Carmelo Anthony carries an often unfair reputation as the jejune hoop star, the man with a smile almost too soft and a manner too easy.
Yeah, well, let’s give the Knick forward credit where due:
Last April, Carmelo donned a black fedora, marched in the streets of his boyhood city, Baltimore, and spoke against both police and random street violence.
“These are the streets that I walked when I was growing up,” Anthony said at the time. “As you can see, everybody wants justice right now, so we’ve got to be patient and start believing in our system. I know it’s hard to do that right now.”
“The gun should never be an option,” he says, his voiced joined with those of Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Joakim Noah.
Anthony had appeared with other celebrities in an earlier commercial, demanding a plan to control guns.
There is an undeniable powerful undercurrent to these anti-gun violence public service spots, the mothers of children executed in broad daylight, the father of the daughter blown away on a college campus. And it is only somewhat less powerful to listen as a growing number professional athletes (and semiprofessional college athletes) discover their social and cultural voices.
Every commercial consideration, after all, would speak to the prudence of their silence. Yet they extend their hands and touch such electrically volatile issues as gun violence.
This violence feels like an American math problem for which the answer forever contradicts the long row of sorrowful numbers. There were this many killed at a junior college, that many assassinated at that church, that many children shot down at that elementary school: the answer is never to rein in the easy availability of even the most baroque of death-dealing guns.
Twenty years ago, the National Rifle Association and the brotherhood of the gun appeared on the defensive. A Democratic president had the association in his campaign cross hairs. Cities and counties and several states sued the gun companies, hoping to drive them into bankruptcy. A million moms marched on Washington.
Gun writers and ideologues worried aloud that the end was near, that within a generation the gun might become a museum curio.
Yeah, well, whatever.
The N.R.A. is more powerful than ever, its once ceaseless internal wars having long ago subsided. Those politicians who could fashion common sense harnesses for guns most often backpedal.
That said, of the professional sports, the N.B.A. and its players union have high-stepped most quickly into the 21st century. When an N.B.A. owner last year spoke in racist terms, the players bridled and bucked and threatened revolt. And the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, moved quickly and eloquently to exile him.
A few years ago football stars joined in the call for an end to gun violence. The Mets team last season — with pitcher Dillon Gee dissenting — spoke out for the same. This, however, is the first time a professional league and union have co-sponsored an anti-gun violence advertisement, along with Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control group underwritten by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
This October, LeBron James sat at home with his children when his phone brought news that a shooter in Oregon had gunned down eight students and a professor. That slaughter followed on the heels of the shooting death of a 5-month old girl in Cleveland, who was riding in her parents’ car when a bullet pierced the vehicle and her chest.
James felt compelled to speak up. He appeared the next day at practice, running his hand over his head as he spoke insistently to the cameras.
“Obviously, you’re not going to be able to take every gun out, I don’t know how you can do that,” he said. “But if there’s some stipulations behind or some penalties, some big-time penalties or rules or regulations about carrying firearms, legal or illegal, people will second-guess themselves.”
His passion was heartfelt. However, the cultural chasm in this country on this question is such that that you wonder if any of these words will matter.
Perhaps bearing witness is the beginning. Anthony knows this violence. He was born in Brooklyn, in the Red Hook projects. When Anthony was 8 years old, a beloved elementary school principal, Patrick Daly, 48, was shot down as he tried to fetch a wayward child in those same projects.
Soon after, Anthony’s family moved to Baltimore, where Anthony would play in teenage basketball tournaments as armed drug-dealing toughs laid side bets. (Eleven years ago, Anthony stupidly allowed himself to get filmed in a video with, among others, a drug dealer threatening Baltimore residents to stop snitching; Anthony, who was then 20, said he thought he was just fooling around and apologized. He, in any case, gives many appearances of having matured.)
Few could lay better claim than Anthony to understanding, instinctively, the psychological and corporeal toll taken by poverty, despair and gun violence. Last spring, he spoke to this.
“The anger, the resentment, the neglect that our community feels right now, will not change overnight,” Anthony stated in an Instagram message at the time of the protest march. “Continue fighting for what you believe in. But remember it takes no time to destroy something.”
As much time, he might add, as it takes to squeeze a trigger