James Harden is under fire for wearing a face mask that appeared to show a “Thin Blue Line” American flag, a purported symbol that supports police.
The picture of Harden with a mask that covered his face and neck was shared on the Houston Rockets official Twitter page. The mask appeared to show a stylized version of the American flag with a blue line replacing one of the bars on the flag, commonly used as a show of support for law enforcement officers.
As Politico noted, the flag has a controversial history that critics have connected to white supremacy, saying it arose as a counter to the Black Lives Matter movement. Supporters say the flag is simply meant to support law enforcement, and it gained popularity after a series of high-profile attacks on officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Brooklyn, New York; and Dallas, Texas.
Often, the “Thin Blue Line” flag is associated with an image of a skull, like the one seen on Harden’s mask. This is connected to the Punisher comic book hero, a Marvel character who first appeared in 1974. The Punisher was a vigilante who committed extra-judicial killings and torture, the report noted.
Gerry Conway, who created the character, has since spoken out against it being adopted by members of law enforcement.
“Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol,” Conway told Syfy in an interview last year. “In a way, it’s as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building.”
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) July 17, 2020
The picture of Harden wearing a face covering that appeared to show the flag led to some sharp controversy, though some questioned whether the Rockets star was aware of the symbol’s controversial meaning.
“The ignorance on display here is bananas,” one person commented on the photo. “James Harden and the @HoustonRockets social media team are either unwittingly spreading fascist iconography or willingly doing so.”
Others pushed back, warning those making controversy out of the picture not to rush to judgment or ascribe any views to Harden for the facial covering, which was partially obscured in the photo the team shared.
The controversy over Harden’s apparent police-supporting mask comes as a number of prominent current and former NBA players have called for national reform of law enforcement, joining the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. In its planned return later this month, the NBA has also allowed players to include words or symbols on their jerseys promoting racial and social justice.