KRISTINE LEAHY IS POKING THE BEAR

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You might not know who LaVar Ball is, but I think you should. LaVar Ball is a fascinating man who is captivating the sports world with his persistent and often over-the-top promotion of this family and entrepreneurial endeavors. His family is comprised of a wife and three incredibly talented young men, all who play basketball. The eldest, Lonzo, just finished his first and only year at UCLA and is expected to be one of the top picks in this year’s NBA draft. The middle son, LiAngelo, is a UCLA basketball team commit and the youngest, LaMelo, is still perfecting his craft at the high school level. LaVar has strategically built a brand, figuratively and literally, around his basketball playing family. He speaks of his sons’ talents in seemingly hyperbolic ways and provides no holds barred commentary. Beyond the talk, he created the Big Baller Brand, an apparel company, owned exclusively by the Ball family. While BBB started with hats, t-shirts and sweats, LaVar has taken the brand to the next level by making a shoe, Lonzo’s signature shoe, the ZO2. The ZO2 and matching slide ($220), which sells for between $495 and $1195, is sold exclusively on BBB’s website and without any licensing, endorsement or sponsorship from the large brands like Nike or Adidas. It’s a pretty bold step to turn down millions upon millions of dollars in potential endorsement money in an effort to grow one’s personal and ancestral wealth. I hope the Ball family collects big, big checks into infinity for taking such a leap of faith.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a fan of LaVar. Some folks are put off by his direct, voluminous personality and the things he says. One of these people seems to be Kristine Leahy. Kristine is a respected sports reporter and co-host of The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Recently, LaVar had some heated exchanges with Kristine while appearing on the show. The interview, relevant parts which can be heard below, takes a turn towards the controversy the moment Kristine asks LaVar how many shoes BBB has sold. He tells her to stay in her lane, gives her the old-fashioned “talk to the hand,” and calls her a scary, hater. Later in the segment Kristine speaks up again when LaVar throws a jab at Jason Whitlock. Their final interactions come when LaVar essentially tells Kristine not to dish out what she can’t handle.

In response to LaVar’s behavior and comments, Kristine accuses LaVar of having no respect for women, having something against overweight people and threatening her. She shrewdly posits herself as the damsel in distress, someone who’s only innocently and professionally said that she disagrees with LaVar’s branding strategy and doesn’t like the BBB product.

But here’s the thing, Kristine isn’t some innocent bystander just trying to do her job. She’s an instigator. As the video shows, less than two months ago, Kristine pulled the ultimate-get-cussed-out-quick move when she unfoundedly questioned LaVar’s parenting skills and relationship with his children. She, without proof, suggested that his sons were fearful of their father and were actually being forced to play basketball against their will. Instead of applauding that he’s raising three well-behaved talented young men, she tries to paint him as some sort of monster. She poked the bear, but apparently didn’t expect to get bitten.

When LaVar makes it clear that he’s not here for Kristine, rather than acknowledge that he might have a legitimate reason to not care for her, Kristine pulls the “you don’t respect women” card. And that’s really not fair. I write about women in sports not getting their due respect and pay all. The. Time. But this not that. This is Kristine stirring the pot and not wanting anyone to call her out for it. She tries to rally the feminists behind her when really LaVar hasn’t shown that he disrespects women, just that he doesn’t care for her. And why should he? She went on national television and called him a bad, abusive parent.

Her spin artistry is again on full display when she accuses LaVar of discriminating against people who are overweight. LaVar isn’t the first person and won’t be the last who doesn’t like Jason Whitlock and his comments were specifically about Whitlock, another person who has spoken disparagingly about the Ball family, not overweight people in general. Instead of defending Whitlock, she uses a broad, wide brush to paint LaVar as some mean guy who bullies the overweight. But she doesn’t stop there.

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Kristine continues on her paint-LaVar-as-a-bad-guy crusade when she offers unsolicited advice about BBB’s marketing strategy. She all but tells LaVar that BBB is going to fail because it doesn’t appeal to her. She turns her lack of interest in the product and brand name into a blatant statement that the name and apparel don’t appeal to women in general. Let’s be clear, Kristine doesn’t speak for all women. All women don’t find the term “baller” unappealing. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of women and girls who play basketball who find the term flattering. Rather than acknowledging that, she again tries to paint LaVar as someone who doesn’t respect women. In actuality, BBB does have a woman’s line. It might not be one that Kristine appreciates, but it certainly shows that women were taken into consideration when developing the brand.

For the final kicker, Kristine makes a weak attempt at accusing LaVar of threatening her. LaVar didn’t threaten her. What he told her was that if she was going to talk reckless about people, she should expect that people would respond in kind. Don’t poke the bear.

Was LaVar a bit harsh in his delivery? Sure. Does LaVar need some media, public relations training? Probably. But that really doesn’t excuse Kristine’s behavior. As a reporter, she really shouldn’t have a personal vendetta against LaVar that leads her to repeatedly make pretty baseless claims about his character. Kristine’s loosely strung together accusations that paint LaVar as some abusive, sexist bully are not only unprofessional, but they’re personally bothersome. It’s bothersome to me because there’s a long history in this country of white women falsely vilifying and criminalizing black men—of getting a nation of people to believe that men of color are angry and violent. Kristine’s direct and unwarranted attacks on LaVar’s character don’t rise to the level of criminal accusations or a full-on lynching, but she planted seeds that will undoubtedly chisel away at his reputation. She willfully continued the oppressive history and has taken advantage of her position and used it have her name trending at the expense of a black man. She’s now even calling for networks to stop putting him on TV which would have a direct and negative impact on his bottomline. She’s doing so for no other reason than he refused to engage with her in the way she wanted him to. She expected to be able to assassinate his character and have him accept. She is insidiously painting herself as victim when, in fact, she’s poking the bear.

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