The NBA has approved 29 social justice messages that players can put on the back of their jerseys in place of their last names when they restart the season. The fact that the NBA brass, mainly comprised of a bunch of old white men, are approving the messages of a bunch of young black men in an attempt to empower the young black men appears both hypocritical and contradictory. Shouldn’t the players have the freedom to put whatever message they want regardless of what Adam Silver approves of?
But of the 29 approved messages, the top choice of the NBA players is, “equality.” On the surface, equality is a word or concept that is easy to get behind, and difficult to refute. Equality feels inclusive, fair, and just. Equality apparently stands for most of what we want for the world.
But what is actually meant by the word “equality”? It is a word that can go two ways, and the diverging and competing understanding of this word can take our country down two dramatically different paths; one of true justice or one of real injustice.
Some people believe that equality means equity which is giving people what they need to produce equal results, and equal outcomes. This idea of equality can never, and should never be achieved. Communist sum it up this way, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
This form of equality means that everyone has the same as everyone else. And achieving this would require a large transfer of wealth which would create significant injustice in our society. Some people would get to enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor while others will not be allowed to enjoy the all the fruits of their own labor. As we know from the evils of slavery, no one has the right to other people’s labor. Therefore, few people will work to produce beyond what they will be allowed to enjoy. Production will fall sharply.
But if people are allowed to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, then unequal outcomes will ensue. Inequality is the natural result of a free society because people have different levels of talent and abilities which produce unequal results. Athletes playing at the highest level of professional sports, like the NBA, should understand this. Every NBA player is in the top 1% of earners in America. They possess a rare and unique ability which is in high demand in a profession that generates billions of dollars of income.
LeBron James and Michael Jordan have hundreds of millions of dollars because they are two of the greatest players in the history of the game. They have generated hundreds of millions of dollars, and have been rewarded for it. Should they have been paid the same amount of money as the 12th player on the roster, the college scout, or the janitor? Of course not, but that’s what equality would give you. Equality would require many of these players to turn over the millions of dollars they have earned. It would require an extreme denial of individual freedom.
Some people argue that it’s not unfair for people get what they earned, but it’s unfair that people start out at different places in life, that some are born into wealth while others born into poverty, some grow up in gated communities while others grow up in the ghetto. That may be true, but what is the answer? LeBron James’ children were born into as good of a situation as you can imagine. They will get all the advantages that money can buy. Is that fair? Probably not. But that’s the luck of the draw. Is it unfair that LeBron James was born with a 6’ 8” body and a 40-inch vertical jump while others are under 6 feet tall with a 30-inch vertical? Is it unfair that Bill Gates has a 160 IQ while the average person has a 110? Yes to both, but we play the cards we are dealt.
What is supposed to be done to remedy the life inequality we are born into? Force every kid to have the same financial situation as everyone else? Force LeBron James’ children to go to failing inner-city schools? Of course not. But we can work to make every life situation more equal, but that would require a crackdown on the gangs and the drug dealers that are terrorizing the inner-cities, holding deadbeat dads who are responsible for the out of wedlock birth crisis accountable, and removing the corruption that is plaguing inner-city schools systems, but these are discussions no one seems to want to have. Most people simply want to just call for equality, or lament about the inequality in society without ever seriously addressing the root causes of this inequality.
Instead of equality, equal rights should be the goal which means equal justice, equal treatment under the law. Equal rights produce an equal playing field in the eyes of the law for all players; a basket is 2 points for both sides, three steps is a travel for all players, etc. Equality, on the other hand, means every game ends in a tie, every player makes the same amount of money. Equal results and equal outcomes require a level of governmental control and intervention which is antithetical to the principle of freedom we hold dear.
Everyone is born into different life situations with different abilities, and the goal for our society is to remove impediments so everyone has a chance at upward mobility, so they can pull themselves out of the dire situations they were born into. This requires more freedom which will allow everyone, regardless of where they started, the full expression of their talents and their effort. And each of our full expression of our abilities may produce unequal results, but will produce the best results according to our abilities and effort which in the end are the fairest and most just results.