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'It's Absurd': Trump Officials Brush Off NBA Player Strikes Over Police Shooting

A basketball court is empty where the Milwaukee Bucks had been scheduled to play the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Bucks and other NBA teams boycotted their games following the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis.
Kevin C. Cox
Getty Images
A basketball court is empty where the Milwaukee Bucks had been scheduled to play the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Bucks and other NBA teams boycotted their games following the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis.

Updated at 2:45 p.m.

Top White House officials are brushing off the significance of NBA protests this week over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

President Trump also weighed in, lamenting Thursday that the NBA has become "like a political organization," but saying he didn't know much about the protests.

"I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA, frankly, but I don't know too much about the protests," Trump said during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"But I know their ratings have been very bad and that's unfortunate. They've become like a political organization and that's not a good thing. I don't think that's a good thing for sports or for the country."

In interviews Thursday, Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and the president's son-in-law, discounted the player strikes.

"Look, 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," Kushner told CNBC. "So they have that luxury, which is great."

On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks said they would not play against the Orlando Magic in protest over Blake's shooting. The 29-year-old Black man remains hospitalized after he was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha police officer on Sunday, sparking days of protests in Wisconsin. A 17-year-old from Illinois is under arrest after three protesters were shot, two fatally.

The NBA later postponed all three playoff games scheduled for Wednesday. The WNBA and MLB followed suit, postponing games Wednesday night.

"We're tired of the killings and the injustice," Milwaukee Bucks guard George Hill told ESPN on Wednesday. The Bucks quickly put out a statement calling on the Wisconsin Legislature to reconvene.

Lebron James, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, tweeted a message of support for the striking Bucks players. The Lakers did not play a scheduled game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

"F*** THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT," James tweeted.

On Thursday, Kushner told Politico he would reach out to James. "Look, let's both agree on what we want to accomplish and let's come up with a common path to get there," he said.

Kushner pointed to the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill Trump signed into law in 2018, as evidence that the White House has taken tangible action on social justice issues. But the president has frequently decried protests by professional athletes, namely Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice.

"I think with the NBA, there's a lot of activism, and I think that they've put a lot of slogans out," Kushner said on CNBC. "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."

Marc Short, Vice President Pence's chief of staff, was asked on CNN whether his boss might weigh in on the NBA strike.

"I don't know that you're going to see the administration weigh in on that one way or the other," Short said. "In my mind, it's absurd, it's silly."

Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh told reporters Thursday that the president will mention what happened in Wisconsin in his nomination speech Thursday, talking broadly about unrest in American cities such as Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, Portland, Ore., and now Kenosha. Trump and Pence have often portrayed American cities as violent and lawless, deploying those descriptions to bolster their warnings about a Joe Biden presidency.

"We will have law and order on the streets of America," Pence said during his convention speech Wednesday evening. "Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to unsafe streets and violence in America's cities."

Both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, have weighed in with messages of support for the player strikes.

"This moment demands moral leadership," Biden tweeted. "And these players answered by standing up, speaking out, and using their platform for good. Now is not the time for silence."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.