NewBlackMan: ‘No [Hoodies] Allowed’: The NBA’s Dress Code & the Politics of New Racism —Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness

‘No [Hoodies] Allowed’: The NBA’s Dress Code & the Politics of New Racism —Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness

—Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The murder of Trayvon Martin has prompted widespread discussions about race in America, persistent inequalities within the criminal justice system, differential values afforded to different bodies, and the real-life consequences of racial stereotypes. Amid many of the discussions, media reports, and the protests have been questions about the racial signifier of the hoodie. From the million hoodie march to the backlash directed at Geraldo Rivera, who named the hoodie as a co-conspirator along with George Zimmerman, the discourse has reflected on the racial signifiers embedded in the hoodie. In other words, how is a black body, inherently criminal and suspect when read within a hoodie; what are the dialects between the hoodie and the black body within these processes of criminalization? These types of questions have been asked and represented in a spectrum of spaces, highlighting the ways the black bodies are imagined as threatening within the dominant white imagination. Pushing the conversation beyond individual prejudice and “what was in George’s heart,” such counternarratives have reflected on how media narratives, popular culture, and a culture that criminalizes black bodies produces a Trayvon Martin, whose mere presence is seen as a threat, all while producing a George Zimmerman.

As a scholar of race and sport, these questions have long guided my work: how do the representations of black athletes, particularly those in the NBA, buttress larger ideological, political, and criminalizing processes? How does the ubiquitous references to NBA players as “thugs” and “gangstas” as “criminals” and “punks” normalize blackness as questionable, undesirable, and inherently suspect? The murder of Trayvon, the prison industrial complex, the racial segregation in school discipline, and the levels of state violence are a product of these cultural projects. According to a report from the Opportunity Agenda, “distorted media representations can be expected to create attitudinal effects ranging from general antagonism toward black men and boys, to higher tolerance for race-based socio-economic disparities, reduced attention to structural and other big-picture factors, and public support for punitive approaches to problems.”

In my recently release book – After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness (SUNY 2012), I explore the broader criminalization of blackness inside and outside of the NBA’s arenas, that among things has focused on the attitudes, demeanor, and clothing of NBA ballers. I, thus, present to you a short excerpt from the book, one that explores the racialization and criminalization that is evident in the NBA’s dress code as a way to expand our conversation about the murder of Trayvon Martin to reflect on how popular culture, media discourses, and the language of everyday racism both normalizes the criminalization of blackness and points to the importance of intervention in this regard.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: ‘No [Hoodies] Allowed’: The NBA’s Dress Code & the Politics of New Racism —Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness.

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.

NewBlackMan: The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’

The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

When Ron Artest announced his intent to change his name to Metta World Peace, I had discussions with several people about potentially changing the name of my book, After Artest (May 2012, SUNY Press) to reflect his metamorphosis. Examining how the Palace Brawl forever changed the NBA, while also highlighting the larger scripts of race and criminalization, After Artest reflects on the processes of demonization and criminalization directed at Artest and his black baller brethren in the aftermath of the 2004 fight between the Pacers-Pistons-Piston fans.  While deciding against changing the book’s title for a myriad of reasons, one principle issue for me in pushing back against a title like “Peace after the Palace” was that in spite of efforts from the NBA, its fans, and the media establishment to police, punish, and control blackness in their efforts to secure peace, neither condemnations and suspensions, dress codes or age restrictions, would bring about peace for the league because of the ways that race and racial narratives operate within the American cultural landscape.  The efforts to recreate the illusion of a racially-colorblind Jordan-esque landscape were futile given persistent anti-black racism and governing stereotypes.  Peace after the palace was not possible because of the ways that blackness and anti-black racism overdetermined its meaning within the national landscape.  Artest and what he embodied in the national imagination guided and served as a lens as the NBA sought to deracialize itself within the national imagination.  This is why I start After Artest as follows:

“The real question, how does it feel to be a problem” – W.E.B. DuBois, 1903 (Quoted in Jackson 2006, p. 9)

“Ron Artest more than likely will be suspended, but so should Kobe” (Resnick 2009)

“Kobe vs. Artest: Proof Artest Will Kill Your Team” (2009)

“NBA Bad Boy Ron Artest of L.A. Lakers Admits He Had A Problem: Drinking During Games! ” (Douglas 2009)

“Trevor Ariza loses shoe, Ron Artest tosses it into the stands” (2009).

