Silas Walker, Deseret News
Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller addresses fans and conduct in the game after an event involving Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder before the Jazz play the Minnesota Timberwolves at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

“The other teams are not our enemies,” was the message from Gail Miller before the tipoff of Thursday’s Utah Jazz game. Anyone looking for a shining example of positive leadership found it in her two-minute speech, and they ought to take that message beyond the sports arena to the hearts of those rattled by political division.

In a rare public service announcement in front of the Vivint Smart Home Arena crowd, the Jazz owner stood and reprimanded the verbal abuse by a Jazz fan earlier this week and affirmed that contempt has no place in Utah. “Everyone who comes here, visiting teams included, deserves the right and the expectation to be treated with dignity at all times,” she said to the sold-out crowd.

She could have delivered the same message in a memo to the staff, or she could have commissioned new posters to line the walkways of the arena. But choosing to face 18,000 fans and look them in the eye guaranteed the community knew she was serious.

The Miller family deserves recognition for being good stewards of the Jazz for 34 years. The leadership Gail demonstrated this week is an example of why the franchise regularly draws sold-out crowds and has thousands more in the community cheering it on.

And it’s the kind of leadership that should transcend the sports realm. Some in attendance during Thursday night’s PSA may have felt uncomfortable, and some maybe rolled their eyes at another call for civility, but we hope the majority internalized her words, because that would go a long way to bridging America’s political divide.

According to Arthur Brooks, social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, 1 in 6 Americans have stopped talking to a close friend or family member because of politics. What’s at play isn’t just disagreement. “People often say that our problem in America today is incivility or intolerance,” says Brooks. “This is incorrect. Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt,” which he defines as “a noxious brew of anger and disgust.”

Holding someone in contemptuous view, whether it be an NBA star or a coworker, denigrates the other. It sends the signal that he or she doesn’t deserve basic dignity.

13 comments on this story

Disagreement, on the other hand, is fine, even healthy, says both Brooks and Miller. It drives competition, accelerates policy ideas and makes for entertaining basketball. Getting rid of disagreement isn’t the goal. Learning to disagree better and relish human relationships should be.

In sports as in all areas of life, Miller’s message rings true: “Use your energy cheering our team with your honest, sincere enthusiasm, rather than degrading or demeaning players on the opposing team. Nobody wins when respect goes away.”