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Vivint Smart Home Arena - Deseret News
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Utah Company Not Renewing Jazz Suite After Racial Equality Protests

The arena before being decked out at Vivint Smart Home Arena prior to Saturday's Game 3 of the NBA playoffs against the Houston Rockets. (Courtesy of Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A Utah based company, SME Steel Contractors announced it will not be renewing its licensed suite with the Utah Jazz after the team’s players knelt during the national anthem to draw attention to protests over racial equality. The entire Jazz roster, as well as most players from the NBA, opted to kneel during the national anthem before their games during the league’s restart in Orlando. Now, SME Steel Contractors say they will not be supporting the team until they cease their protests.

In a letter sent to the Jazz owner Gail Miller, the Jazz organization, and also sent to KSL, the company expressed his decision to pull its investment in the team’s luxury suite.

“This letter is sent by the owners and management of SME Steel Contractors, Inc. (“SME). Our company has a long-established record of support for the Utah Jazz,” The letter read. “Indeed, SME has licensed a full suite to all Utah Jazz games since 1992. Over the 28 years that SME has licensed its suite, our company has paid approximately $6 million in ticket/licensing fees for Jazz games alone. SME’s total expenditures at your arena are at least $1 million higher than that figure when food, beverage and other non-Jazz events are considered.” 

The letter, sent by the company, was endorsed by CEO Craig Moyes, Owner Jerry Moyes, President Dieter H. Klohn, and Vice President of Finance Gordon K. Holladay. 

The Jazz had no response to KSL Sports request for comment on the company’s decision not to renew their suite.

SME Contractors Upset Over Equal Rights Protest

The statement sent to KSL mentioned that several SME employees helped fabricate and erect Vivint Arena, and had taken pride in the affiliation the company felt towards the Jazz before the organization voiced its support for the social justice protests.

“Our disappointment and disillusionment with the recent actions of the NBA — including the owners, coaches and players of the Utah Jazz-are almost beyond expression,” The letter read. “We have been stunned to see the entire Jazz team kneeling during the playing of our county’s [sic] national anthem. Like other fans throughout the country, SME was disappointed that the 2019-20 season was disrupted by the COVID pandemic. That disappointment pales, however, to the feelings we experienced when NBA games “restarted” on what appears to be a billboard for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The final evidence of NBA disregard for its fans and customers was the recent wildcat strike engaged in by NBA players-resulting in the frivolous disruption of scheduled playoff games.” 

The NBA emboldened its courts with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in Orlando and has allowed players to wear messages supporting equal rights on the backs of their jerseys.

During the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks attempted to forfeit their game-five matchup with the Orlando Magic after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by police offers in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The Bucks attempted forfeiture led to the league sidelining games over three days before resuming play.

In the letter, SME stated it was frustrated that players knelt during the national, and saw it as a sign of disrespect towards servicemen and women.

“Standing quietly and respectfully during the anthem is not merely an antiquated or courteous tradition, it is a way of honoring the many thousands who have protected this country and its unique freedoms-through their service and sacrifice.” The letter read. “Too [sic] say the least, it is ironic that pampered and exceptionally well-paid athletes cavalierly exercise the freedom bought for them through the courage, and sacrifice of this nation’s servicemen and women by disrespectfully kneeling during the country’s anthem.”

Unhappy with Social Messaging

Similarly, SME Contractors mentioned it was unhappy with the messaging chosen by the players to be displayed on their jerseys during play.

“By the same token, it seems odd and inappropriate for NBA players to adorn their jerseys with names and tributes for felons and politically-divisive slogans from Black Lives Matter, when true heroes like Chris Kyle and Pat Tillman go unnoticed and unremarked.”

The company falsely claimed that players were allowed to adorn their jerseys with names other than their own. Instead, the league allowed its players to choose from 29 different social phrases that could replace their own names during the initial games of the league’s restart. Afterward, the player’s names were added below their jersey numbers.

The league did permit players to write social messages on their shoes, including the names of victims of police violence. Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell wore custom shoes dedicated to Breonna Taylor who was shot and killed by police in her Louisville apartment in March.

Kyle was a United States Navy Seal who was shot and killed by a former Marine at a gun range in 2013. Tillman was a linebacker with the Arizona Cardinals who enlisted in the US Army after the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. Tillman was shot and killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

SME Contractors Not Renewing Suite with Jazz

As a result of the Jazz and the NBA’s protests in favor of racial equality, SME Contractors said in its letter it does not plan to renew its suite purchase with the team for the upcoming season.

“NBA franchises, and players, like all others in this country, certainly have the right to freely express their views,” SME acknowledged in the letter. “They cannot, however, force paying customers, to be subjected to their ostentatious acts of disrespect for our country and its values, without any consequences. Perhaps when the arenas are empty the NBA, its franchises, and its players will rethink their present course of action. Regardless of how other patrons react, please be advised that unless and until the NBA and the Utah Jazz put a stop to all disrespectful actions during the anthem and remove the Black Lives Matter logos from the arena, SME’s suite at the Vivint Smart Home Arena will remain dark and unused. Moreover, SME will not renew its licensing agreement or make any further payment for its suite until the NBA and its franchises again offer sports and entertainment rather than divisive political propaganda.”

Though SME Contractors said the suite “will remain dark and unused”, the Jazz franchise can resell the suite for upcoming events.

Jazz Support On Equal Rights

After the Bucks playoff protest, the Miller family issued a statement supporting the players’ decision to sit out the game in support of equal rights.

“We support and join with the National Basketball Association, its teams, the players and the Utah Jazz in condemning social injustice and violence against Black people,” The statement read. “Our family and organization remain fully committed to and focused on building a country that is equitable, just and safe. We also echo Jacob Blake’s mother’s plea to ‘use our hearts, our love and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other.’”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder routinely joined a committee of coaches dedicated to combating racism within communities that host NBA franchises.

Miller, the longtime owner of the Jazz issued a statement after George Floyd, a Black man was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota. Chauvin was fired from the police force and has been charged with second and third-degree murder in the case.

“Hearts across America, and in Utah, are hurting following events of racism, discrimination and injustice sparked by the recent and senseless death of George Floyd,” Miller’s statement read. “As I stated on the basketball court of Vivint Smart Home Arena last year, ‘We believe in treating all people with courtesy and respect as human beings… no one wins when respect goes away.’ It is my sincerest hope that we will all work together, peacefully and respectfully, to put an end to the mistreatment of any human being. Our homes, neighborhoods, institutions and businesses are enriched and strengthened when we invite, embrace, and celebrate our rich diversity. We must hold ourselves and those around us accountable and to the highest standards of decency. We must approach each other with empathy and kindness as we continue to build collaboration and, more importantly, inclusivity and trust.”

Miller previously issued a statement on racial tolerance after then-Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was verbally harassed by a Jazz fan in the crowd. The fan was banned by the organization and the behavior was later condemned by the team owner.

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