thursday dismissed the significance of decisions by NBA players to not play games in protest over police violence against Black people following the shooting of Jacob Blake.
The unprecedented decision by pro athletes to sit out games has sought to raise a sense of urgency in addressing issues of police brutality and racial justice. Many players of color have spoken in personal terms in regard to the shootings of Blake and other Black Americans at a time of anguish for many Americans.
Asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” if Pence supports the boycott, Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said, “I don’t know that you’re going to see the administration weigh in on that one way or the other. In my mind, it’s absurd, it’s silly.”
He went on to criticize the NBA for its ties to China, and said he believed the administration shouldn’t speak out on the boycott “one way or the other.”
“If they want to protest, I don’t think we care,” he said.
Short later attempted to clarify his comments in an interview with MSNBC, saying that he was speaking in the context of his belief that the NBA hasn’t adequately criticized China’s authoritarian government despite doing business with the country.
“There is a contrast to the positions that they’ve been taking,” he said.
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, also downplayed the boycott, saying the league needs to turn slogans and signals to “actual action that’s going to solve the problem.”
“I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially,” he said during an interview with CNBC. “So they have that luxury, which is great. Look, I think with the NBA there’s a lot of activism and I think that they have put a lot of slogans out, but I think what we need to do is turn that from slogans and signals to actual action that’s going to solve the problem.”
Kushner told Politico Thursday morning he will reach out to NBA superstar LeBron James, one of the most outspoken players in league about social justice. He said the White House is “happy to talk with him and say, ‘Look, let’s both agree on what we want to accomplish and let’s come up with a common path to get there.’ ” CNN has reached out to a James representative for comment.
Blake was shot in the back by police on Sunday as he tried to enter his vehicle in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and according to family attorneys is paralyzed from the waist down. His shooting is the latest incident to spark outrage over racial injustice and police brutality and has reignited feelings of hurt and anger for Black Americans reeling from recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks.
What began as the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision on Wednesday to boycott their playoff game following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the team’s home state cascaded into a wave of similar protests across the American sports scene by Wednesday night. The NBA soon announced it would postpone Game 5 of three different playoff series – Bucks vs. Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers.
Within hours, three WNBA, five Major League Soccer and three Major League Baseball games were called off as athletes acted in solidarity with the Bucks’ players.
During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, Pence condemned the violence in Kenosha and other cities, largely ignoring the concerns people of color have expressed about police violence while he defended law enforcement.
“President Donald Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peaceful protest, but rioting and looting is not peaceful protest, tearing down statues is not free speech. Those who do so will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Pence said at Fort. McHenry in Baltimore. “Let me be clear, the violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedoms to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color.”
Trump himself has said little about Blake’s shooting, instead condemning violence in Kenosha that’s flared following the incident. Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump’s campaign, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that the President plans to address the shooting in his acceptance speech Thursday night for the Republican presidential nomination.
This story has been updated with additional comments and background.
CNN’s Jill Martin, Leah Asmelash, David Close and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.