February 3, 2024
From The Real News Network
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The world of professional sports is particularly guilty of silence and complicity in the face of Israel’s genocide in Gaza. One man, former NBA player Tariq Abdul-Wahad, has distinguished himself as a rare voice speaking out in support of a ceasefire and the rights of Palestinian people. Tariq Abdul-Wahad joins Dave Zirin to discuss his support for Palestine and the responsibilities of his fellow athletes in this moment.

Studio Production: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Dave Zirin:

Welcome to Edge of Sports TV, brought to you by The Real News Network. I’m Dave Zirin. We are going to speak to former NBA player Tariq Abdul-Wahad, who has done what few in the US sports community have done and that’s come out publicly for a ceasefire in Palestine and to free the people of Gaza. Let’s go to him right now.

All right, so Tariq, just from the start, how did you come to publicly support a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Well, Dave, this is a no-brainer. I mean, historically for me it’s a little bit different. Being from France. Growing up, France has always taken a stance to protect the Palestinian people. So we always understood this relationship between the state of Israel and the Palestinians as an occupation situation. Do you understand? In Europe, we don’t see it… It’s closer to us. So we kind of grew up with it, understanding that Palestinians lost the war, but they were still many injustices still going on. So my relationship with this conflict is not the lens with which I’m looking at. It is way more European than it is American. We understand what the situation is. Israel in this case is an occupying force, so we understand that wars are going to happen in the world, but there are still laws and rules and when you start to carpet bomb children and women, I don’t care who Hamas is, I don’t care where they are, what’s wrong is wrong.

Dave Zirin:

Now, did you come to these ideas by growing up in France, by growing up in Europe, or was this a political awakening for you later in life?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Well, it’s a combination of things. I graduated from San Jose State University. And athletes at San Jose State thanks to Dr. Edwards have always been to some extent politically active. So it’s kind of the tradition when Tommy Smith every year comes back to the campus and talk to the student athletes, you don’t miss those speeches. You make sure you attend. And so it’s really a combination of the area where I lived, where I went to school, being an athlete and being politically active was almost the norm. It’s not an exception. It’s kind of what you are expected to do.

Dave Zirin:

Dr. Harry Edwards, of course, a former guest on this show, as was Dr. John Carlos. It’s amazing to hear that historical continuity because people forget that in ’68 they had an internationalist outlook. They were against apartheid in occupation all over the world. It wasn’t just for the United States that they raised their fist. Actually, it’s very heartening to hear you standing in that internationalist tradition.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Well, the Speed city. Yes. That’s the name of the track team back then.

Dave Zirin:

Speed City.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Yeah, Speed City. Yeah. That’s what they used to call San Jose. Speed City, because these guys, not only they were fast on the track, but they were also very fast with their brains. I mean, these are trailblazers. These people are our leaders technically. Every athlete in America should read Dr. Edward’s book, should read the history of Tommy Smith and John Carlos. We should know this. This is part of American sports heritage as much as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, all these people played a role.

Dave Zirin:

Look, you played in the league for years. You know NBA players. You’re standing for a ceasefire. Can you see other players signing on to such a statement? I mean, the horrors are just every day, but we also know that athletes can be fearful or live with some tunnel vision. But do you think we have the chance to break through and get some brave fellow superstars to sign on to something that calls for a ceasefire?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

I sure hope so. I mean, I sure hope so. This is not, listen, this is a no-brainer. This one is obvious. I don’t know what to tell you, Dave. I have children. I have three kids. We’re bordering on insanity at this point. Because first of all, it’s very hard to function as a regular human being on your day to day when you know that America is basically funding this madness. And then you also have to put the things in true perspective, whether you’re an athlete or not, sports are not important in such situations. So if you’re an athlete and you play sports and people listen to what you have to say, the least you can do as a part of the human race is to say something. Is to say something. So yeah, hope and pray that athletes across the board, not just basketball players, not just athletes in the NBA, but athletes across the board, anybody who has a platform, should use it to say something.

Dave Zirin:

And the number one block to them saying something right now, the number one block for their not being a thousand Tariq Abdul-Wahads standing up to make a statement right now, what do you think that block is? Money?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

It’s money. They’re afraid. They’re probably afraid that it’s going to hurt their bottom line.

Dave Zirin:

We can’t live that way though. There’s too much crisis right now.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Well, yeah, you and I, we understand that, but that’s why we still have to be active. We still have to reach out. We have to teach them. A lot of them too though, they don’t really understand what’s going on. They don’t understand the scope and the gravity of the situation, even though I’m sure a lot of them do. But sometimes it takes organizing in the background. It takes courage. It takes a few to step out and then a few more to join. And then if there’s more of a coalition and there’s a group of athletes who can come out and stand, they will definitely stand stronger.

