Orlando Magic’s Political Donation Is ‘Alarming,’ Players’ Union Says

by Pelican Press
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The N.B.A. players’ union criticized the Orlando Magic on Thursday for its $50,000 donation to a super PAC supportive of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who is vying for the party’s presidential nomination for the 2024 election.

“A political contribution from the Orlando Magic is alarming given recent comments and policies of its beneficiary,” the union, the National Basketball Players Association, said in a statement.

The $50,000 check, which was made public this week through financial disclosures, was dated May 19, according to a spokesperson for the Magic, days before DeSantis announced his run. It was the first known instance in which an N.B.A. team directly donated to a group allied with a presidential candidate — or one, like DeSantis, who was widely expected to run for the office. The Magic are owned by the conservative DeVos family.

The team declined to comment on Thursday, and the DeSantis campaign and the super PAC, Never Back Down, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“N.B.A. governors, players and personnel have the right to express their personal political views, including through donations and statements,” the union’s statement continued. “However, if contributions are made on behalf of an entire team, using money earned through the labor of its employees, it is incumbent upon the team governors to consider the diverse values and perspectives of staff and players.”

The donation has placed the league in an uncomfortable spotlight. Several of the league’s initiatives — such as the endorsement of expanding voting rights and the support of expunging some criminal records — are stances DeSantis has opposed as governor. The N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. came out in support of abortion rights, while DeSantis signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

In addition, DeSantis has come under criticism recently for the overhaul to Florida’s African American history standards, which critics have said softens the brutality of slavery. In particular, the standards say that students should be instructed that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

This is a sensitive issue for the N.B.A., in which the vast majority of players are Black.

“So the @OrlandoMagic who have a majority Black roster, a Black head coach, and a Black GM decided it was a good idea to support a man that claims that slavery had personal benefits for the enslaved?” Larry Nance Jr., a player for the New Orleans Pelicans who is on the board of the league’s social justice coalition, said on social media on Wednesday. The Magic’s donation came before Florida unveiled the changes to its African American history standards.

A league spokesman, Mike Bass, said on Wednesday, “Team governors make their own decisions on the political contributions they make and we respect the right of members of the N.B.A. family to express their political views.”

Since Adam Silver took over as N.B.A. commissioner in February 2014, he has mostly welcomed political activism from players — and gone further in some instances, such as pulling the 2017 All-Star Game from North Carolina to protest a state law that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. After a player-led work stoppage during the 2020 playoffs, the N.B.A. created a social justice coalition to address issues that disproportionately affect Black people, like criminal justice reform. But several of the N.B.A.’s owners frequently donate to politicians who are against the reforms the league has backed.

“The Magic’s donation does not represent player support for the recipient,” the union said.

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