Heat use playoff platform to advocate for gun control: ‘We want to be heard’

David Hogg, one of America’s most prominent gun control publication, tweeted out the following on Tuesday in the aftermath of the catastrophe of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas:

“This time will be different.”

Hogg’s words have weight. Now a 22-year-old Harvard University student, Hogg was a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 when a gunman shot 17 people to death. Since that horrible day, he has dedicated his life to finding ways to bring about needed gun reform.

But for those who wonder why “this time will be different,” given these mass shootings keep happening, over and over and over, consider the ceremony that took place Wednesday night at Miami’s FTX Arena before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and Heat.

Following a moment of silence for those who lost their lives at Robb Elementary School, the Heat’s public address announcer, Michael Baiamonte, read this statement: “The Heat urges you to contact your state senators by calling 202-224-3121 to leave a message demanding their support for common-sense gun laws. You can also make change at the ballot box. Visit Heat.com/vote to register, and let your voice be heard this fall.”

The statement wasn’t limited to the sellout crowd at FTX Arena. With the game being televised on ESPN, which carried the pregame ceremony live, it was heard throughout the world.

That the Heat, the Celtics and the NBA would take the time to mourn the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School isn’t unusual in itself. We remember former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz delivering a spirited oration at Fenway Park on a sunny Saturday in 2013 after the second of the two Boston Marathon bombers had been apprehended. In 2001, a mighty first pitch delivered by President George W. Bush before Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium was a riveting moment for a nation still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

What happened Wednesday night was different. This was the Heat, the Celtics and the NBA working together to send out a message that was, dare we say it, political: Get on the phone and ask your United States senators what they are doing about the guns.

Which brings us back to David Hogg. When he posted his tweet Tuesday stating that things are going to be different this time, he was mainly referring to his belief that officials from both sides of the aisle might be ready to find common ground on gun control.

“We’ve got to dig down and figure out how we can just stop debating this over and over, the same talking points, the same gotcha points,” Hogg told me during a phone conversation Wednesday night. “We need to focus on what we can agree on, and I think a place where that might be possible is background checks and things like red-flag laws.”

But Hogg also saw the value — indeed, the importance — of the announcement that was made before Wednesday night’s Heat-Celtics game.

“I think it does signify an important change,” he said. “My philosophy of politics is this: I truly believe the core of political power lies in our culture. And what I mean is when our culture changes, when our music changes faster than our politics, that’s when politicians really start to be like, ‘Oh, man, the whole chessboard is moving.’ And they get worried about their position. And that’s when they start acting. So, yes, those are incredibly impactful moments.”

Many fans believe in the separation of sports and state. Put another way, they see sports as their escape from the real world. It’s naive, of course. It has always been naive. When Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he did so much more than integrate Major League Baseball. He also set a standard that the rest of America might follow. It should never be forgotten that on July 26, 1948, a little more than a year after Robinson played his first game with the Dodgers, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, banning segregation in the Armed Forces.

It’s not uncommon for coaches, managers and athletes to speak out on behalf of various causes or to comment on the things the rest of us are talking about. Before Wednesday’s Game 5 between Miami and Boston, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra began his media availability by talking about the tragedy in Uvalde.

“My wife used to be a junior high teacher,” he said. We’re just devastated by the news. I can’t even imagine what that community and the families are feeling in that kind of scenario, going to school and seeing all the police cars and everything.”

He could have stopped there.

He did not.

“I think there’s certainly, after continued events, there’s a call to action,” he said. “I think everybody is trying to figure out a way to be heard, to force some kind of change from the people that can make change. I just really feel for all the families.

“We don’t have the answers, but we want to be heard, to be able to force change (from) the people that can actually make the change.”

A lot of people are going to ask Spoelstra to please “stick to sports.” People will ask me to please “stick to sports,” too. Baiamonte, the Heat PA announcer who read the statement before Game 5, got some flak on Twitter. As though it was a rogue activity he dreamed up while driving to the arena late Wednesday afternoon.

Question: Who, exactly, gets to talk about these issues? Well, the Heat decided to speak as an organization. And Heat owner Micky Arison is on the NBA Social Justice Committee. Here’s a fellow who has opted not to “stick to sports.”

David Hogg spoke of politicians reacting to changes in our culture. And the NBA is as much a part of our culture as anything.

Maybe this time will be different.

(Photo of the FTX Arena JumboTron: David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)

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