Playing Field to Prison Pipeline?

Hank Willis Thomas – “Strange Fruit”

Playing Field to Prison Pipeline?
by David J. Leonard |

In our contemporary moment, sport does much of the ideological work of mass incarceration.  Even more than other forms of popular culture, which peddle in racial stereotypes, celebrate law and order, and turn police into righteous crime fighters, sports has increasingly become a space that is central to maintaining America’s prison nation.  Because of the visibility and cultural resonance of sports, because of the number of African Americans involved in professional sports, and because of the centrality of “American Dream” narratives, sports serve as the public relations wing of mass incarceration.

None of this should be surprising given the racist nature of America’s criminal justice system, and the centrality of race within contemporary discourses.  Public discourses around sports and criminal justice center race.

Writing about basketball, Todd Boyd argues that the NBA “remains one of the few places in American society where there is a consistent racial discourse,” where race, whether directly or indirectly, is the subject of conversation at all times (Boyd 2000, p. 60).  This is equally resonant with football and therefore it is not surprising that racialized conversations of sports and the criminal justice inform one another.

Of course this is nothing new.  According to Elizabeth Alexander, the history of American racism has always been defined by practices where black bodies are put on display “for public consumption,” whether in the form of “public rapes, beatings, and lynchings” or in “the gladiatorial arenas of basketball and boxing.”

Jonathan Markowitz highlights ways in which the sports media contributes to the widespread criminalization of the black body: “The bodies of African American athletes from a variety of sports have been at the center of a number of mass media spectacles in recent years, most notably involving Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, but NBA players have been particularly likely to occupy center stage in American racial discourse.”

Whether through the media spectacles surrounding Tyson, O.J. Kobe Bryant, Aaron Hernandez and countless other cases, or the adoration and fear imbued in physical bodies (that which is desired on the field is also that which rationalizes mass incarceration, stop and frisk, and law and order), we see the convergence of the front and back pages.

Not coincidently, the increased focus on law-breaking athletes mirrors the integration of sports (and the rise of America’s prison nation).  That is, as collegiate and professional sports became more integrated, sports media and fans began to show an increasing concern about “criminal athletes.”  This is especially the case in a post-1980s context, whereupon President Reagan seized upon the death of Len Bias to expand the racialized war on drugs.

Since then, and with proliferation of ESPN industrial complex, there has been an immense focus on crime and athletes, giving credence to the widely circulated ideas about the pathology of blackness.   The shared language of “discipline” and the administering of punishment for those who violate the rules of society/sports further illustrates the convergence of the sports and the (in)justice system.

If sports are central to the prison industrial complex, ESPN represents the CEO of its public relations firm. Given the longstanding role of the Disney Corporation in circulating dehumanizing images, it should be of little surprise that ESPN is doing the ideological grunt work of contemporary racism and mass incarceration.

Whether publishing articles about drugs and Oregon football, or sensationalizing each and every traffic stop involving a (black) athlete (never mind issues of pretext stops and racial profiling) or becoming the mouth piece for bringing law and order to a post-Palace Brawl NBA, ESPN has been a willing partner in the prison industrial complex.

In recent weeks, ESPN has turned this job over to Jason Whitlock. This is the same man who once refereed to Serena Williams as an “unsightly layer of thick, muscled blubber, a byproduct of her unwillingness to commit to a training regimen and diet that would have her at the top of her game year-round.”  Fear and loathing of black youth jumps off his pages; the same sort of stereotypes and narratives that rationalize stop and frisk, and shoot first mentality that plagues this nation.

The sustained nature of Whitlock’s discussion of personal/communal/cultural failures and mass incarceration (see Whitlock Gone Wild), raises the stakes here.  For example, in a recent column on Thanksgiving (never mind the history of genocide and white supremacy), where Whitlock denounced Professor Michael Eric Dyson, he once again peddled his simplistic vision of the world: the personal and cultural failures of African Americans, facilitated by intellectual and cultural enablers, has led to mass incarceration.

And while Mr. Whitlock wants to locate mass incarceration at the doorstep of hip-hop culture, at the feet of Jay Z, Allen Iverson, and Michael Eric Dyson, he is asking us to ignore history.  He wants to erase the linkages between mass incarceration and the history of slavery, between white supremacy, “Black Social Death,” and America’s prison system.  In turning the discussion into choices, values (respectability), culture, single-parented homes, and bad role models, he denies the links between deindustrialization and prison expansion, between the militarization of America’s police forces and the number of African American youth locked up.

As I read column after column that blames hip-hop or the N-Word for mass incarceration, I cannot help but wonder if Richard’s Nixon’s launching of the war on drugs, if the Rockefeller laws, the federal sentencing guidelines for crack, the disenfranchisement laws that saturate our nation, the centrality of racial appeals for law and order, President Bill Clinton’s massive expansion of America’s prison system, and the he investment in police and not schools, was all because of hip-hop.  If you live in Jason Whitlock’s world, and that of the vast number of celebratory commentators, that seems to be the conclusion.

Post Script (1/26/14)

In the aftermath of the sustained demonization of Richard Sherman I am struck by the continued role that sports as an instrument of mass incarceration.  The response to Sherman, the panics, and even the defense (“he is one of the good ones”) all points to the engrained nature of the criminalized/commodified black body within the dominant sporting imagination.

In 2011, C. Richard King and myself edited book – Criminalized and Commodified: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports –  on the anti-black racism that is central to American sports.  While including essays on different case studies, the cultural and media discourses that have been full display this week are prominent within this work.  The original title of this book  was “Thugs and Dollar Signs” in that black athletes are continuously subjected to the logics of racism and late twenty-first century capitalism – they are legible as criminals/”thugs” and dollar signs/source of profits.  And this is not a binary but rather indication that the criminalized black body is a source of profit – financial profit, ideological profit, political profit and indicative of the profits of racism. As evident in this instance (and before) Sherman has been imagined to be a “thug” all while the NFL, ESPN, and others found ways to continue to profit not only off his body but the “thug discourse.”  This represents a window into anti-black racism.  The rendering of Sherman as a “thug” and the profiting of his body and anti-black racism is ubiquitous.  The consequences of these ideological and material systems are daily.  It’s bigger than a play, it’s bigger than Sherman and it’s bigger than the game.

Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito:

The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Just this week, Jason Whitlock returned to his familiar playbook: recycling culture of poverty narratives and those demonizing single-parented black homes. Responding to the sight of the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant passionately demanding that his team do better, Whitlock lamented “Dez Bryant\’s inability to control his emotions” which to him is “a family dysfunction issue.” Not satisfied, Whitlock continued this line of discussion:

But the reality is, Dez Bryant is swirling in a cultural tsunami every bit as destructive and powerful as climate change.

Let\’s call it \”Hurricane Illegitimacy.\” Its victims are primarily black and brown, but Hurricane Illegitimacy is a not black or brown problem. It\’s an American problem that is denied and exacerbated on the left and mischaracterized and exploited on the right.

Like climate change, Hurricane Illegitimacy is powered by man-made factors:

1. A lack of proper restraints on welfare entitlement programs for single mothers and fathers.

2. America\’s bogus war on poor people who use and sell drugs.

3. Turning incarceration into a for-profit business model.

4. A refusal to recognize that investment in the education of our poorest and weakest citizens could strengthen our entire society.

5. Our collective lack of courage and resolve to combat popular-culture forces that celebrate, normalize and profit from baby-mama and criminal culture.

Because of this melting-pot-country\’s history, we\’ve been conditioned to identify the race of a person misbehaving and examine the racial implications. We would be far better served looking at the family history.

Although there is much that can be said here, from its historic myopia (really, the “melting pot”? the 1980s wants your narrative back) to its misguided assault on social welfare and single-parented homes, I thought of a better way to respond to his new age Moynihan Sports Report.

I took the liberty of writing my own mini column in the tradition of Jason Whitlock. Just as Whitlock is obsessed with rap music, \”single mothers\” and \”hurricane illegitimacy,” I am inspired to write about \”two-parented suburban homes,\” white masculine entitlement, and a culture of violence/hazing with respect to Richie Incognito, whose rap sheet extends longer than his NFL career. Accusations of bullying, racism, hazing, and creating a hostile work environment are just the tip of the iceberg – hurricane obvious has been in development for many years.

The title of the piece captures a culture that has nurtured, sanctioned, and created Richie Incognito: Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: the destructive pathology of white male pathologies.

Like climate change, wealth inequality, and war, Richie Incognito is the result man-made factors. Hurricane Illegitimacy or Hurricane Obvious has produced America’s newest bully. We must talk about the root issues and the hurricane that produced him:

1. A lack of proper restraint on entitled white youth, whose sense of aggrievement and victimhood contributes to a societal tolerance. Where is the accountability for white youth who violate or laws and moral standards?

2. America\’s culture of tolerance for white males who violate rules and laws without consequences. Taking away milk and cookies or access to car and video games for 15 minutes is clearly not sufficient.

3. Turning football and sporting cultures into big business, which has fostered a jock culture defined by widespread pathologies, destructive values, and dangerous behavior. This is especially threatening when paired with the entitlement of children from suburban two-parented homes. How else can we explain multiple chances from college squads and NFL teams with respect to Richie Incognito?

4. Societal silence on the failures of two-parented homes to properly nurture kids who are loving, caring, and thoughtful boys. What lessons did his father teach him?

5. A refusal to recognize that destructive consequence of a masculinity defined by violence, physicality, abuse, and domination. Suburbia, we have a problem.

6. Our collective lack of courage and resolve to combat popular-culture forces that celebrate, normalize and profit from white masculinity. Rambo, and The Terminator – violent; Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity: where it’s OK to be a bully.

7. The failures of white suburbia to produce males who are accountable. Richie Incognito is yet another example of the failures of suburban American to produce adaptable kids.

