My newest piece @NewBlackMan: Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve: The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players

Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve:

The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

Like many sports writers, Bill Simmons has used his columns this week to condemn NBA players, ostensibly blaming them for the cancellation of games. On Friday, he offered the following that put the onus on the players:

Should someone who’s earned over $300 million (including endorsements) and has deferred paychecks coming really be telling guys who have made 1/100th as much as him to fight the fight and stand strong and not care about getting paid? And what are Garnett’s credentials, exactly? During one of the single biggest meetings (last week, on Tuesday), Hunter had Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Garnett (combined years spent in college: three) negotiate directly with Stern in some sort of misguided “Look how resolved we are, you’re not gonna intimidate us!” ploy that backfired so badly that one of their teams’ owners was summoned into the meeting specifically to calm his player down and undo some of the damage. (I’ll let you guess the player. It’s not hard.) And this helped the situation … how? And we thought this was going to work … why?

Congratulations, players — you showed solidarity! You showed you wouldn’t back down! You made things worse, and you wasted a day, but dammit, you didn’t back down! Just make sure you tell that to every team employee who gets fired over these next few weeks, as well as to all the restaurant and bar owners near NBA arenas who are taking a massive financial hit through the holidays. I’m sure they will be proud of you.

Beyond trotting out the “angry black man” trope, which seems to be commonplace within the NBA punditry, and blaming the players for the forthcoming unemployment facing many employees within of the NBA, Simmons hinges his evidence about the incompetence of the players by citing the amount of formal college education of Piece, Bryant and Garnett. In other words, people are losing jobs and fans are losing games because the NBA is at the mercy of its stupid/uneducated black players. And, Simmons wasn’t done here, offering additional clarity about his comments in “Behind the Pipes: Into the Arms of the NHL.” Explaining why he started going to hockey games, Simmons once again returns to the lockout or better said the player caused cancellation of games. In this column (sandwiched in between his general arrogance, dismissive rhetoric, and overly simplistic analysis that presumes sports exists in his theoretical mind and not reality), he writes

Where’s the big-picture leadership here? What’s the right number of franchises? Where should those franchises play? What’s worse, losing three franchises or losing an entire season of basketball? What’s really important here? I don’t trust the players’ side to make the right choices, because they are saddled with limited intellectual capital. (Sorry, it’s true.) The owners’ side can’t say the same; they should be ashamed. Same for the agents. And collectively, they should all be mortified that a 16-hour negotiating session, this late in the game, was cause for any celebration or optimism. In my mind, it was more of a cry for help.

Unusually Simmons offer some blame for the owners. As the intelligent ones, they have an obligation to fix the situation. Although they have the intelligence they allow the players, who lack intelligence, to have input in the situation. To Simmons, this is the source of the NBA’s problem.

The racial paternalism here is as striking as are his efforts to resuscitate the bell curve. What we are left with is an argument that the NBA faces a lockout because those who possess the requisite intelligence, who posses the proper fitness, have failed to control their inferior players. Michael Eric Dyson described such rhetoric as central to the history of American white supremacy: “Skepticism about black intelligence and suspicion about black humanity have gone hand in hand throughout the history of this country in feeding the perception that black people don’t quite measure up.” Writing about black male athletes and processes of representation, Ben Carrington invokes Frantz Fanon, who wrote about the incompatibility of blackness and intelligence within the white imagination. Carrington notes Fanon’s exploration of the ways in which blackness was conceptualized and envisioned through white supremacy:

When Fanon gives his white patients a word association test, it is significant to note how often his respondents mention either sports, or prominent black athletes of the period. Fanon informs us that the word, ‘Negro brought forth biology, penis, strong, athletic, potent, boxer, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Senegalese troops, savage, animal, devil, sin’. For Fanon, the black male was the repository of white fears, fantasies and desires, and of all of these constructions, there was one figure above all others that held a central place within the colonial imaginary: ‘There is one expression that through time has become singularly eroticized: the black athlete’.

In reading Simmons, it is clear that the black athlete remains both eroticized and demonized, a repository for white fears, fantasies, and desires, as well as a rhetorical space to articulate white fantasies, desires, and ideas about whiteness. It is no wonder that Simmons recycles the bell curve, explaining the lockout as simply a violation of nature or what happens when the intellectually inferior get to have input in a world where adults should make those important decisions.