Artest, who’s trying to put his bad-boy image behind him, said he could simply display his ring in his living room or he could wear it.’ But I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point’ (“Ron Artest Plans” 2010)


Artest, who’s trying to put his bad-boy image behind him, said he could simply display his ring in his living room or he could wear it.’ But I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point’ (“Ron Artest Plans” 2010)


At first glance, the above headlines point to the fact that Ron Artest’s personal history, and especially his association with the Palace Brawl, continues to determine the public narrative assigned to him by the dominant media and broader public discourse. Even those instances of praise and celebratory redemption does so in relationship to his past indiscretions. Despite the banality of his exchange with Kobe and his tossing of another player’s shoe off the court (his sportsmanship was questioned by an announcer), and notwithstanding his efforts to admit to a past drinking problem1 or shed light on the issue of mental health, each in varying degrees have been the read through the lens of the Palace Brawl.

In 2009, Ron Artest admitted to drinking alcohol at halftime while he was a member of the Chicago Bulls. Hoping to teach kids by sharing his past mistakes, Artest’s admission, not surprisingly, prompted much media and public debate. Although some people questioned the truthfulness of his admission, others used this moment as an opportunity to speculate about whether Artest was indeed drunk when he entered the stands in 2004. Likewise, his tossing of Trevor Ariza’s shoe into the stands, along with his physical and verbal altercations with Kobe Bryant, were given amplified meaning and importance considering his role. In all four instances, Artest’s past and his character are used as points of reference.

Often invoking his involvement in the 2004 Palace Brawl, the dominant frame that facilitates his representations is not only constrained by Artest’s personal and professional histories, but by the prism of race and blackness. He is consistently imagined as a problem. The nature of these representations point to the ways in which blackness overdetermines not only the meaning of Artest, but of all black NBA players in a post-Brawl context. Post-Artest, blackness is the hegemonic point of reference for both the commentaries and the policy shifts within the NBA, demonstrating that the Palace Brawl changed the racial meaning of the NBA and thus changed the regulatory practices governing the league. . . . .

The Palace Brawl was the culmination of the recoloring of the NBA. It represented a moment when the blackness of the league was irrefutable and thus needed to be managed, controlled, and, if necessary, destroyed. After Artest argues that the Palace Brawl served as that “aha moment” in which blackness displaced the racially transcendent signifier of Michael Jordan. This blackness, and its representative threat, were undeniable and, as such, necessitated intervention, termed as an assault within this book’s title. Not surprisingly, anti-black racist/white racial frames have anchored the debates and policies that have followed Artest; frames based on racial transcendence or colorblindness remain in the background. In this sense, Artest mandated a reversal wherein race/blackness had to be noticed (and controlled/destroyed), leading to public articulations of the white racial frame instead of denials of racial significance.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that the sports media establishment, and the social media world is all abuzz following a Metta World Peace foul on James Harden on Sunday in a nationally televised game.  A hard foul that was reckless and dangerous; one that warranted an injection (unlike others I have no idea his “intent”) and a suspension; and one that was disappointing to say the least and not worry of defense. I am not here to defend the foul or explain, although those who use the foul as a referendum on Metta, the NBA, or blackness need to check themselves.

