NewBlackMan: Serena Williams and the Politics of Hate(rs)

Serena Williams and the Politics of Hate(rs)

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

Following a first-round victory in the Brisbane International tournament, Serena Williams expressed her sentiments about tennis, sport, and her labor of unlove. “I mean, I don’t love tennis today, but I’m here, and I can’t live without it … so I’m still here and I don’t want to go anywhere any time soon,” she explained. “It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love; I’ve actually never liked sports, and I never understood how I became an athlete. I don’t like working out; I don’t like anything that has to do with working physically.” Williams comments, not surprisingly, elicited widespread commentary, most of which used her confession as a source of criticism and demonization.

In “Woe is Serena: Tennis star says she doesn’t love tennis,” Chris Chase criticizes Williams as narcissistic and otherwise incapable of being self-reflective and self-critical. While acknowledging her candor, he uses that candor as a source of condemnation:

From one view, her candor could be seen as refreshing. Here’s a top athlete discussing the delicate balance of passion and obligation and fear of the unknown. She’s revealing herself to the press, something she rarely has in the past. Then you step back and realize Serena has the least self-awareness of any great athlete of the past decade. Two years later, she can’t bring herself to acknowledge that she was wrong to threaten a lineswoman at the U.S. Open. She’ll likely never admit her actions in last year’s U.S. Open final crossed the line. Unless she gained some insight in the past four months, these quotes are selfish nonsense.

Chase, unwilling to limit the criticisms to the quote, rehashes and recycles those previous incidences that in his mind provide context for understanding Serena’s dislike of tennis. In other words, just as she violated the rules of tennis, just as she has been unable to apologize for her past missed deeds, and just as she hasn’t been able to acknowledge her own faults, these comments are construed as evidence of her deficiencies as a person and athlete. Chase goes on to argue:

Nobody is surprised Serena doesn’t like tennis. Like Andre Agassi before her, she seems to only love the winning and is willing to put up with what it takes to get there. The grind doesn’t interest her much. These aren’t new insights into her soul. The underlying tone isn’t that Serena is a reluctant sports hero, it’s that she’s able to be so much better than the rest of the tour without caring about the game like they do. Her “I don’t love tennis” quote isn’t a revelation, it’s a self-congratulatory declaration. It’s as if she’s saying, “Just imagine what I could do if I cared.

Pete Bodo, with “The real question facing Serena Williams,” expresses a bit more sympathy given Williams’ litany of injuries. Yet, he still concludes: “Serena’s problem appears to be that she likes the reward (celebrity and money) but not the process. She would like to win the Australian title and any number of other tournaments, but she hates having to go through the motions – you know, the long practice sessions, the diet, the gym workouts and even that messy business of playing matches. It’s not a good problem to have, at least not for an athlete.” Beyond the efforts to link her comments to selfishness and a sense of victimhood, several commentaries link her disinterest with tennis to her diverse interests (fashion specifically), as if that is a shortcoming.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Serena Williams and the Politics of Hate(rs).

Emancipate the NBA: Struggling for Justice in the NBA (New piece from @NewBlackMan)

Emancipate the NBA: Struggling for Justice in the NBA
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan


I have been trying to write this column for several days.  I have thought and thought, and spent several hours writing, resulting in nothing.  I am just too angry.  My anger about the NBA LOCKOUT has nothing to do with the players.  I am actually proud of their courage and their refusal to kowtow in the face of pressure to accept an unfair proposal.  I am happy they told David Stern to file his ultimatum under “U” for unacceptable.  In fact, when I heard the news on Monday that the players indeed rejected the proposal, I found myself giving a little fist pump.  The prospect of a lost NBA season is disheartening at one level, yet I am encouraged by their refusal to accept an unjust economic arrangement.

Despite a public narrative that continually focuses on money as the only issue of contention, the LOCKOUT isn’t simply about how to split NBA pie.  It isn’t about greedy, out-of-touch players that already make millions for playing a game (this idea is so disrespectful to not only their talents but their hard work and dedication).

Players have already given up billions of dollars when they apparently agreed to a 50/50 split (or thereabouts).   Yet that wasn’t enough for the owners.  Their proposal would dramatically restrict player movement, ostensibly ending much of free agency.  The LOCKOUT in many ways is an effort to roll back free agency, to overturn the legacies of Curt Flood and to create a system where owners don’t have to compete for the services of all players (Ric Bucher made this point eloquently).

The proposed structural changes would dramatically alter the landscape of the NBA, severely limiting the options and free agency potential of NBA players.  In 2010-2011, where the players received 57% of basketball related income, the salary cap was $58.044 million; that year teams paid a tax at $70.307 million.  If the owners have their way, these numbers would fall to $50,915,789 for the cap and $61,672,807 for the luxury tax.  So what does this mean?  It means, that only 10 teams would be under the salary cap (these calculations include potential rookie salaries).  It means that 14 teams would be paying a luxury tax, which would be higher in the new system.  It means that the many teams that have empty roster spots would have little or no money to spend on free agents.  Faced with a luxury tax and only able to use a reduced exception that allows teams to exceed the salary cap, the new system is an assault on free agency and “free-market capitalism.”  It allows teams to ostensibly eliminate player leverage in getting the most possible money.

Imagine if this system existed in other industries.  Imagine if every company in your respective field was restricted in how much money they could spend on salaries.  Imagine if these companies were taxed if they spent over a certain threshold.  How would it impact your ability to garner employment?  How would it impact your ability to move from one company to the next?  How would it impact your ability to increase your salary because two competitors were forced to compete for your services?  What the owners and David Stern are trying to do, through the reduction of the BRI, through the changes in the mid-level of exception, and the tax structure is to limit the power and choice of the players.  It will invariably depress wages, bolster profits for owners, kill the NBA’s middle-class, and otherwise limit player power.

The owners’ proposal will likely HURT many teams and the quality of their basketball.  Look at the Boston Celtics: they have 7 players under contract for the 2011-2012 year, meaning they would need 5 more players just to get the 12-person minimum (teams often carry 15 players).  Based on estimates of a 50/50 BRI split, the Celtics would be roughly $15 million dollars over the cap, meaning that in order to fill out their roster they would be limited to minimum veteran salaries and one exception (unless they sign players previously under contract in 2010-2011).  They would be forced to pay a tax for every dollar they spend.  How do you think that will impact player movement?  How will it impact jobs?  What team will be willing and able to sign players beyond 12-man roster?  As much as it pains me to say this (as someone born and raised in Los Angeles), the proposal would be horrid for a team like the Celtics.

The NBA LOCKOUT is not about fans, despite claims that it is about helping the small-market teams and their fans.  As I have said before, I don’t buy the parity argument.  I buy it even less as it imagines the LOCKOUT as a struggle to protect small market teams from future player exodus. Focusing on LeBron James, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony, all of whom left their teams for “greener” pastures in big markets, this argument focuses on the lack of fairness to the fans in these respective cities.  They cite the potential exits of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard as further evidence that the NBA needs structural change.  I am angered that anyone accepts this seriously flawed argument.  Whether thinking about the success of the Mavs or Spurs, or the failures of the Clippers, Knicks and the Warriors, market size does not guarantee success or failure.  It isn’t about the fans or fixing a broken system, but enhancing owner profits and further creating a league where players are     treated as “the help.”  It is about owners asserting their power to control the players.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan