TLDR: In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the movement for racial equality that has since received, deservedly so, additional attention, the NBA took a unique approach to social justice. The NBA has since allowed its players additional freedom of expression by means of social justice message featured prominently on their jersey where the athlete's surname would otherwise appear.
Yet some players were less than enthused when they were told to choose from one of 29 pre-approved messages, citing the list being too restrictive or too restrained.
Moreover, I find that comparing the share of messages that some may find are more 'politically-charged' on a team is correlated with the political leanings of the geography the team represents, begging the question,
Are the players really free to express themselves?
I would first like to remind everyone, the views here are my own and not necessarily that of my employer. This can be a bit of a touchy subject, and although I do not believe this is the correct forum to discuss large complex problems such as racism or police reform, I welcome constructive comments and criticisms on the analytical approach I have taken here.
I first became interested in this NBA initiative when I noticed several players were upset by the NBA's pre-approved social justice messages limiting their individualism and ability to use a perhaps more-provocative message for social justice. Certainly, detractors such as FOX News (among others far less friendly) also complained that the so-called 'right-winged' messages were not available on the list.
Regarding the NBA's list, many social justice messages appear very neutral: 'vote,' 'peace,' 'equality,' 'freedom,' among others are concepts that neither liberals nor conservatives could imply mean more to the other's camp than are simply universally accepted. Among the remaining messages, such as 'black lives matter,' or 'I can't breathe,' have - for one reason or another - become sensationalised and incendiary to some.
Nevertheless, the NBA re-started in its Orlando 'bubble' and its players took the court with their social justice messages across their shoulders. And although each player is also an individual, it is important to remember that each player is an employee of a team that represents a city (and often a unique state) which has its own identity. While the city does not employ the player directly, the team ownership is certainly required to appease its local fan base. Therefore, one might expect a team from a Republican-leaning area to avoid the 'incendiary' social justice messages - such as the Dallas Mavericks (from the state who has voted for the Republican presidential candidate since 1980) and the entire team's 'choice' to feature 'equality' on their jerseys.
Similarly, if I plot the team's share of these BLM messages and the county's 2016 Trump vote share, the results are fairly revealing (for obvious reasons, I exclude the Toronto Raptors from this analysis).
There are some exceptions to the rule. For example, the top two teams - the Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat - have 48% of their players with BLM-style messages on their jerseys, yet just 34% of Miami-Dade County voted for Trump in 2016. However, a somewhat-recent poll says only 27% of Miamians would vote for Trump in the upcoming election making it appear more similar to that of Multnomah County, Oregon (home of the Trail Blazers).
I leave all further inferences up to the reader. Please take what you will from the graph or the concept in general.