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Morant suspension sends mixed message in country that worships guns

by Paul Newberry — 

This is not a defense of Ja Morant, whose erratic behavior certainly seems worthy of a lengthy suspension.

Then again, in a country that worships its firearms and shrugs off repeated mass killings as nothing more than the cost of living in America, we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised when a brash young athlete chooses to flash a handgun on social media.

Talk about mixed messages.

Morant will have to sit out at least the first 25 games of the next NBA season for briefly displaying a pistol in a video shared on social media.

Meanwhile, politicians who serve in some of the highest offices in the land have brazenly posed with their assault weapons in front of Christmas trees — while flanked by their weapon-toting children.

It’s worth noting that Morant plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, who reside in the state of Tennessee, which allows its residents to carry firearms openly in public without so much as requiring a permit.

In other words, Morant broke no laws. The police aren’t even bothering to investigate his actions.

But the NBA, understandably, is concerned about the optics of one of its brightest young stars dallying with guns in his down time. The league has firm rules against players — even those with a permit — carrying a firearm at arenas or practice facilities or on team planes.

Morant didn’t break any of those rules, but he’s been roundly condemned for his reckless behavior.

“I hope you’ll give me the chance to prove to you over time I’m a better man than what I’ve been showing you,” Morant said in a statement issued through his representatives, which seemed more focused on keeping his sponsors from dumping him than any real repentance.

His career is clearly at a crossroads.

Morant already served an eight-game suspension for a similar incident in March, when a video showed him flashing a gun in a strip club.

Then, showing he had learned nothing from that lack of judgment despite a PR-crafted apology, Morant did it again last month while sitting in the passenger seat of a car.

That prompted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to bring down the hammer on Morant, issuing a 25-game suspension Friday that includes additional conditions for his reinstatement.

Silver is understandably worried that Morant — one of the league’s most popular and exciting players — could influence other young people to go down a similar path, with potentially deadly consequences.

“Ja Morant’s decision to once again wield a firearm on social media is alarming and disconcerting given his similar conduct in March,” Silver said in a statement. “The potential for other young people to emulate Ja’s conduct is particularly concerning.

“Under these circumstances, we believe a suspension of 25 games is appropriate and makes clear that engaging in reckless and irresponsible behavior with guns will not be tolerated.”

The NBA’s position, while admirable, is hardly in line with how much of America views weaponry in all shapes, sizes and killing power.

Many states, citing the Second Amendment, have scurried to make it easier to purchase and carry guns than it is to get a fishing license. This country is awash in a staggering array of firearms, including assault rifles that are primarily designed to kill large groups of people quickly and efficiently.

Hardly a day goes by that the U.S. is not rocked by another mass shooting.

Already this year, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in a partnership with Northeastern University, 131 people have been victims of such a killing, which is defined as an incident that claims at least four lives not including the shooter. And that’s just a fraction of the people who die in gun-related homicides and suicides.

Despite the carnage, there seems to be little political will for meaningful gun-control measures. In fact, there are plenty of people far more shameless than Morant about showing off their firepower.

When Kid Rock joined the culture-war backlash against Bud Light for teaming up on a sponsorship with transgender influencer and activist Dylan Mulvaney, the rapper videoed himself blasting away at cases of the popular beer with a rapid-fire rifle.

There has been no defense of Morant from gun-rights advocates. We reached out Friday to the National Rifle Association with both a phone call and an email, but did not receive a reply.

If sticking to their usual position, the NRA and other gun groups should be outraged that someone is being punished so severely by their employer simply for showing off their pistol on social media. Then again, Morant is Black.

That other association decided to act firmly and decisively — even if it meant sending convoluted signals.

“For Ja, basketball needs to take a back seat at this time,” Silver said. “Prior to his return to play, he will be required to formulate and fulfill a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior.”

If only America felt as strongly about this issue as the NBA.

(Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org.)

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