UPDATE: After the expected outrage from the easily outraged, Waiters hopped on Twitter on Saturday morning to blast “the media” and the writer that “made that up.”
There are several traditions in sports that take place without much thought. One of them is the playing of the national anthem, no matter the country in which the event takes place. It’s an opportunity for pause and reflection before the game begins, a chance for everyone to take stock of everything that allows the coming contest to go on. In theory, that reflection should take a patriotic bent, but it would not be terribly surprising if athletes opted to focus on the task at hand.
Whatever the reason, it’s seen as shocking when an athlete or coach is not present for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at an American sporting event. So when Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters wasn’t on the court for the song at Wednesday’s game vs. the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, people took notice. Waiters has an explanation for his absence, and it involves his religion. From Chris Haynes for the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
Dion Waiters was nowhere to be found when the national anthem was being sung. He was absent when the starting lineups were introduced.
It was the first game of the season that he was coming off the bench. He finally arrived from the locker room to join the Cavaliers’ bench a couple seconds before tip off. Folks started to speculate if he was injured, disgruntled or if this was his way of rebelling? […]
Waiters informed Northeast Ohio Media Group that he is a Muslim and that’s the reason he excused himself prior to the national anthem.
“It’s because of my religion,” Waiters told NEOMG. “That’s why I stayed in the locker room.”
Waiters says he is rededicating himself more to his Muslim faith. He appears to be in a happier state.
The guard, however, did stand with his team during tonight’s national anthem. Maybe he’s selective with it.
Waiters’s decision recalls the actions of Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who refused to stand for the national anthem in March 1996 out of the belief that the American flag was a symbol of oppression and tyranny. Abdul-Rauf was suspended one game before reaching a compromise with the NBA in which he would stand with his team but close his eyes and look downward, during which he often uttered a prayer.
However, Waiters does not appear to have made any argument for his actions beyond being Muslim. That fact itself would not appear to require missing the national anthem — many Muslim NBA players, from Mirza Teletovic to Nazr Mohammed, have observed the anthem with no issues. It also seems odd that he would miss the starting lineup intros, an irreligious activity, for the same reason.
As noted by Haynes, Waiters did show up for the national anthem for Friday’s game at the Denver Nuggets. He also didn’t start, coming off the bench to score 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes (including crunch time) in a 110-101 win.
Also, as is usually the case with Dion Waiters, the story doesn’t end there.
Even though he’s quoted by a professional with absolutely no history of making things up, here are Dion’s tweets:
This is Haynes’ first year on the Cavalier beat, but he has a long history as an NBA scribe and nothing attached to him that smacks of salaciousness, much less outright lies in order to sell a story on a dead Friday night.
Soon after Waiters’ rant, Haynes went straight and to the point when relaying his question, and Dion’s response:
Waiters, unlike Haynes, does not have the best reputation in the NBA, but merely because of his on-court decision-making. As Haynes noted in his initial report, the “selective” nature that led Waiters to skip out on the anthem shortly after being pulled from the starting lineup for the first time all season, and his return to the court on Friday night, has led some to believe that Dion was sulking, rather than celebrating his freedom of speech and protest.
The question is, was Waiters merely sulking in Utah, and using his religion as an excuse later on? It’s a fair one, especially when you note that he seemed to contradict the whole “my religion” aspect of things on Friday night.
And why is he calling Chris Haynes an out and out liar when Haynes has absolutely no reason to act like one on this very public stage?
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter!
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