RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And a lot of people were surprised to see pro basketball players in ads about gun violence over this holiday week. Commentator Frank Deford was not.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: It's an incident largely forgotten, but in 1964, the NBA - then a struggling fourth-string major league - finally got its All-Star Game on prime-time TV. But the players refused to leave the locker room until the owners agreed to negotiate with their union. The All-Stars were prepared to strike on what was essentially the most important night in the league's history and the essence of their own personal future. But they weren't bluffing. At almost the very last minute, yes, the owners caved. The game went on ABC, and the NBA headed into the big time. I was reminded of that the other day when the NBA - players and managers together - dared start a campaign against gun carnage, emphasizing in television spots that guns are involved in the deaths of 88 Americans every day, and thereby effectively lining up against those like the NRA who fight stiffer firearm regulation. I can't recall any other league or player's group taking such an official position on such a controversial national issue. But for whatever reason, basketball players - even all-stars like those making the anti-gun violence TV spots now - have always been more fearless, more willing to stand up and speak out than athletes in other sports, who tend to step more gingerly when principle is the uncomfortable playing field. I wasn't surprised, for example, when it was a former basketball player, Ed O'Bannon, who first put himself on the line in the recent victorious suit against the NCAA, which maintained that college players had a right to be remunerated when the NCAA arbitrarily used their images. True, that was an intramural battle, but for the NBA players and management to go out of their way to insert themselves publicly in a divisive issue that our esteemed U.S. Congress avoids shows coverage and conscience alike. Now, realistically, can athletes change the way people think on issues outside their little realm? Probably not very often. But surveys do show that Americans are in favor of stronger gun regulations. And it is true that it is often a little something that starts a big action. So who knows? Even a bunch of athletes may finally provide that first successful nudge toward greater gun sanity and safety. Would that other leagues and other sports would sign on with their basketball brethren. I'd bet one thing - there are more sports fans in Congress than there are gun fans.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.