Dave Zirin:

Right. I totally agree with you about that. Without organization, fear will flourish, but organization is a great hedge against fear because people feel a sense of their own power. What’s it been like for you since you spoke out? I mean, you’ve been very active on social media. I mean actually it’s harrowing to go to your page because you’re very, very astute about listing the various horrors that have been taking place. What has that been like for you?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Well, I mean, my page was starting to get some momentum and then I got shadow-banned, I think. So that’s the first thing. So they’re going to limit your reach. But for me, it’s nothing. I’m no one. I’m just another voice. I don’t think I’m more important than the next man or than the next lady or the next child. Just got to say what you see. I’m a retired player, so obviously I don’t feel the same pressure as someone who is playing. I don’t have these economic pressures, but I honestly believe from the bottom of my heart that I am on the right side of history on this one. It’s clear.

Dave Zirin:

Right. I mean, have you heard from people in France… Because it’s been interesting, like you said in France, there is a culture of standing for Palestinian liberation, but there’s also been a crackdown in France on protesters, on people trying to speak out.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Absolutely, they have. But remember the French president… I’m not supporting him in any way, but I’m just saying. He called for a ceasefire weeks ago. So even he realized that this was too much, but France now yields very little power. So France is not the country it used to be. It lost a lot of its influence in Western Africa. It lost a lot of its influence to Russia and China. So it’s not the voice that it used to be on the international stage. And locally, they are fighting against Muslims and minorities. I mean, France is not… Even though Macron home called for a ceasefire before the US even pronounced… Any American politician even pronounced the word. France is still at its core also a racist country. Let’s not get it twisted.

Dave Zirin:

What do you say to say your kids or to somebody you’re mentoring who says to you, “I’ve been told that the United States is the land of the free, the home of the brave, a place where justice reigns.” And yet we’re underwriting this brutal total war on a civilian population. How do we square those two ideas?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Well, that’s the question that this country has been asking itself since its inception. Yes, it’s cool. It’s the land of the free. You and I are free to talk about it. We’re free to discuss it. We are free to debate it, but the strength of freedom is not in the opportunities we have to voice our opinion. It has to go further than this, and this is why the political system in this country is becoming flawed. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. It’s becoming more and more… What’s the word I’m looking for in English?

Dave Zirin:

I think broken.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

It’s become more and more obtuse. Yeah. The choices are less. And so it is a free country in a sense, but we cannot forget that in this country, money rules. Money rules and influence rule. And this is why it’s going to be… I mean, what’s happening right now, it’s actually going to be very interesting because a lot of people who did not participate as much as they should have in the political process in this country are now going to be very active. And I’m going to give you a very simple example. There are a few states that are going to be swing states in this election in the presidential coming up, in which many Muslim Americans and Arab American live. And I guarantee you that Joe Biden is not going to get these votes. I know this for a fact. These votes are gone. So either he can replace the votes or these votes are going to be his undoing. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Dave Zirin:

Yes.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Pennsylvania and Michigan, we’re talking about difference less than 10,000 votes, 20,000 votes in some cases.

Dave Zirin:

Look, you’ve been so generous with your time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you just two more questions if I could. First, I want to give you the chance to put a message out there for all the athletes who want to say something, who want to speak out, but are fearful for a whole host of reasons. What do you have to say to them?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

Grab your courage. I mean, you are extraordinary people. These athletes, you guys and ladies are extraordinary. You are the 0.1%. And if you think that this is wrong, you should speak out whether you’re going to pay the price or not. I’m going to be honest. This is one of those where you might have to sacrifice something, but something must be said. And as exceptional as you are, you only… And I’m talking to these athletes. As exceptional as you are, you are only as exceptional as your moral fiber.

Dave Zirin:

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you go without pointing out to our audience, in case they’re not big international basketball fans, that you were an absolute pioneer in coming here from France and succeeding as you did. France is on the leading edge of the world right now when it comes to basketball. And I’m in DC where we watch Bilal Coulibaly. I mean, I ask you, how has France made this leap to becoming this kind of basketball powerhouse? And do you ever feel this sense of pride that you laid this groundwork for the basketball culture in the country?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

No. It’s cool because you are part of something special, obviously. But it’s also a reminder of history. Let’s not get it twisted. The reason why France has top-notch athletes is because these athletes come from African countries or their parents immigrated, their grandparents immigrated, and they were born in France. The younger guys who were born in France and raised in France and whatnot. But without the African and Caribbean diaspora, French sport would be run-of-the-mill. The reason why it’s exceptional is because of its relationship with Africa and its relationship with the Caribbeans. Relationship, right?

Dave Zirin:

I was going to say, so no colonialism, no basketball success is one of the things you’re saying?

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

It’s a weird statement, but it’s very accurate as well.

Dave Zirin:

Like so many things in our upside down era, weird but true. Tariq Abdul-Wahad, it’s been such a gift to be able to speak to you. Thank you so much for joining us on Edge of Sports TV.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad:

No problem, Dave. Have a good one. Stay safe out there.

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