Ja Morant has the attention of the sports media world for all the wrong reasons. Morant’s friend livestreamed the 23-year-old All-Star Memphis Grizzlies guard brandishing a gun while laughing and listening to music in the passenger seat of a car. Just two months ago, the NBA suspended Morant and pushed him into counseling after he showed off a gun on social media. That came on the heels of a series of accusations that Morant had, among other things, flashed a gun during an alleged assault. Now, he has been suspended indefinitely from the Grizzlies. Morant—the $200 million point guard, the face of the franchise, the person that Daily Memphian columnist Chris Herrington told me is “the most important person to the city since Al Green”—is in danger of throwing his career away.
Yet anyone being pious about Morant’s behavior or arguing that he deserves the maximum sanction is engaging in some All-NBA hypocrisy. I do not defend the use of a gun as a fashion accessory. But I am wondering why Morant is subject to this level of scrutiny while this country’s gun addiction rages out of control. Why aren’t GOP politicians who arm their kids for every Christmas card or sport AR-15 lapel pins where flags used to go compelled to lie on a psychiatrist’s couch? This country’s gun addiction is fostered not by young Black men but by a far right that is drunk with reactionary fever dreams and visions of race war.
Morant deserves the attention, but he doesn’t deserve to be a symbol for this country’s glamorization, fetishization, and even deification of the gun—not in a place where these weapons have more right to exist than school children. Our culture has long been poisoned, and Morant is a product of that culture.
Everyone should read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment to understand that the embrace of the gun didn’t begin with the marketing of the AR-15 or even with the founding of the NRA. It started with westward expansion, when barbarity was justified by vicious racism and the ever-present terror that the oppressed might come looking for payback. When all the dust and debate has cleared, the book makes clear that the roots of the Second Amendment lie in a romantic ode to white vigilantism.
The support for this kind of violence is seen in presidential-wannabe Ron DeSantis’s raising money for Jordan Neely’s killer, which only escalates the probability of more death. And here is a shocker: The NRA has not stepped forward as of this writing to defend Morant’s “right” to bear arms. It would actually be smart politically if they did, but racism trumps a political strategy, especially when their billionaire dark-money backers demand it.
Until we develop the mass political will to truly challenge the valorization of violence by the NRA, the gun manufacturers, and the fascist right, the bloodshed will continue.
So please spare the sanctimony about Morant. He may very well need help. But if he needs professional assistance to wean off his weaponry, then we are going to need a mental health Marshall Plan for the rest of us. For a nation that bans book bags before guns, a collective trip to the couch could not come soon enough.