Russell Westbrook’s Altercation Is A Reminder To Stop Giving Bigots Attention

In an otherwise forgettable Monday Night Football game in the Chip Kelly 49ers era, Kevin Harlan saw an opportunity to make a moment and took it. A streaker had ran on the field, and Harlan called the action on the field like Kelly had called the play.

Harlan was on the radio broadcast. ESPN instead showed players and coaches standing around. Harlan later apologized for his actions.

Personally, I thought the broadcast was funny. But, I understand why ESPN and other outlets make a point to avoid giving streakers and those who otherwise interrupt the game. Everyone’s looking for their fifteen minutes of fame – that’s not the time.

So I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see an interview of Shane Keisel. Keisel was the fan in Utah who yelled to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, “get down on your knees like you’re used to!” He achieved his goal – get under Westbrook’s skin so much that he elicited a response. Afterwards, Keisel got his fifteen minutes – and more.

Westbrook is a fiery competitor, but contrary to popular belief, he’s not going into the stands and looking for people to argue with. Russ has played in front of sold-out arenas since high school and ended 99.9% of these encounters just fine.

We didn’t know, however, anything at all about Keisel. He should have been treated like the game disruption he was, ignored by the broadcast and removed from the crowd. Instead, KSL-TV decided to get his side of the story. Gotta hear both sides, I guess.

That’s where we are in this era of “fair and balanced” coverage. We treated Westbrook and Keisel as equals. Instead, we should have treated Keisel like a streaker. He disrupted the game by saying something so incendiary it caused a player to respond. His reward was going viral.

His motivations were unclear on the surface (although his tweets can point you in a direction), but it’s certain Keisel reveled in his short-lived relevancy. His interview was broadcast nationwide the next day. His ridiculous lawsuit against Westbrook was publicized. Russell was admonished for “threatening” the fan, when in reality he didn’t even keep Keisel’s same energy. He just responded.

People who criticize Westbrook’s reaction are missing the point. Keisel should have never spoken to Russ in such a way. There should be no space for homophobic and racist comments at sporting events or anywhere else for that matter, but homophobia and racism are woven into the tapestry of this country.

As long as that’s true, society will hold up Keisel (the aggressor) and Westbrook (the victim of aggression) as equal. We don’t give our victims an opportunity to speak out if they are Black, or women, children or differently-abled. Instead of asking “Was Westbrook right to respond?” or “Why do fans think they can say anything just because they bought a ticket?”, we should be asking why the NBA and its member clubs don’t have the safety of their players tantamount to fan’s entertainment. Safety includes protection from both physical and verbal abuse.

Rather, Westbrook’s integrity was questioned, similarly to how we regularly question a victim’s integrity after a transgression. Especially when the victim is a minority.

I’d surmise that nothing Keisel said at any point during the game was a new and original thought. He walked in the arena predisposed to yell all the things he yells at the TV during a national Thunder broadcast to Westbrook himself. This was a premeditated act in theory, if not completely in action.

Now while he’ll never enter the Vivint Smart Home Arena after being banned, he’ll always have a highlight tape of sorts. I envision Keisel telling this story the same way I talk about breaking the high-jump record in junior high – wistfully, with fond memory. “Look at the day I got Russell Westbrook fined! See how mad he got!”

Jazz owner Gail Miller’s address to the fans reiterated Utah’s “zero-tolerance” policy, but it’s not up the team to solve racism or homophobia, even though there have been more incidents in Salt Lake City than in other places.

We could, however, stop giving an audience to racist and homophobic statements and the people who make them. They don’t deserve their fifteen minutes.

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