Don’t These Uppity Negroes Ever Get Tired of Being Uppity?

I’ve written on the phenonenon before, most recently, while examining the trite hate-fest that pretends to be media coverage surrounding LeBron James. And frankly, I’ve found myself disagreeing with Bryant Gumbel on a number of salient points throughout these discussions. This time though, Gumbel is on-point. Recently he made these comments, regarding the NBA Lockout and how NBA Commissioner David Stern is handling it:

Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.

His comments have drawn a lot of ire, much of it from black media members. (In full disclosure, I tend to discount white media member’s discomfort when a black person uses a supposed slavery analogy. Call it a personal failing.)  Try though I may, I can’t find what is incorrect about Gumbel’s statement.

It’s accurate, right down to Stern’s approach in handling “his” players. Apparently, invoking slavery–or seeming to invoke slavery–since Gumbel didn’t call the NBA players slaves, is a special case of Godwin’s Law. I get that too, but here’s the thing.  The fact that those who are under control are better paid is no reason to conclude that control is not taking place. (A similar analogy is applicable to the American State and its “freedoms.”) The amount of compensation doesn’t necessarily change the relationship between those under control and those who control them.  (It can however, and I’d be among the first to admit, make the control feel better!)

Sometimes, the plantation is in our minds. One of my idols, Carter G. Woodson, might suggest that this is often the case.  The walls surrounding this mental plantation were on full display during a recent “debate” I watched on ESPN. Asked if the players should start their own league, one of the commenters said “No!” He suggested that they should instead hold out and continue to fight the owners, hoping that they eventually receive–what this commenter thought–was appropriate compensation, or a “better deal” from the owners.

So, they’re not really on a plantation, i.e., they can leave and “do their own thing” whenever they like, but instead of doing that, they should debate with the overseers about how much cornmeal is enough? Damn. I’m forced to quote Woodson again:

When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary. … History shows that it does not matter who is in power … those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.

Count me among those who hopes, desperately, that just this once, rich guys living in a mostly-free society tell their ostensible overseer to go jump in a lake, and use free enterprise to their own advantage. (They probably won’t—but a guy can dream, right?)

…cross-posted at LRC.

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  • Wilt and I have discussed this topic on another forum, but Wilt’s comment, “It’s accurate, right down to Stern’s approach in handling “his” players.”, reminds me of my theory of professional sports organizations. – like the NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, etc.

    The “competition” that people crave is exhibited on the field or court, between players. However, there is no competition, business-wise between teams, per se. All the teams in a particular league, by playing the games are trying to make money as entertainment. The NBA IS the business here, competing with other forms of entertainment, not each team in business competing with each other for the same business. Thus, in THIS sense, the players ARE Stern’s players, as he is the head of the league, or THE business of selling pro basketball.

    • I can’t disagree with that in any way, Steve. In fact, what you seem to be suggesting is that Gumbel’s analogy *is* in fact, apt. The player’s are Stern’s to handle as he sees fit. If they wish to “man-up” their most viable option is to start their own league. However, as you and I already discussed back-channel, the legislative landscape has been set-up for the owners–in all professional sports–to rake in profits without real competition. (And where there is some minor competition, like the ABL was for the WNBA, the “big boys” generally run it out of business.) Irony?

  • “what you seem to be suggesting is that Gumbel’s analogy *is* in fact, apt.” Yes, but not in the sense of African originated slaves in America. In fact, in the NHL, which has only a handful of black players, I would use the analogy the same with regard to professional ice hockey players being Gary Bettman’s (the NHL Commissioner) “players”.

    I may be wrong, but I believe that Gumbel used the “plantation overseer” analogy with regard to black slaves.

    • I think you’re over-reacting to the fact that Gumbel is himself black. Gumbel’s analogy applies to slavery generally, despite their skin color. The quote just happened to draw more ire *because* Gumbel is black. (…a special case of Godwin’s Law!) The analogy is also particularly germane to the NBA *because* Stern does tend to treat the men like boys and because so many of them are young black men. Maybe Bettman, do the same thing, but to some of us, it seems different.

  • Regarding “irony”, I don’t find it ironic at all that established pro sports organizations try to quash competition. However, while players, in a union hold a great deal of negotiating strength, they can simply walk out and create their own competition by forming a new o separate organization. Alas, even though unions seem to be able to keep their members in solidarity in strike situations and negotiations, they would probably NOT be able to get anywhere near a consensus in forming a new league.

    • That’s not the irony of which I speak. Consider the case of the WNBA. The ABL was a league, formed essentially by players, many of whom were part owners, playing in cities that LOVED women’s basketball. The players barn-stormed to generate press and attendance, and almost everyone in the league was paid the same. The WNBA, a league based upon one premise–having something to do in the gyms when the boys aren’t playing–drove them out of business, with a model based upon the NBA collectivist, monopoly, model. I find it ironic now, that the men could, in fact, start their own league, but if they did, it would very much resemble what the ABL used to be! Anyway…

  • OK, I understand your point, wilt. Don’t you think , though, that if the NBA players, who comprise, BTW, the lions share of the top players in the world, would be far more difficult to drive out of business, simply because of the stature of these players, and the quality of play they would provide?

    • Sure…I’d like to think so, Steve, but as you and I both know, corporatism has had a long and successful history in the U.S. For instance, I’m told that one of the NBA owners serves on the Senate’s antitrust committee. The fox is subletting the hen house, and running a numbers game out the back.

      • *sigh* I shoulda known.

  • Don’t discount the immense efforts the owners have put into stroking politicians who bilk the public on their behalf. Taxpayers are the real slaves on the pro sports plantation.

    • …point taken.

    • This is the issue that raises my ire, and which constitutes a fantastic practical argument for limited government absent of all ideology.

      Why are taxpayers building sport stadiums for monopolized capital, most without any ROI. That we can not rely on lawmakers to protect free societies and its concepts is obviously true, even as it bankrupts us. It appears citizens must stop what they are doing, and become re-engaged.

      Like Wilt, I am disappointed in Stern’s stance, although in the bigger picture it is difficult to be sorry for millionaires who voluntarily engage in a rigged closed monopoly and then cry foul too loudly. I contend most of them would ultimately play just as hard for $1 million per year. I am more disgusted with politicians who believe they have anything to say in adjudicating the issue, especially when it comes to using my hard won treasure.