Bryant Gumbel, the NBA Lockout and David Stern as “Plantation Overseer”

In what was a refreshing and inspiring end to the always-great Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel took David Stern to task for his arrogance, “ego-centric approach” and eagerness “to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men, as if they were his boys.”  You can see the full transcript below.  I applaud Gumbel for speaking truth to power and disrupting the narrative that has demonized players and pushed the blame in their direction. Not surprisingly, his comments have evoked criticism and scorn: Example #1, Example #2, Example #3)

Even less surprising commentators have chastised Gumbel for inserting race into the discussions, as if race wasn’t central to the lockout, the media coverage, and its overall meaning.   Keep up the good work Bryant, keep challenging the sports media, which so often functions as communications director for the NBA and David Stern.  The response to Gumbel, and the ubiquitous efforts to blame the lockout and the labor situation on the players through racialized language (see here for example – h/t @resisting_spec), illustrates the ways in which race and hegemonic ideas of blackness operates in this context.

Full Statement from Gumbel:

If the NBA lockout is going to be resolved anytime soon, it seems likely to be done in spite of David Stern, not because of him. I say that because the NBA’s infamously ego-centric commissioner seems more hell-bent lately on demeaning the players than resolving his league’s labor impasse.

How else to explain Stern’s rants in recent days? To any and everyone who would listen, he has alternately knocked union leader Billy Hunter, said the players were getting inaccurate information, and started sounding Chicken Little claims about what games might be lost, if players didn’t soon see things his way.

Stern’s version of what’s been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed. But his efforts were typical of a commissioner that 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 or the questioning of officials, his moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in place. Some will of course cringe at that characterization, but Stern’s disdain for the players is as palpable and pathetic as his motives are transparent. Yes the NBA’s business model is broken. But to fix it, maybe the league’s commissioner should concern himself most with a solution, and stop being part of the problem.

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