Rep. Elijah Cummings has communicated his feelings directly to NBA commissioner David Stern about the presence of a well-known former resident of his West Baltimore district in an infamous DVD.
Now, the U.S. congressman and outgoing chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus would like to make those same feelings known directly to that former resident, Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.Those feelings, specifically, are this: Does Anthony truly understand how bad it is for him to be part of a DVD titled Stop Snitching, which sends such a poisonous message to a community that he could be helping instead?
"Does he get it? I'm not sure," Cummings said yesterday. He fervently hopes he can speak to Anthony in person and convince him - and spur Stern to action that could save lives, while rescuing the NBA's public image and turn its players into examples for their fellow youth.
Cummings is taking on an age-old battle over how much athletes should be considered role models, especially young ones who are not far removed from environments they're being asked to help change. To him, it's a no-brainer: Yes, they should, especially in Anthony's case. And the NBA should back it up by publicly condemning the video and his role in it. He said as much in a letter he sent to Stern on Tuesday night.
"The power of his influence is phenomenal," Cummings said last night on the phone from Washington - where, coincidentally, Anthony was to face the Wizards at MCI Center later in the evening. "That influence can go in a positive direction, or it can go in a negative direction.
"Think of the power of him standing up there and saying that these drugs are harmful and they can kill you," he continued, "[of standing] up on a DVD to say it's wrong to threaten to kill people who cooperate with the police in getting drugs and drug dealers off the streets."
Cummings spoke as more than representative of drug-and-murder-torn West Baltimore and as more than outgoing chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He also is ranking member of a House subcommittee on drug policy, and is largely responsible for the current batch of anti-drug public service announcements. The ad campaign he'd like to see next: Superstar Athletes - The Anti-Drug.
In terms of politicians seeking to use celebrities' fame as a vehicle for their own causes, Cummings has an even stronger base on which to stand than does Sen. John McCain, whose threat of congressional action to rid baseball of steroids, while laudable, is petty in comparison.
And make no mistake, Cummings is not accusing Anthony of a crime; he understands, as everyone else does, that Anthony made a mistake in judgment that technically broke no law. That is the basis of the NBA's decision not to punish Anthony - and Cummings is not demanding Anthony be fined or suspended. League security still plans to review the entire set of DVDs, and officials from the league and the Nuggets, and his agents, have talked long and hard to Anthony about his associations.
That's not enough, Cummings insisted: "Nobody said he did anything criminal. That's not the point."
Anthony, Cummings wrote to Stern, "has a responsibility to these young people who revere his success and look to him as a hero. Mr. Anthony must publicly denounce these DVDs and any activities that intimidate the public and suppress our cooperation with the police in the fight against drugs and drug violence." Stern, he continued, should "formally condemn any association by your players with activities that promote the illegal drug trade."
Comparing it to the swift suspension of the players involved in last month's brawl at the Pistons-Pacers game, Cummings wrote, "This matter of police informant intimidation has far greater consequences that could lead to the loss of innocent lives."
In the bigger picture, an NBA player's involvement, superficial as it is, in such a video dwarfs the recent spate of fan-player conflict that has dominated national news about the league. Outside of Baltimore, though, the issue largely flew under the radar. Cummings is determined to reverse that.
"I'd like for him to take a positive message to the people right there in the streets where they shot that DVD," he said of Anthony. "I want him to be a positive agent for change. We need to use every, every resource we've got. Our young people listen to him.
"But instead, he's put out a message that's totally opposite, that goes as far as to say, it's OK to do drugs and hang out with people who sell drugs and [who] threaten people who cooperate with the police."
As of last night, the NBA had not responded to Cummings or commented publicly on the letter. Cummings not only hopes to hear back from Stern, but also expects it - because the league's image is under fire and because one of his players has a chance to turn a wrong into a right. If the two leaders can help solve each other's problems, Cummings said, then even the DVD itself might have been worth it.
"This," he said, "may be something of a gift in disguise."