Continue reading at Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

It’s Gotta Be the Ink: Crime, Athletes and Tattoos

It’s Gotta Be the Ink:  Crime, Athletes and Tattoos
Sports media is often a place ripe with racial, class, and gendered meanings; it often is a site where stereotypes and profiling are articulated; where bodies, particularly bodies of color, are subject to scrutiny and examination, ridicule and demonization.  Sports media, especially when the coverage moves beyond the game, is often dominated by generalizations and grandiose arguments that spill over outside of the arena and playing field.  This has been evident with two recent columns about John Wall and Aaron Hernandez, both of which extrapolate meaning and pathology from tattoos – or better said the meaning in an inked body of color.
In a recent column, Jason Reid cautioned the Wizards (he provides clarification here) against signing a contract extension with Wall because of his decision to get and unveil his tattoos:
Posing shirtless recently for an Instagram photo, Wall revealed several tattoos. Wall’s interest in body art is surprising, considering he previously said he did not have tattoos because of concerns over his image for marketing reasons. Many NBA players do have tattoos, and Wall isn’t breaking new ground in sharing his ink with fans through social media.
But not every player flip-flops on a topic in such a public way. Factor in that Wall is expected to receive a huge payday from the Wizards next month, and the timing of his tattoo revelation raises questions about his decision making. For a franchise with a history of backing the wrong players, that’s food for thought. . .
Reid makes clear that Wall’s decision to get tattoos leads him to question his mindset, his character, and his priorities since he previously stated that he wasn’t getting any tattoos because of a potential reaction from fans and the organization.  Yet, now he has them, causing Reid to wonder about Wall’s focus on the game and the fans.  It’s gotta be the ink.
Reid’s effort to read meaning into Wall’s tattooed body is nothing compared to Jason Whitlock’s recent column, which is disturbing even by Whitlock’s standards.  Amid the many troubling points of “analysis” that nostalgically pine for popular culture and a sports world of yesteryear, Whitlock uses the arrest of Aaron Hernandez as an instance to pathologize and demonize today’s athletes, and accordingly goes in on tattoos:
Athlete covered in tattoos is linked to several violent acts, including “accidentally” shooting a man in the face. Modern athletes carry guns. They do drugs. They mimic rappers and gangster pop-culture icons.
Athletes want street cred, and they costume themselves in whatever is necessary to get it. Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc., were the first to recognize the importance of authentic street cred when it came selling product to American youth.
Sadly Whitlock was not done:
When he stood in chains before a judge at his arraignment, in a white T-shirt and his arms decorated in ink, Hernandez did not look out of place. Guilty or innocent, he looked like someone who had prepared for this moment. He didn’t look like an athlete. He looked like an ex-con…
We can no longer distinguish bad from good. We no longer even aspire to be good; it has considerably less value. That’s what Aaron Hernandez represents, to me. Popular culture has so eroded the symbolic core principles at the root of America’s love affair with sports that many modern athletes believe their allegiance to gangster culture takes precedence over their allegiance to the sports culture that made them rich and famous.
There is so much wrong here that I am not sure where to start but let me unpack a few arguments.  (1) He seems to argue that America’s crime problem (despite declining crime rates) is the result of its faulty values. Popular culture is the teacher to blame. The celebration of Jay-Z and Tony Soprano (and I am not fooled by the inclusion of Tony Soprano to obfuscate from the racial arguments) has created a culture of criminality, as evidenced by Aaron Hernandez.
Whitlock writes that Hernandez, “stayed true to his boyz from the ‘hood. He mimicked the mindset of the pop-culture icons we celebrate today.” While acknowledging the costs and consequences of “a 40-year drug war, mass incarceration,” Hernandez is a product of “a steady stream of Mafia movies, three decades of gangster rap and two decades of reality TV have wrought: athletes who covet the rebellious and marketable gangster persona”—a  little nostalgia to go with Whitlock’s simplicity and reductionist linear narrative.
In amazing level of erasure of history, of violence, Whitlock, who clearly plays a sociologist, psychologist and media studies scholar on both TV and the Internet, pontificates how to thwart crime and violence: revamp the television guide and top-40.   Yes, it’s got to be the television.  Rather than address structural realities, it is time for politicians, activists, and communities to address the real menace: popular culture.  If only he was kidding.
(2) I wonder if he or others who like to blame rap and popular culture for everything invoke these arguments in other cases or just those involving people of color.  I must have missed an examination of the listening habits of Adam Lanza or James Holmes?  I wonder what sort of influence hip-hop and Allen Iverson had on the Boston bombers, Catholic priests, or Wall Street executives.  Clearly, it is time for Whitlock and others to listen to Michael Franti’s “It’s a crime to be broke in America.”
They say they blame it on a song
When someone kills a cop
What music did they listen to
When they bombed Iraq?
Give me one example so I can take a sample
No need to play it backwards
If you wanna hear the devil
Cause music’s not the problem
It didn’t cause the bombin’
But maybe they should listen
To the songs of people starving…
More than reminding me of the scapegoating of music which truly masks the criminalization and demonization of bodies of color (nobody has made issue of George Zimmerman’s tattoos), I recall a response to David Whitley’s piece about Colin Kaepernick because sadly I can just remix this “Dear Mr. Whitlock” because same message different day.

SLAM ONLINE | » Leave LO Alone

Leave LO Alone

The callousness of the NBA.

by David J. Leonard / @DR_DJL

Taking a break from LeBron James, the NBA’s resident hateratti have recently focused its attention on Lamar Odom. With Carmelo, Andrew Bynum and Russell Westbrook ballin’; Kobe, DRose and Dwight Howard hurt; a “perfect” Kevin Durant; and Deron Williams and Kevin Love being on the Nets and Wolves, the NBA’s mean machine has turned its attention on the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

The season began tumultuously for Odom, with his being initially traded to New Orleans only to be sent back to the Lakers, who at his request quickly traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for a draft pick. Media pundits and fans denounced the Lakers’ ineptitude all while praising the Mavericks for reloading their roster as part of their quest to repeat as Champions.

Unfortunately, the trade was probably the highlight of Odom’s (and the Maverick’s) season as things have gotten progressively worse, leading to his recent deactivation. From Sixth Man of the Year to persona-non-grata in less than a year is sad, yet the level of anger, vitriol and demonization directed at Odom is a sad commentary on sport and society.

