Sports rarely should be a flashpoint for political debate. They are games, after all, and rarely go beyond exemplifying such. Rarely do they mean anything more than who wins and loses. Whatever lessons we want to take from games are our own.
Sports though are front and center and a way for many people to make points one way or the other. It can be a moment of triumph or a moment of shame — just look at the history of the Olympics. The notoriety associated with sports can become a tool for political statements… for better or for worse. Hopefully something constructive can come out when these intersections occur.
And so a debate that has nothing to do with wins and losses and has nothing to do with the Orlando Magic may now embroil the franchise in one of the nation’s biggest current debates.
Former Republican Presidential long shot candidate Fred Karger called for a boycott of Amway and all properties the DeVos family owns, including the Orlando Magic. This comes after Rich DeVos’ son, Doug DeVos, donated $500,000 in support of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that opposes gay marriage in 2009. This donation was the largest donation the organization known as NOM has ever received. Karger is a Republican who is now a gay-rights activist for Rights Equal Rights. Karger launched the boycott of Amway and all DeVos-owned properties, including the Orlando Magic, on August 2.
The letter to DeVos specifically denounces NOM and its aggressive efforts to campaign against gay marriage in several states, including California. The letter notes that it has settled other boycotts when the offending organization matches its contributions to LGBT groups.
It does not appear Amway and the DeVos family will be quick to succumb to the boycott or settle so quickly.
In a statement released by Amway, the company says the company’s president has the right to do with what he wants to with his personal money. Amway offered no endorsement or rejection of DeVos’ position, seemingly supporting the rights of its president (and others) to contribute to the causes they choose. UPDATE: The Magic directed Orlando Magic Daily to this statement from Amway, printed below:
“As private citizens, the DeVos family supports causes and organizations that advocate for policies aligned to their personal beliefs. Both families believe one of the highest callings of any individual is to express their own personal beliefs as a participant in the democratic process.
“In this instance, a private gift from the personal foundation of Amway’s president — The Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation — was made to the National Organization for Marriage in 2009.
“Amway, a global corporation with more than $10 billion in sales and operating in more than 80 countries and territories, supports policies that create favorable conditions for global businesses. Our employees and distributors come from all walks of life and represent an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. The Amway opportunity is open to everyone.”
The DeVos family has long been known as a significant contributor to conservative causes and to the Republican party. Back in 2007, Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop wrote DeVos is “the most generous Republican donor among NBA owners.” That may still be true today. DeVos came out publicly against gay marriage in an interview in 2009, believing that marriage is “a sacrament” between a man and a woman.
“[I am] not sure why anyone is surprised by this donation,” former Magic center John Amaechi told Orlando Magic Daily via e-mail Saturday. “It is perfectly in line with the long term perspectives of the family, the GM and others in the inner circle of management at Orlando. Boycotts don’t generally work (they aren’t usually maintained). But its an example of another big company on the wrong side of history, it will be a chapter of shame for all involved.”
Amaechi is notable for becoming the first former player to say he was gay. Amaechi played for the Magic during the 2000 and 2001 seasons and wrote about his experiences as a closeted athlete in the NBA in his New York Times best-selling book, Man in the Middle. Amaechi did not report a sense of anti-gay sentiment while he was with the Magic, although in an excerpt from his book he mentioned trepidations about challenging teammates’ sometimes bigoted views about homosexuality while he was with the Magic. Assuredly, it happened elsewhere too.
He did feel slightled by the Magic however and, specifically, the DeVos family on his departure from Orlando. After averaging 10.5 points per game and starting 53 games in 2000, the Lakers were prepared to offer Amaechi a six-year, $17 million contract. The Magic could not offer much more than his $385,000 salary that year. They promised Amaechi they would take care of him if he signed a one-year deal for considerably less. Amaechi, who repeatedly said he enjoyed Orlando and described leaving Orlando as one of the hardest decisions of his career, did not get taken care of after his play tailed off in 2001.
He ended up signing in Utah, where his career fell somewhat apart as Amaechi suspected anti-gay feelings within the Jazz organization led to his eventual ouster.
The question Magic fans have to ask themselves is similar in many ways to the questions Chick-Fil-A patrons have to ask themselves. Does a contribution from a corporate officer to an organization which may represent a position that is opposed to your personal opinion a reason to boycott the product they market entirely?
The Chick-Fil-A boycott and ire ended more with a thud. Chick-Fil-A supporters, whether supporting COO Dan Cathy’s statement or supporting free speech or recognizing a separation between a company’s corporate officers and its products or whatever, came out much stronger nationally than the planned “kiss-ins” Friday. The effect of the Chick-Fil-A boycott may not be seen for some time. A boycott, after all, is supposed to be long-lasting to make a true impact on the corporate bottom line.
They are tough to maintain, especially with a public that gravitates to something new in an instant.
In the case of Chick-Fil-A, the corporate officer made it clear that it is the company’s position and not just his own. It is not clear where the Magic as an individual property of the DeVos family stand. Maybe that matters to these organizations, maybe it doesn’t.
I will continue to cover the Orlando Magic, because I believe sports can transcend politics and that the Magic have nothing to do whatsoever with this debate. Maybe I am naive. While I fully support gay marriage and do not fully understand why there remains a need for debate on this issue (religious arguments aside… which we really should not get into), I also recognize that individuals are free to make statements and make contributions to organizations that support ideas different from my own.
My hope is that such a public outcry creates an atmosphere for open debate and better understanding. I hope that the Magic organization, the NBA and its players and fans don’t let differences such as these distract us from the beauty that is sport. Yes, it is a business and this is a reality, but it should not affect how we view the games. I also hope that the opinions of the DeVos family do not reflect negatively on the Orlando community and that its support of the Magic is not seen as approval for someone else’s opinions.
For me, sports have always been a conduit to bring people and communities together, not drive them apart.
What effect will this boycott have on the Magic? Probably none. But hopefully it shines a light on an important public issue and fosters positive debate.
As always, I welcome your comments in the comment section below or on Twitter. Please keep it respectful.