Post script:

This is not a question of intent or even individuals, but the ways in which larger narratives and the white racial frame (stereotypes about
intelligence, athleticism) plays out within public discourse.  This is a discussion of the words, the ideology, and the history within them and how
they impact OUR collective discussions.  It is one of stereotypes and the assumptions that are embedded within our language.  It is the ways in which
race and a history of racism imprisons our assumptions and the ways that it impacts our collective imagination.  This is NOT a commentary on Simmons as a person or him at all but the words themselves, which have a larger social context, that carry with them assumptions and history.  Those assumptions, those ideas, and the ideologies guides my discussion and the ways in which those assumptions cloud both the discourse and policy inside and outside of the NBA

via NewBlackMan: Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve: The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players.

5 thoughts on “My newest piece @NewBlackMan: Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve: The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players

  1. The entire pretense for this controversy is laughable. A large percentage of NBA players have little or no business education or experience. They are extraordinarily physically gifted, and most of them know that early and plan to make their living doing that at a young age. This is not a matter of race. Soccer players are signed internationally at the age of 16, then spend the rest of their young adult lives honing those skills. Pop stars like Brittney Spears or the like rise to fame at young ages, then put their effort toward succeeding in their chosen field of employment, and thus do not focus on the art of negotiation or understanding the business world. To contend that someone who has dedicated their life to the world of sport is going to by and large be capable of effectively countering someone who has made their life work by making the kind of calculated decisions one has to make in the cutthroat world of modern business is so farcical as to be largely ignored.

    It’s not a matter of innate intelligence, it’s a matter of intellectual capacity. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you are not trained to do calculus and I am then I am going to be more proficient in working a calculus problem than you. Period. I’m sure there are some very savvy business minds in the NBA, but the three players mentioned have a combined three years of college experience, and the one he insinuates had a temper problem is Kevin Garnett, a man who is so over the top with his emotional outbursts that when he was out with an injury people went so far as to utilize a split screen to watch his overly exuberant reactions on the bench.

    Simmons may have made a poor choice of wording, but the idea behind his statement is utterly and completely accurate. Prodigal athletes who did not graduate from college and who spend the vast majority of their professional time honing physical skills are not intellectually equipped to deal with their counterparts on the owner’s side of things. That’s why they have Billy Hunter and a horde of lawyers to represent them. To turn this into a racial issue is purely sensationalism.

  2. JPs comment doesn’t even come close to saying how wrong you get it. Simmons suggests that by training relentlessly at basketball skills (reading defenses, executing offenses, skilled motor movements, etc), celebrity and media skills (handling reporters, PR image, etc), most of them haven’t spent as much time in law, negotiation, contracts, (maybe even sports management), etc to redesign the business concept of the NBA in the coming years where fan attendence may in fact be going down.

    “What we are left with is an argument that the NBA faces a lockout because those who possess the requisite intelligence, who posses the proper fitness, have failed to control their inferior players.” No, no, no, no, and no. That’s not what he says. And he never says the players should just accede to owners demands. A more expansive reading of all of his writing on this topic would show this. So, you took as his main thesis something that Simmons doesn’t say.

    Conveniently, you skipped the part where Simmons questions the readiness and motivations of elite athletes (KG, PP, Kobe) to survive a lockout from the everyday ‘middle-class’ athletes (with shorter, less lucrative careers) in the NBA. That would be a conflict of interest among black athletes, which should have some salience for your race-tinged glasses. But you decide to ignore because it doesn’t fit the narrative you want to read.

    It looks like you didn’t read up on his columns and just used him as an excuse to churn sausage for another internet post. Hope you get some hits out of it. But, when it comes to meanings, you get it twisted, and you end up using your post “as a rhetorical space to articulate” your “fantasies, desires, and ideas about whiteness.” You’re playing away-games here with Simmons because you don’t know what he said and won’t bother to take the time to read him for what he has to say, but rather you’re only interested in what you want him to say so you can vent, rage, and quote Fanon.

    Go read Whitlock, who says very similar things, and see if you disagree as vehemently with him.

  3. I have a hard time believing this piece is about the stereotypes and assumptions embedded in Bill Simmons language while writing about the NBA lockout and more about the assumptions being made about the language because it is about a subject that is already embedded with racial incongruency, such as the NBA. You fail to recognize that assumptions being made about professional athletes, regardless of race, are based on the incredible amount of knowledge about and interaction with those athletes. Evidence of intellectual capacity and emotional temperament of high profile athletes are readily available through countless interviews, personal statements, and a veritable catalogue of their life stories. So assumptions are made, stereotypes drawn, but the racial element is only slathered on by your words, presumably based on the subject matter being the NBA. The discussion is important, but the subject you chose, in Bill Simmons words, are poor and undermine any real discourse.

  4. Absurd and biased piece. He puts the blame equally on both sides in the column, that is very clear. I’m not sure how you’re to be seen as a legitimate journalist with crap like this.

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