Odom’s difficulty on the court has been widely attributed to his selfishness and inability to get over the trade. Portrayed as emotional and childish, his career-low statistics have been used to comment on his personality, demeanor and attitude. For example, Jen Engel Floyd, with “Odom mastered The Art of Not Trying in Dallas” argues that “he was hauling a lot of emotional baggage with him from L.A.—and he chose to do nothing.”

While providing zero evidence (reports have been that he wasn’t disruptive in the locker room), Floyd describes Odom as a “toxic force” resulting from his anger about being in Dallas—“There are pejoratives to describe Odom’s behavior. ‘Unprofessional’ and ‘selfish’ immediately spring to mind. I am kind of partial to ‘whiny, soft, narcissistic L.A. jerkhole.’”

Engel was not alone in the ad hominem personal attacks that focused on Odom’s maturity and demeanor over anything else. According to Mike Chiari, “rather than moving on and accepting that he wasn’t with the Lakers any longer, Odom decided to sulk, and his game was severely hindered by it.” Likewise, Benjamin Hochman continued the trend of “hatin’ the player” and not the game, questioning Odom’s “mental toughness.” Most revealing, and weeks before the Mavericks decided to banish Odom from the team, Jason Whitlock condemned Odom for his failure to play against the Lakers, explaining his failures to uphold a standard of masculinity.

Odom has chosen to sulk and brood and hide.

He wants to move back to L.A., and he apparently is willing to withhold his services in an effort to make it happen.

The Lakers dumped him, and, citing family matters, Lamar declined the chance to exact revenge in a nationally televised game.

Are you kidding me? Did Jordan skip games against the Bulls? Did Favre pass up a chance to play the Packers? OK, Lamar Odom is not Jordan or Favre. Kyle Orton took his shot against the Broncos and Tim Tebow. I bet Jeremy Lin will relish his chance to play against his hometown Golden State Warriors.

Family matters. You have to grow a pair to start a family, Lamar.

Evident here and throughout the national “hate on Lamar tour” is a tone that demonizes Odom; one that imagines him as selfish, immature, mentally weak, soft and feminine. Even the criticism directed at him for collecting a paycheck (enter Charles Barkley and 63 percent of fans in one poll) subscribes to the belief that Odom’s failures on the court are reflective of a choice not to commit to the Mavs, the game of basketball, or the fans. These commentaries are both personal and paternalistic, criticizing Odom for disappointing them because he chose to put himself in front of anyone or anything else.

What is disappointing about these responses is that they are yet another reminder of how society—whether it be the sports media or fans—views NBA stars as little more than commodities who are supposed to run up and down the court. The denied humanity and emotions, particularly impactful with the sports media’s treatment of black athletes, has been on full display. The lack of care or concern for his emotions—for the trauma that he is experiencing—embodies not just the ways that athletes are treated as dehumanized commodities who should produce or exit stage left, but also the ways that society denies and demonizes the mental trauma and the stress of African Americans.

Any failure to uphold that role is met with derision and pathologizing. In Odom’s case, his failures are explained in simple terms: He didn’t want to be traded, and rather than “man up,” he sulked, all the while collecting a paycheck. Given this tone, there has been little room to think about how Odom’s own history and recent events in his life might be impacting him.

Continue reading at SLAM ONLINE | » Leave LO Alone.

Tongue-Tied: Jeremy Lin and Media Dialogue on Race Matters | Urban Cusp


Jeremy Lin and Media Dialogue on Race Matters

David J. Leonard

I spent much of the last two weeks watching New York Knicks games, a painful reality given my unwavering loyalty to the Los Angeles Lakers, to participate in the phenomena that has come to be known as Linsanity. When not watching games, my days have been spent listening to interviews, reading commentaries, and debating and discussing Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise. Among the many things I have noticed is how we as a society lack a level of media literacy, seemingly accepting the narrative disseminated by the national media. With little reservation or questions, there is little room to think critically about how Lin is being positioned within most media circles.

For example, we have been told that Lin “came out of no where.” Simultaneously erasing his experiences and the hard work that led him to become the starting PG with the Knicks and his past successes (at Harvard, including dominating performance against UCONN; during the NBA summer leagues), the “out of no where” idea reflects the “American Idolization” or the “The Apprentization” of American life. Discounting hard work, talent, and a myriad of factors, we increasingly live in a society that imagines the American Dream as simply around the corner, available with a little bit of luck and opportunity.

