A Bad Basketball Dad and Libraries: A Metaphor

General Interest

By: guest blogger Scott Garner

This time around, I have asked my husband, Scott Garner, to write a guest blog in my place. In the interest of full disclosure, Scott is also my editor and writing coach. He’s a former award-winning journalist and his fingerprints are always on my blogs, whether he’s pointed out some news item related to intellectual freedom or just rehabilitated a problematic sentence or paragraph. He’s been the biggest cheerleader for me as a librarian and he’s also a huge cheerleader for intellectual freedom in general. Now, he’s going to spend a few paragraphs being cheerleaders for all of us. – Jessica Garner

Stick with me here, folks. I’m going to start with sports.

I’m writing this blog entry in large part because my wife did not know who LaVar Ball was. If you, reader, also have no idea who Mr. Ball is, congratulate yourself. In my inconsequential opinion, he is an icon for everything wrong with sports. Yet he becomes part of a powerful metaphor for the power of libraries.

There is no denying some of the parallels between libraries and journalism. Both professions deal in information, even when that information is unpopular. Librarians and journalists are each expected to be unbiased curators of the information they hold. And, as the very existence of an intellectual freedom blog shows, there are always those who look for a way around the systems of objectivity designed to protect a free exchange of ideas.

Back to sports.

In this metaphor, LaVar Ball is an unpopular book. He’s a book plenty of people look toward with disdain, wondering how it ever came to be published in the first place. LaVar Ball is the Anarchist’s Cookbook of—and here I ask you to accept this stretch to the credibility of metaphor itself—terrible sports parents.

LaVar BallLaVar Ball was a middling college basketball player, averaging 2.2 more points per game in his one-year college career than I did (spoiler: I didn’t play college basketball). Ball’s greatest contribution to the game was his oldest son, Lonzo Ball. Lonzo was the second pick in last year’s NBA draft and plays guard for the storied Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo’s full time job is to play basketball. LaVar’s full-time job is to serve as a bizarre mix of Don King, PT Barnum, and the worst sports talk radio host you’ve ever heard. Lonzo has brewed up reality-television style drama at every turn, from claiming he could beat Michael Jordan at one-on-one to feuding with the President of the United States on Twitter. He is, in the vernacular, a hot mess (we haven’t time for LaVar’s other sons, who are playing professionally in Lithuania).

He is also very good at what he does. In case you’ve missed the larger point, what LaVar Ball does is stir the pot. Imagine your library received a shipment of books on every red-hot culture war topic, written from every part of the political spectrum. This is how large swaths of the NBA felt when LaVar Ball became part of their product, even peripherally. Sports networks have been eager to give LaVar Ball plenty of time in front of a microphone, where his penchant for saying outrageous things has been good for ratings.

In response, an NBA coach floated the idea of limiting the access of sports outlets who give the out-of-control sports dad air time. Any administrator who has ever heard a threat (however idle) to pull funding from the library over a controversial bit of material in the collection will recognize the threat for what it is: an attempt at blackmail. What this coach was suggesting was something out of an authoritarian regime, and his thoughts on the how to respond to LaVar ball got great traction in sports media.

Ultimately, the NBA stepped in and made sure its coaches knew they could not stop talking to the media just because they didn’t like one loudmouth parent and the things he said. As this story was unfolding months ago, I couldn’t help but think of librarians everywhere rolling their eyes at the latest controversy in their own walls and coming to its defense anyway.

Look, I don’t like Mein Kampf, or the writings of Ann Coulter, or even Crime and Punishment. There is an entire subgenre of science fiction I generally find cringe-y. But I have never felt those books should be banned from the library. Or flagged.

What librarians do to protect the intellectual integrity of libraries is nothing short of heroic, even if the heroism sometimes feels mundane and petty. Through my wife’s work and scholarship, I’ve come to respect the fervor with which libraries have protected us from ourselves. From the Connecticut Four to the reference desk staffer who fields the complaints of a hostile parent who think’s Harry Potter is inviting their child into a life of satanic worship, the men and women of our libraries are protecting our fundamental right to information. Give yourself a hand, librarians: you have continuously defended the First Amendment, even when it wasn’t popular to do so.

You’d probably even give LaVar Ball a library card, although he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would ask for one.


Scott GarnerScott Garner is a recovering journalist, sometimes freelance writer, and full-time alcohol distributor. He’s married to ALA Intellectual Freedom blogger Jessica Garner and serves as her occasional editor and writing consultant. Otherwise, he pursues photography, podcasting, and dabbles in fiction writing. 

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