I’m not interested in whether or not Pat Garofalo is a racist. That’s the sort of argument people bring up to distract from an actual event by enticing us to speculate on something that’s impossible to prove. Maybe Garofalo is a swell guy who did a foolish thing, though that seems unlikely. What’s indisputable is that Garofalo, a member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives, tweeted out the following on Sunday evening:
Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime
— Rep. Pat Garofalo (@PatGarofalo) March 9, 2014
You only need to know that Garofalo is white and about 80 percent of the NBA is black to understand what he meant. He was being an unimaginatively grumpy sports fan and at least a little bit racist. (For the pedants: acting in a racist manner is different from being a racist, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.) This might speak to some very stupid fears he tries to keep under wraps, but it is, at best, a needlessly mean thing to say.
It’s completely false, too. The NBA is as healthy as it has ever been in terms of the size of its fanbase — its next TV deal is going to be staggeringly lucrative — so I have no idea what Garofalo is talking about when it comes to the whole “folding” thing. And, as has been delineated by Kevin Draper at the Diss and Kyle Wagner at Deadspin, NBA players actually commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population. The NBA crime rate is especially low when you take into account that it’s a league of men in their 20s and 30s. Garofalo, when he was initially standing behind the spirit of his tweet on Sunday night — he has since walked his sentiments back with a textbook “sorry to those who might have been offended” non-apology — also tried to argue that the NBA doesn’t penalize players for marijuana use, which isn’t true either.
So the Minnesota lawmaker was wrong about a staggering amount of things in a 24-hour period, and now he’s publicly half-sorry, and… whatever, he’ll remain the person he is because he has no real reason to change. It sucks that Minnesotans have a guy like him in their government, but then thoughtless half-wittery and fierce parochialism isn’t something that’s uncommon to politicians.
Perhaps the only instructive thing that can be gleaned from Garofalo’s thinly veiled contempt for a league of mostly black players is that the NBA, which occasionally becomes troublingly preoccupied with selling itself to a broader — i.e. white — audience, shouldn’t worry so much about about the color of its labor force’s skin. Its overwhelming blackness is not anything like a problem. Anyone with a shred of intelligence knows the league is made up primarily of upstanding citizens: some nice people, some jerks, some goofballs, a small handful of criminals — same as any other workplace, really.
Paranoid, blinkered white people — occasionally ones in the public eye — are always going to mischaracterize the NBA regardless of how it’s presented to them. One of the wonderful things about the NBA is its athletes are the most expressive of any major sport. There are plenty of self-conscious personal brand guardians, but there are also mercurial cranks like Rajon Rondo and laid back straight-talkers like Paul Pierce. The NBA has a great deal of personality, and the league should encourage that, because it will never win over the Pat Garofalos of the world, no matter how much it tries to sanitize its product. A minimum of open-mindedness is required if you’re white and follow the NBA, and that’s a good thing. It keeps some of the idiots away.