The appeal of Lin as “coming out of no where” does not reflect the power of stereotypes but a sense of pleasure that comes with our collective belief that our dreams can come true. Irrespective of the profession, we all believe or think we can “come out of no where” to garner success and appreciation. Such belief in meritocracy and in the American Dream reflects a certain level of Lin’s appeal, a fact that should elicit self-reflection and critical analysis.

Likewise, the belief that Lin is undermining, if not eliminating, stereotypes about Asian Americans, is optimistic to say the least. Timothy Yu’s “Will Jeremy Lin’s Success End stereotypes?” embodies this hope: “American culture tells us, in short, that Lin shouldn’t exist. Every time he drives to the basket, he upends stereotypes of Asians as short, weak and nerdy. Every time he talks to the media, he dispels the idea that all Asian-Americans are like foreigners speaking broken English.”

Jay Caspian Kang pushes this conversation further arguing that it isn’t simply Lin’s presence on the court that undermines longstanding stereotypes but the style that he plays with. “I’m sure we’d all like to peg the humble Asian kid as unselfish. But Lin can be a bit of a black hole [with the ball]. Some of his most exciting baskets have come on drives that start around half court.” Yet, that isn’t the narrative in circulation. As noted by Picca and Feagin, stereotypes “act, like self-fulfilling prophecies tend to be reinforced when new information fits them, while information that negates a stereotype tends to be rejected.” The stereotype, in itself, impairs our ability to see the reality.

For example, in the aftermath of the Knicks loss the New Jersey Nets, which was Lin’s first game playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, the criticisms directed at Anthony focused on his selfishness and ball-hogging approach in the game despite the fact that Lin took 18 shots compared to Melo’s 11. Understanding the desire to see Lin as a “game changer,” as someone who is ushering in a new racial moment, the persistence of inequality and institutional racisms leaves me questioning the level of optimism, one that seemingly places stereotypes on the doorstep of those who have been confined within the prism of racial expectations.

One of the emergent narratives, especially in the wake of the tweets from Jason Whitlock and Floyd Mayweather, ESPN’s headline and the MSG “fortune cookie” image, has been the ways in which racism has been directed against Asian American communities. While illustrating the profound ways that racism guides both public discourse and material conditions impacting AAPI communities, the efforts to create a hierarchy whereupon anti-Asian prejudice (institutional racism is never figured) is tolerated whereas anti-black or anti-Latino racism is met with opposition and condemnation represents a significant failure.

continue reading @ Tongue-Tied: Jeremy Lin and Media Dialogue on Race Matters | Urban Cusp.

NewBlackMan: Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?

Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

One of the common arguments offered during the NBA lockout was that David Stern and the owners had to initiate the lockout in an effort to make the league better. Citing the success of the NFL, these advocates predicted that the NBA would be more successful economically, more important culturally, and just a better game if it adopted the rules and policies of the NFL. Such arguments have not died down with the end of the lockout or with the start of the NBA season.

Embodying this logic is Jason Whitlock’s recent column, “NFL is model for American success.” Whitlock argues that NFL is a model of success not just for the NBA, but the nation. With a salary cap, revenue sharing, a requirement that players attend at least three years of colleges, its amateur draft design, its “emphasis on teams over individuals while making room for superstars” and “a free-agent system that allows franchises to retain their marquee players”, the NFL offers “the perfect blend of capitalism and socialism.” He remarks further:

One hundred years from now, when scholars analyze the rise and fall of our dynasty, the NFL might be considered America’s greatest invention, the cultural and economic force that should’ve been our guide to 200 more years of global domination.

If only Pete Rozelle had been our president rather than the architect of the modern-day national pastime, Americans would understand the value of restraints on capitalism, revenue sharing and a system that strengthens the poor.

There is so much wrong with the argument and the analysis that it is hard to know where to start. The idea that the NFL’s age restriction leads to a better or more successful system, even in absence of any sort of evidence, is reflective of Whitlock’s propensity to sell myths as fact. The ample success of NBA players, whether those who skipped college or those who were “one-and-done” ballers, runs counter to the rhetoric offered by Whitlock.

