By now we have all read, watched and talked about the LeBron James decision and the fallout--ad nauseum. ESPN, who is likely one of the main culprits of the creation of "King James" aired his hour long decision like it was some supplement to the 2008 presidential campaign. They have always been near James, since they started airing his high school games on their network seven years ago. However, I'm not really writing this to talk about ESPN, that will have to wait for another day (that's really a book project).
I'm just as tired of hearing about this as you likely are. So why chime in now? Well most of it is due to what sportswriter J.A. Adande called a "reaction to reaction" (on Twitter), the phrase he used to describe the Reverend Jesse Jackson's comments toward Cavalier's owner, Dan Gilbert. Gilbert's vitriolic, outrageous comments have caused just as much a stir as James' departure from Cleveland. In essence, Jackson likened Gilbert's words to that of a angry slave owner who lost one of his prized bonded men.
As soon as the Rev. Jackson issued his statement there was another storm brewing in the newsrooms, barbershops, churches, bars, homes and just anywhere folk talk about hot button issues of the day. At ESPN for instance, Jackson's rebuttal to Gilbert took center stage on all their programming, which was not surprising. This story got so much play in the media that even political journalists have also weighed in, such as Jonathan Capehart from the Washington Post.
In his op-ed piece, "LeBron James isn't Kunta Kinte" he finds Rev. Jackson's words misguided and over the top to say the least. Capehart used an analogy of his own claiming Jackson's words were like, "blasting an ant with a nuclear weapon in the Associated Press." Capehart seemed to find Gilbert's letter justified in as much as he seems to defend his right to express his anger about the situation however Gilbert chooses:
If the owner of the Cavaliers wants to vent in an online missive that could have been written with collage cut-outs of letters from Sports Illustrated let him.Another well known journalist and blogger, Danielle Belton, creator of "The Black Snob" blog, mentions in "And Now For Some Slave Metaphors from Jesse Jackson On LeBron", some of the good points brought out in Jackson's letter. For instance, Jackson talks about the sacrifice of baseball player, Curt Flood (who played for my beloved St. Louis Cardinals) whose refusal to a trade in 1969 is the sole reason that LeBron, and so many other professional athletes, are able to have lucrative free agent deals--or dare I say it, "freedom."Building on this notion of player "freedom" or at least autonomy, Belton writes:
"While I'm not a LeBron fan, it's pretty obvious that Gilbert's lament and some of the criticism has more to do with shaming pro-players who are exercising their right to get the best job, deal, team possible."Belton goes on to discuss the farce of the "purity" of college sports that I agree with wholeheartedly. If what happened to the Big XII Conference, Big 10, and Pac-10 are any indications, it is definitely all about the money...the best deal that a university can get, it's not about the student athletes. They bring in revenue, but see not a cent of it. They are controlled like prostitutes walking the promenade with the only reward being a "free" education.
On ESPN's Emmy-award winning show, "Pardon the Interruption", this evening co-host Michael Wilbon was in total agreement with the Jackson's analogy and mentioned that he had endorsed it even before hearing it from Jackson, having made the analogy himself with people he had spoken with about the situation.
When talking to several friends, colleagues, and even my father--all used the slave analogy and had not heard Jackson's comments before hand, until I mentioned it to them. So is there something to this? This sample I have taken is in no ways scientific. However, why do so many feel that this is relevant and others find this just another tired example of playing the infamous "race card" in a socio-political game of Texas Hold'em?
My take on this is that I agree somewhat with Rev. Jackson. I think that there is a racial underpinning that you cannot divorce from any discussion about the Black Athlete in this county. During LeBron's decision I thought back to William C. Rhoden's book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete (2007), where he argues that today's black pro-athletes have a similar relationship to their team owners as their bonded forefathers in the peculiar institution of slavery.
Dan Gilbert's response to LeBron reads more like the letter or emotional outburst of a scorned lover, though at the same time, there are aspects of it that have elements of the delicate power dynamic between player and owner, or for Jackson's purposes owner/slave.
As a Laker fan, I'm not really pulled either way by this move, though I applaud the idea of what LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, are attempting to do, no matter how poor the execution was (I'm so glad I did not waste an hour of my life watching that spectacle as so many did). They, like Anna Julia Cooper, are defining when and where they enter--to some extent.
The larger issue is that those who have wielded power in America have often felt betrayed or lashed out when the dispossessed have found ways to thwart control of their labor and operated independently of the captains of industry. Just look at labor history in this nation if you doubt my claim. The formation of labor unions did not come without aggressive backlash from employers. It happened to Curt Flood, Muhammad Ali, and of course Jack Johnson and so many others. In the final analysis, this is simply just a game, right? Or is it?
The NBA is but one of the many tentacles of the free market system. It is entertainment sold to us just like everything else here. I'm not trying to vilify the league, or professional sports, as I am a huge sports fan, but we have to begin to understand the larger implications behind those things that we value.
The significance of race in this republic is not going anywhere, anytime soon--of that we can be sure. While sometimes it can be overstated, we must never allow it to be simply dismissed without some interrogation. Jesse Jackson in his slavery analogy was being his usual self.
Mr. Capehart closes his brief article by saying, "we all know who the real master is." In this tricky game of business, I think Capehart assumes too much. I'm assuming that he doesn't mean "Sho 'Nuff" the Shogun of Harlem.
For me, the master is greed. I just hope for all his efforts, LeBron James doesn't become the sharecropper that Minister Louis Farrakhan characterized him as.
Now can we all talk about something else...that matters?