Maybe you remember Ken Mauer, the longtime NBA official who was most notable for both looking and acting like the villain in many a playoff game. If you’ve watched enough basketball, it is easy to conjure the image of him enforcing some inflexible interpretation of the rules from under his crispy helmet of hair, and generally conducting himself with the brand of pugnacious micro-tyranny embodied by many effective, malignant referees across many sports. Mauer officiated 35 seasons of NBA basketball, and was regarded as both a real prick—though not to the degree that Joey Crawford was or Scott Foster still is—and a pretty decent referee. I am not a depraved Ray Ratto-type who pays extremely close attention to the comings and goings of various officials, and so was surprised to learn yesterday that Mauer had in fact not been officiating basketball games this season. The delivery method of that knowledge alone made obvious the reason for Mauer’s absence.
Earlier this week, Mauer spoke to Jason Whitlock (lol), who’s now doing a show at the Blaze (lol) called Fearless (lol) and who promised that Mauer would drop “every bit of tea he can” (lol). Mauer went on to reveal himself to hold many of the paranoid grievances typical to well-off sexagenarian white men who have turned their brains into soup through immersion in right-wing media; for example, Mauer gushed about the Canadian trucking jamokes sitting atop a big pile of American dark money and screaming about vaccines; Mauer glowed about how bravely they were fighting for their country. He also said that hopping on a feisty Zoom call about Black Lives Matter, a situation that seemed to befuddle a lugubrious Whitlock, was “one of the worst experiences I’d ever experienced as a professional referee.”
The meat of Mauer’s appearance didn’t concern the degree to which we’re divided or united or whatever Whitlock thinks he’s trying to get at, but rather the reason why Mauer has not been officiating games this season. He has not been officiating games this season, you will probably be unsurprised to learn, because he says he was “forced out of the league” after refusing to comply with the NBA’s vaccine mandate. This sounds like something someone says when they want to make it seem like they were subject to punitive action because they took a stand, if only because the fact that they really just kind of slunk away and resigned when asked to consider the concept of “other people” sounds a lot less impressive. That thin layer of abstraction was too much for Mauer, so he’s now whining to a 3/4s asleep Jason Whitlock instead of trying to fight Chris Paul.
Mauer’s rationale for not getting vaccinated is that it violates his religious beliefs, defined broadly here as “whatever I want.” This line is a variation of the Aaron Rodgers “my body, my choice” defense, though theoretically bolstered by a veneer of faith instead of Rodgers’ simple orneriness. Hilariously, the Blaze’s own website (currently overworking my laptop’s fan in the same way that loading a G/O Media site does) casts a skeptical eye at Mauer’s notion that the vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue. It is almost not worth pointing out that Catholic church leadership endorses the opposite of Mauer’s position, since Mauer is pretty obviously speaking from his position not as a Catholic but as a consumer, and so just wants an unassailable reason for choosing not to surrender a bit of what he sees as personal freedom. Again, one just sounds a lot better than the other.
There is something wildly insidious about the synthesis of personal freedom being defined downward to consumer choice. Mauer is not the first person to try this line of logic (which, again, did not work), though his self-debasement is a worthwhile occasion to bring it up. Let us end by considering the real victims here: the future cops who will now no longer have Mauer to look up to as a role model.