Likewise, the premise that NFL is superior because it emphasizes teams over individuals, which has led to increased fan interest, erases the overall popularity of NBA stars throughout the world. Whereas LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan are transnational icons, whose talents generated profits for the NBA and its corporate partners, the same cannot be said for the NFL. Think about it, can you name an NFL player that captures the global imagination?

When Michael Jordan was playing, he was one of the most recognizable people in the world; Kobe Bryant’s visits to Asia lead to mass hysteria. Would any NFL player – past or present – elicit such reactions? Despite the fact that the NBA erases these global realities from its economic picture, the NBA global success is very much a result of its emphasis on individual stars over teams.

Likewise, the ascendance of dynasties within the NBA – Bulls, Lakers, Spurs, Celtics –, which has certainly enhanced the NBA’s brand, is reflective of the structure of the NBA. In many regards, the NBA system is superior even though David Stern and the owners seem intent on slowly undermining what has been successful for the league in so many ways.

What is most striking, however, is Whitlock’s celebration of the NFL as an ideal model for the entire nation. Should the NBA and the nation at large emulate the model provided by the NFL given that: 21 former NFL players recently sued the NFL for not protecting players against the harms of concussions. In the lawsuit, they “accuse the NFL of deliberately omitting or concealing years of evidence linking concussions to long-term neurological problems.”

Is the NFL the ideal business and social model, given that: according to a 2006 Study in the St. Petersburg Times, for every year an NFL player spends it the league, it takes 3 years off his life expectancy. In other words, given that the average career of an NFL player is 4 years, his life expectancy will be 55 (as opposed to 75, the national average for American males). Put succinctly by Greg Doyle, “The NFL is killing its players, literally leading them to an early grave — and now the NFL is trying to kill them even faster. That’s a fact, people.” While some may call this rhetoric incendiary and hyperbolic, consider that in 2010, almost 280 players spent time on injured reserve, with 14 suffering head injuries, 13 experiencing neck injuries, and one dealing with spine injury.

continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?.

NewBlackMan: Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation: Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout


“Basketball and Chain” by Hank Willis Thomas


Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation:

Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In wake of LeBron James’ decision to take his talents, along with those of Chris Bosh, to South Beach to join forces with Dwayne Wade, the NBA punditry has been lamenting the demise of the NBA. This only became worse with the subsequent trades of Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey and New York respectfully. Described as a league “out of control in terms of the normal sports business model” where player power “kills the local enthusiasm for the customer and fan base,” where superstars leave smaller markets with no hope of securing a championship, where manipulating players and agents have created a game dominated by “players whose egos are bigger than the game,” much has been made about player movement.

Commentators have lamented how players are yet again destroying the game from the inside, thinking of themselves ahead of its financial security and cultural importance. In “NBA no longer fan-tastic,” Rick Reilly laments the changing landscape facing the NBA. Unlike any other sport, the NBA is now a league where “very rich 20-somethings running the league from the backs of limos,” are “colluding so that the best players gang up on the worst. To hell with the Denvers, the Clevelands, the Torontos. If you aren’t a city with a direct flight to Paris, we’re leaving. Go rot.” In other words, this line of criticism have warned that “the inmates are running the asylum,” so much so that the league “is little more than a small cartel of powerful teams, driven by the insecurities and selfishness of the players who stack them.”

While such rhetoric erases history (of trades – players of the golden generation have certainly demanded trades; the same can be said for other sports as well) and works from a faulty premise that parity is good for the economics of the NBA (the very different television monies for the NBA and NFL proves the faultiness of this logic), the idea that the league needs more parity remains a prominent justification for the NBA lockout. “The owners believe that the league should be more competitive and that teams should have an opportunity to make a profit,” notes David Stern. Similarly, Adam Silver, deputy commissioner, argues, “Our view is that the current system is broken in that 30 teams are not in a position to compete for championships.”

Such rhetoric and Stern’s ubiquitous statements about the NBA needing a dramatic restructuring builds upon argument that the NBA’s future is tied to its ability to thwart players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and potentially Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and others from taking their talents anywhere.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation: Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout.