Should New York Knicks, NBA, Punish Joakim Noah For Skipping Military Dinner?

Off-the-court distractions and the New York Knicks get along about as well as bees and honey, especially when it involves their star players. While future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony has managed to avoid any distractions, new franchise point guard Derrick Rose will be joined by former Chicago Bulls teammate Joakim Noah on the distraction front as both continue their first training camp with the Knicks.

While Rose deals with a case where he was allegedly involved in the gang rape of a woman, Noah is under fire for something not as bad – and something he openly admits to. The New York Knicks hold their training camp at West Point, a military base just West of New York’s Hudson River, and often will have the players interact with the cadets there. Thursday night, the two sides converged for a dinner together where a former colonel spoke.

That all sounds great and all, unless you’re Joakim Noah. Citing feeling uncomfortable at West Point, Noah skipped out on the dinner like a boyfriend realizing his girlfriend’s parents are a bit too prying. When asked the next day about skipping the event, Noah explained his reasoning to ESPN and the media with four simple words: he is anti-war.

“It’s hard for me a little bit. I have a lot of respect for the kids who are out here fighting. But it’s hard for me to understand why we have to go to war, why kids have to kill kids around the world. So I have mixed feelings about being here. I’m very proud of this country. I love America, but I just don’t understand kids killing kids around the world…. At the end of the day, I’m not anti-troops. It’s just not comfortable for me to see kids going out to war and coming back having seen what they’ve seen, having done what they’ve done. It’s sad for me. It’s sad for me because they’re just sent out for things that I don’t really want to get into it to be honest with you. It’s hard for me.”

And the first domino has fallen. Once more and more athletes began kneeling or protesting the national anthem, it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to openly insult the military by skipping out on interactions with them. It’s also worth noting that Noah also has dual citizenship in the United States and France, where his father, Yannick, was a famous tennis star; France has long been joked about as a country who does their best to actively avoid any type of dispute after their near-immediate loss in 1940 to Adolf Hitler’s Reich.

In what was likely a move made by the public relations department, Noah then spoke with members of our military after Friday’s practice.

Right. First off, let’s get this out of the way: it’s alright to be anti-war, especially when your country of origin has been involved in numerous conflicts that have resulted in thousands of deaths. Noah being anti-war is likely something that is a sentiment shared around the NBA, especially with how diverse the league is and with many players coming from countries that have been ravaged in the past. Anti-war does not automatically mean you hate the military, which people seem to be forgetting here.

Here’s the issue, though. When you skip out on a military dinner and then explain your reasoning as not feeling comfortable at West Point and not understanding why kids have to kill kids around the world, that’s where the problems start. By explicitly missing out on a dinner that is helping to honor the people who protect our country and risk their lives to make sure Old Glory can still fly, Noah has essentially come out and insulted the entire armed forces.

Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, the designated spokesman for this controversy, said the following on Friday regarding Noah:

“The U.S. Military Academy at West Point develops leaders of character for the defense of our nation. We are disappointed and feel Mr. Noah’s choice of West Point to make a statement is inappropriate because of the great sacrifice that has originated from this institution over our nation’s history.”

Because this is so much more different than what Colin Kaepernick did with the national anthem, the dominoes of punishment could soon be falling. With how big a role Noah is set to play for the Knicks this year, Phil Jackson and company may be a bit hesitant about suspending him as opposed to punishing a lower role player if the roles were reversed, but the NBA may not be so kind. Maybe the best punishment for Noah, however, is just in the form of education.

Those comparing Noah’s actions to the demonstrations performed by Colin Kaepernick and other football players don’t understand that they’re protesting inequality and the violence that comes from police shootings of people of color. Kaepernick wanted to see a change in the police culture, which is totally understandable and, as many initial haters are now realizing, commendable.

Joakim Noah West Point

Noah is not only protesting the entire military, the same people who are tasked to protect not only this country, but their allies’ countries – including France– during times of need. Remember World War II, when war saved France from being turned into the new Nazi Germany? How about the French Revolution, a war that gave Noah’s ancestors the rights and opportunities that he’d need if he was going to want to make it in the NBA one day?

And in the past eleven months, the United States has been nothing but helpful towards France after the two major terrorist attacks. After July’s truck incident, in fact, the military and the Pentagon announced that the U.S. would be helping to coordinate with France about ISIS, a terrorist group that have been bombing the French for two years.

At least with many of the athletes who protested the national anthem, they could at least admit that not all police officers were bad people – but change needed to occur so the corrupt, racist ones would be shipped out. By skipping out on a military dinner, Noah is associating all of the cadets there as being part of the problem, which is unfair and morally wrong. We’re taught as children not to stereotype entire groups – not all Hispanics who came into the country are illegal, not all black men are great athletes or criminals, not all Jewish people are good with money – but Noah is stereotyping an entire band of people who make sure he still has rights.

The question then becomes not will the NBA suspend or punish Noah, but can they? Would such a thing be acceptable, or would it cause too much controversy? Suspending Noah may be a bit too harsh and having him read a forced apology won’t do much, so maybe the best trick is having Noah do some community outreach with cadets; he can spend some time with them after practice and get to know them, hopefully realizing that not all of those in the military do it because they want to unload a full clip into terrorists.

I’m the first to say that not all soldiers are heroes and there are some who genuinely take advantage of the power they’re given – like with any group – but stereotyping them all is wrong. When you stereotype an entire group, you rob yourself of the opportunity to get to know them and in this case, learn what they’re all about or why they do what they do. I doubt all the cadets at West Point enlisted because they wanted to take part in war; many probably joined because they feel it’s best for them to protect their country and keep their loved ones safe. It’s on Noah to learn and realize that.

With the Knicks finishing their training camp at West Point today, Noah may then need to take some time out of his schedule to spend some time with the cadets, but that’s better than a suspension.

[Featured Image by Roberto Serra/Getty Images]