Metta World Peace and the Language of Incarceration in Sports Coverage Pt. 1 | Urban Cusp

Metta World Peace and the Language of Incarceration in Sports Coverage Pt. 1

By David J. Leonard


The elbow seen around the world and the media fallout continues to bother me. Over the last two weeks, I have found myself debating others online, yelling angrily at the television and otherwise struggling to make sense of Metta World Peace’s (formerly known as Ron Artest) elbow of James Harden. Almost every day, I have woken up thinking about the incident and what needs to be said. Clearly, Metta is on my mind, but not because of the elbow (indefensible), my love of the Lakers’ (unwavering), my tendency to always side with players (not saying much given the media), and the connection between this incident and my book, After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness.

So, what’s gives?

My focus or concern on Metta’s elbow and more centrally the media spectacle has little to do with the incident but instead what it tells us about society, especially as it relates to the criminal justice system and race. The media and public response has been one focused not on the foul itself, but rather depicting Metta as a crazy criminal that deserves punishment. The constant use of the language of the criminal justice system — “repeat offender”; “the letter of the law,” “does the punishment fit the crime” – is telling because while the incident has nothing to do with the criminal justice system, the media continues to apply language of criminalization to Metta World Peace. For example, Scott Carefoot depicts MWP as a “dangerous menace” in “Why intent shouldn’t factor into Metta World Peace’s suspension.”

I don’t need to read Metta’s mind or his body language to determine if he meant to nearly decapitate James Harden with his elbow — I don’t care because it doesn’t matter. I know he’s a swell guy with a big heart off the court, but he’s a dangerous menace on the court who is more likely to end somebody’s NBA career than anyone else in this sport. I’m not advocating a permanent ban, but I won’t complain if that’s Judge Stern’s verdict.

Similarly, Jess Coleman sees MWP as a serial “criminal” who cannot be helped, yet because of the NBA’s culture gets a free pass:

World Peace is lucky: he could have seriously injured Harden. Regardless, he will once again slip loose from this criminal act with nothing more than a measly suspension. Any money he loses – he will remake in the next few weeks. And when he does something like this again, we will all act surprised. My question to the NBA: what exactly are you waiting for?… If a normal citizen engaged in any of these actions on the street, they would be prosecuted. But when athletes act up on the field, they are immune from criminal law, and handed slaps on the wrist that do little more than please the public.

The argument that if any person did what Metta did on the street they would go to jail is at one level ridiculous (wouldn’t that be the case with any foul or even a box out) and on another level troubling. The continuous references to MWP as “criminal” as deserving of prosecution, as unredeemable points to a larger process of criminalization. When Henry Abbot labels MWP as a permanent threat — “I don’t think punishments are likely to extinguish the tinderbox of danger inherent in that combination, which has a track record of producing trouble – or when Kelly Ogle describes him as “a thug, a ticking time bomb” who should be “kick[ed]… out of the league [because] he’s dangerous,” we see how MWP represents not an individual who made a terrible mistake, who did something awful, but someone who is awful. We see how that he is being categorized as a criminal that needs to be locked up.

Continue reading @ Metta World Peace and the Language of Incarceration in Sports Coverage Pt. 1 | Urban Cusp.

He’s Still Metta World Peace – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

He’s Still Metta World Peace

[OPINION] David Leonard says one mistake on the court doesn’t mean we should ignore the former-Ron Artest’s bold transformation

David Leonard

Metta World Peace is once again America’s most hated athlete. After elbowing James Harden in the head, an indefensible foul netting him a 7 game suspension, he has faced endless criticism on not just the cheap shot but him as a person. In article after article, within television commentaries, media pundits have made their anger clear, often refusing to call him by his name since his actions mirrored those when he was Ron Artest. Announcing that he doesn’t deserve to be called Peace, that he clearly has not changed from his Ron Artest ways, and that his new name was a lie in that he was “still a thug,” the efforts to deny MWP his name is telling. It is both a power play (“we will call you what we want to call you”) and part of argument that MWP is a bad guy who is incapable of changing irrespective of his name.

Part of the refusal to call by MWP seems to come from anger if Metta elbowed the media in the face. This wasn’t simply a foul or even a cheap shot, but a betrayal to all those who believed in Metta’s transformation, who rooted for him, and who gave him a 2nd chance. It was an affront to his new name, a name he didn’t deserve.

Drew Magary, in “Why Did We Ever Think Ron Artest Was Interesting?”, reflects the level of hostility directed at MWP, anger that comes from a feeling of being bamboozled and taken for a fool in believing in this changed man: “I was one of those Internet people who participated in the rebranding of Ron Artest when he arrived in L.A. a couple years ago. Yet “Artest isn’t really a colorful character. He’s not an interesting person. And he’s not sympathetic. There’s nothing to learn from the life of Ron Artest. Like Arenas, he’s just a flaky shithead.”

Capturing the tone of a parent whose child missed curfew again, after having promise to always be on time, the post-elbow tone has been one of disappointment and feelings of betrayal. “I had come to know him and even like him…. I have visited with him countless times after games and eventually understood him as a guy who seemed to be constantly choking down his violent tendencies in an attempt to change,” writes The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke. “He would say something mean, then turn it into something funny. … I was really starting to believe he was Metta World Peace. I was wrong, and James Harden has the headaches to prove it. He is still Ron Artest.“ As with many others Plaschke refuses to call him by name because in his eyes he is the same old bad person.

Following in the tradition of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, World B. Free, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and even Chad Ochocinco, Ron Artest’ changed his name to Metta World Peace (MWP) in Summer of 2011. While facing similar scorn and criticism (albeit each in distinct ways), his decision to be come MWP highlights the power of black self-naming in a society that often doesn’t understand the black community. The capacity to name one’s self is in power, a power routinely co-opted and denied by white America. As we are reminded in Coming to America: “A man has the right to change his name to vatever he vants to change it to. And if a man vants to be called” Metta World Peace, “godammit this is a free country, you should respect his vishes, and call the man” Metta World Peace!

Having believed that MWP was a changed man, the elbow betrayed their desire to redeem him because it showed how compassionate, forgiving, and exceptional American could be. As with the anger directed at Tiger Woods, “America’s multicultural son” after news broke of his martial infidelity, and the disappointment directed at Kobe Bryant, who was “different” from his baller brethren, following Colorado, the elbow denies the media THEIR story. And so denying the “we forgive you Metta; isn’t America exceptional story,” these angry commentators have returned the favor in denying him his name. It goes back to that same old (White supremacist) saying: you can take the player out of the ghetto, but you cant take the ghetto out of the player. Or better said, you can take on this flower child name, but you can’t change who you are if who you are is an inherently violent thug. Yet, the man has changed and despite an indefensible foul, he still has the right to be called Metta World Peace.

Continue reading @ He’s Still Metta World Peace – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.