Update: See bottom of the post for Representative Garofalo’s apology.
Earlier tonight Minnesota State House of Representatives member Pat Garofalo (R) tweeted out something about the NBA that, well, is kinda racist:
Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime
— Rep. Pat Garofalo (@PatGarofalo) March 9, 2014
Like using the word “thug”, talking about NBA players as criminals, delinquents, drug addicts etc. has long been a coded way of really saying those things about blacks, as 80% of the NBA is black, by far the highest percentage of any major American sport. By tweeting that if basketball players (read: black people) didn’t have a job playing basketball the crime rate would go up, Garofalo is saying that black people—all 41 million of them—are criminals.
The tweet came from an unconfirmed account and is not linked to by any of Garofalo’s official pages, so I reached out to him for a comment and got the following response:
Thanks for the email Kevin. I appreciate the chance to respond. I was talking about the NBA’s high arrest rate and that they are the only major pro league in which testing positive for marijuana is not a substance abuse violation. No intent beyond that. The culture among many pro athletes that they are above the law is the problem, not people pointing that problem out.
Far from claiming he was hacked or blaming the tweet on an intern, Garofalo (who has an, uh, interesting relationship with the NBA) owned the tweet and defended it, explaining that it wasn’t about black players but the “NBA’s high arrest rate” and the culture that pro athletes are “above the law”. Unfortunately for him, Representative Garofalo’s arguments don’t hold any water.
Argument 1: The NBA is the only major pro league in which testing positive for marijuana is not a substance abuse violation.
The terminology here is a bit off, as the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining agreement only ever uses the phrase “substance abuse” to refer to the substance abuse awareness program, but it is absolutely not true that testing positive for marijuana is not a violation. On the collective bargaining agreement’s three-page list of prohibited substances, “Marijuana and its By-Products” is the second thing listed, even before steroids.
Secondly, Article XXXIII, Section 8, Part C of the collective bargaining agreement clearly specifies the penalties for testing positive for marijuana:
- On the first offense, the player must enter league’s Marijuana Program
- On the second offense, the player is fined $25,000
- On the third offense, the player is suspended 5 games
- On the fourth—and every subsequent—offense, the player is suspended for 5 games longer than their longest previous marijuana suspension. So on the fourth offense it is 10 games, fifth offense it is 15 games etc.
I’m not familiar with the collective bargaining agreements of other pro sports leagues, but it is categorically untrue that testing positive for marijuana in the NBA is not a violation.
And this discussion isn’t even touching upon whether testing positive for marijuana—a drug that two states have now legalized and twenty allow for medical use—in the NBA should be a violation. (Hint: It shouldn’t)
Argument 2: The NBA has a high arrest rate and many athletes think they are above the law.
This claim is a bit harder to analyze as what constitutes a “high” arrest rate is in the eye of the beholder, but Representative Garofalo is still probably wrong.
In 2010 the national arrest rate was 4.2% according to the FBI. A San Diego Union-Tribune study found that 5.1% of NBA athletes were arrestd that year, 2.1% of MLB athletes and 2% of NFL athletes. So the NBA’s arrest rate was slightly higher than the national average (if five fewer players had been arrested it would’ve been the same as the national average), and baseball and football’s arrest rates were half the national average.
Howabout more recently? In 2012, the national arrest rate was 3.8%. According to the NBA Crime Library five players were arrested in 2012; according to Arrest Nation it was six. Depending upon which source you prefer, that’s either a 1.1% or 1.3% arrest rate. Even if these numbers are off by a factor of three (they aren’t), the NBA’s 2012 arrest rate would still be equal to or below the national average.
Whether or not pro athletes think they are above the law is a subjective claim that is near impossible to measure, but suggesting that the NBA has a high arrest rate is misleading at best, downright wrong at worst.
I responded to Representative Garofalo’s original e-mail to ask about these inaccuracies, but have yet to hear a response back.
Update (11:11 PM ET): Representative Garofalo has issued a statement to Minneapolis’ local ABC affiliate KSTP that his tweet was referencing how NBA players aren’t suspended until their third marijuana violation. Considering that neither his initial tweet nor initial statement to me mentioned this, and that the KSTP story was updated with his comment at 10:43 ET—40 minutes after I was the one that told him how marijuana offenses work in the NBA—it’s a pretty weak defense.
Update (12:47 PM ET, March 10): I just received this statement from Susan Closmore, the communications director of the Minnesota House Republicans Caucus.
St. Paul- Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) gave the following statement in response to his comments Sunday evening.
“In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to re-learn one of life’s lessons: whenever any of us are offering opinions, it is best to refer to people as individuals as opposed to groups. Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized. The NBA has many examples of players and owners who are role models for our communities and for our country. Those individuals did not deserve that criticism and I apologize. In addition, it’s been brought to my attention that I was mistaken and the NBA policy on drug enforcement is stronger than I previously believed. Again, I offer my sincere apologies for my comments,” stated Rep. Garofalo.