Ja Morant’s Gun Videos Clash With the NBA’s Message About Gun Safety

One of the NBA’s rising stars, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, was suspended for 25 games on Friday for the second time for carelessly waving a gun around in a social media video, bringing the issue of gun safety to the forefront as the United States struggles with the very American problem of rampant gun violence.

With 12.5 million followers on Twitter and Instagram, Morant, 23, is a diminutive but electric point guard who wears one of the most popular jerseys in the NBA.  However, Morant has used his growing popularity to model behavior that even he has acknowledged was destructive, and this is against a backdrop of regular mass shootings and while he plays in a community that has been plagued with gun violence.

The N.B.A. has spent a lot of time and energy over the years trying to improve its public image by seeming progressive, especially on the taboo subject of gun control.  Many notable coaches and athletes have raised awareness about the dangers of guns, including Stephen Curry and LeBron James.

In January, the defending champion Golden State Warriors participated in a White House roundtable discussion on the topic. Despite the fact that Morant did not appear to violate any of the league’s guns rules with his footage (he did not bring a gun into a locker room, for which two players were suspended in 2010), his recklessness has threatened to undercut the league’s efforts.

“The potential for other young people to emulate Ja’s conduct is particularly concerning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. About a third of the season was taken away from him, he said, to send a message that “engaging in reckless and irresponsible behavior with guns will not be tolerated.”

Ja Morant's Gun Videos Clash With the NBA's Message About Gun Safety

In a statement released on Friday, NBA Players Association executive director Tamika Tremaglio said that Morant had expressed regret and that the punishment was “excessive and inappropriate.” Together with Ja, the couple plans to “explore all options and next steps.” Morant was suspended by the NBA for unsportsmanlike behavior, the organization said.

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After Morant posted a video on Instagram showing him laughing and brandishing a gun in a nightclub near Denver after a game in early March, the NBA suspended him for eight games. Morant expressed regret and explained that he had enrolled into a Florida treatment center to learn how to handle stress more effectively.

On May 13, however, one of Morant’s buddies live-streamed footage of him brandishing a gun while riding in a car. Silver told ESPN he was “shocked” by the Grizzlies’ extended suspension of the player. Brady’s president, Kris Brown, deemed the NBA’s action to punish Morant as “appropriate,” given the organization’s mission to reduce gun violence.

“Firearms may be a tool in some instances, but they can also kill, maim and injure other people if not handled and stored properly,” Brown said.  She added: “Public figures have a responsibility to be held accountable for how they engage on these kinds of life-and-death issues. It’s not a small thing. People could die if they handle firearms in such a cavalier way, and they do every day.”

The below tweet verifies the news:

The NBA partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that advocates for gun control legislation, to air commercials in 2015 featuring prominent players and shooting survivors emphasizing the issue of gun violence.  These commercials were scheduled to broadcast during the league’s most watched games on Christmas Day.

N.B.A. playoff teams last May featured signs at their venues asking fans to petition their political officials to enact “common sense” gun safety legislation in the wake of the shooting deaths of 19 pupils and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The NBA has taken a publicly progressive stance on gun safety, but the words have not matched the actions of some team owners. Prominent Republican politicians have received donations from the likes of Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, New York Knicks owner James Dolan, and the DeVos family, who own the Orlando Magic.

In accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players’ union, guns are not permitted aboard NBA or team aircraft. In 2010, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, both of the Washington Wizards, exchanged threats involving firearms in the locker room, leading to suspensions for both players.

After making light of the issue with gun motions during a game while the event was being investigated, Arenas was suspended for 50 games, 12 more than Crittenton. Arenas told The New York Times last month, “I think it affected — I don’t even want to say legacy — my name.”

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The impact was devastating. I said that then, and the saddest part is that I was accurate about 100 times out of 100. Everyone seems to just remember the one bad thing I ever did. That’s the part that stings the most. Penalties for other gun-related crimes have been significantly less severe.

Ja Morant's Gun Videos Clash With the NBA's Message About Gun Safety

In 2014, Raymond Felton was banned from playing for four games after admitting to a felony charge of gun possession. After pleading guilty to criminal carelessness in 2007, Stephen Jackson was suspended for seven games. He had already shot a gun outside of an Indianapolis strip club a few months prior.

In a statement released on Friday, Union Executive Director Tremaglio called Morant’s sentencing “not fair and consistent with past discipline.” Silver said that in addition to the 25-game ban, Morant must “formulate and fulfill a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior.”

Since the middle of May, the NBA had been looking into the second video, but they held off on publishing their findings until after the NBA Finals were over. On Monday, the Denver Nuggets beat the Miami Heat in five games to win their first NBA title.

The Grizzlies, Morant’s team, were officially eliminated from playoff contention at the end of April. Silver stated that it would be “unfair” to both the Nuggets and the Heat to reveal the Morant results before Game 1 of the NBA Finals on June 1.

The N.B.A. finals are more than just a showdown between the league’s two best teams; they’re also a huge moneymaker for the NBA as a whole. “You don’t want it to be the story that gets talked about during the finals,” Lawrence Parnell, head of George Washington University’s strategic public relations program, said.

He continued, “It’s all about shaping the narrative to be about the players and the game and not about someone who’s not even there.” In sharp contrast, at this year’s U.S. Open in golf, most of the focus has been on the controversial planned merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, which is funded by the Saudi government.

Morant, and the importance of firearms safety, will not be forgotten quickly. Morant’s electrifying talent has made him a regular on highlight shows, and he has guided the Grizzlies to the postseason on three separate occasions. In his upcoming fifth season, Morant will have already been named to two All-Star squads.

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His first signature sneaker from Nike was only launched this spring, a milestone that generally indicates genuine NBA fame. For the time being, it looks that Nike is continuing to support him despite the torrent of criticism that followed the release of the first video.

“We are pleased that Ja is taking accountability and prioritizing his well-being,” Nike said in a statement on Friday. “We will continue to support him on and off the court.” Morant, who issued an apology on Friday, seems to be cognizant of the prominence he enjoys as a public figure.

“To the kids who look up to me, I’m sorry for failing you as a role model,” he said. “I promise I’m going to be better. To all of my sponsors, I’m going to be a better representation of our brands. And to all of my fans, I’m going to make it up to you, I promise.” Morant was introduced as a new endorser for Powerade back in March, but the company has yet to comment on his ban.

In a statement, the Grizzlies expressed their understanding of the NBA’s decision to suspend Morant. “Our standards as a league and team are clear, and we expect that all team personnel will adhere to them,” the team stated. In his letter of contrition, Morant begged for another opportunity, saying, “I’m a better man than I’ve been showing you.” However, it could be challenging.

I think there’s an opportunity to have a positive story come out of this for the league and for Ja Morant,” Parnell said. “But going to counseling and doing a mea culpa is not going to make any difference in his reputation.”

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