It was unfortunate; yet equally unfortunate and more destructive have been the response.   Hayden Kim, on The Bleacher Report, referenced Metta’s “unstable mental stable” and an inability to maintain control; worse yet, he described his outburst in the following way:  “As he pounded his chest, acting like a gorilla during mating season, he caught James Harden with an ill-advised elbow that could have caused an earthquake” (the original piece no longer has this language but can still be found here and here).  The hyperbole notwithstanding, the descriptor of Metta as a “gorilla” given its historic meaning is disturbing to say the least – disgraceful, in fact.

Ken Berger focused more on the typical hyperbole and ‘what ifs” with his discussion of the elbow heard around the world.  “Metta World Peace’s vicious, dangerous elbow to the head of James Harden Sunday was no garden variety NBA elbow, and it probably will result in longer than your typical elbowing suspension,” writes Berger. “It should, anyway. This was about as cheap as a cheap shot gets. It’ll have nothing to do with the fact that Metta World Peace is really Ron Artest, he of Malice at the Palace fame. World Peace, after all, has come a long way since his 73-game suspension for going into the stands in Auburn Hills, Mich., in 2004, and even won the NBA’s citizenship award last season (when his name was still Ron Artest).”  Berger, unlike so many others notes his recent citizenship award, falls into the trap that he cautions against: reading the incident through the Palace Brawl.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan: The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’.

NewBlackMan: Brandon Marshall and the Challenge to Mental Health Treatment Inequality


Brandon Marshall and the Challenge to Mental Health Treatment Inequality

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

On Sunday, amid all the hoopla about the start of NFL training camp, player movement, and the start of the NFL season, Brandon Marshall quietly told the world a secret, announcing that he was living with a Borderline Personality Disorder.

Right now today, I am vulnerable, I making myself vulnerable, and I want it to be clear that this is the opposite of damage control. The only reason I am standing here today is to use my story to help others who may suffer from what I suffer from, from what I had to deal with. I can’t explain to you and paint a vivid enough picture for you guys where I been in my life, probably since the end of my rookie year.

Noting that neither the cars nor the fame, neither the success on the field nor the joys experienced off the field resulted in happiness, Marshall highlighted the despair that he has experienced during his life:

I haven’t enjoyed not one part of it and it’s hard for me to understand why . . . . One of the things I added to my prayer was for God to show me my purpose here. When I got out of the hospital, I called my videographer and I said, Rob, grab your camera and just come to my house and just start shooting. I said I’m very depressed right now, I probably won’t talk, I probably won’t even leave my theater room, but you just shoot and don’t stop shooting. I said, I don’t know where we’re going with this, I don’t know what’s going to come out of this, but something good is going to happen.

Marshall is not the first high-profile African American athlete to publicly document the struggles with mental illness. Several years ago, Ricky Williams spoke about his illness (Social Anxiety Disorder) “to up the awareness and erase the stigma.” Likewise, Ron Artest, who has publicly acknowledged his own disease, has gone beyond chronicling his own story, testifying before congress while raising money (through auctioning off his championship ring) for mental health awareness among youth.

Continue reading at  NewBlackMan: Brandon Marshall and the Challenge to Mental Health Treatment Inequality.

Metta World Peace: Leave the Baller formerly known as Ron-Ron alone

Metta World Peace

Described as crazy, as a publicity stunt from a man seeking attention, as evidence of his weirdness, and countless other not-to-mentioned racist and derogatory comments, the Internet was set ablaze after Ron Artest announced his plans to change his name to Metta World Peace.

Commentators also used the instance to rehash Artest’s past, postulating that the name change reflected a deliberate attempt to continue to change his image.  For example, Andy Kamenetzky, offered the following as explanation for his name change:

In any event, the identity change falls in line with recent steps Ron has taken while bettering himself as a person and revamping his formerly tarnished image:

– Opening up about his time in therapy, while becoming an outspoken advocate for the mental health issues. (A matter we discussed at great length earlier this season.)

– Winning the 2011 J.Walter Kennedy Citizenship award for outstanding service and dedication to the community.

– Launching a new reality TV show, “Last Second Shot,” in which he’ll mentor parolees.

Thus, why not change his name to “Metta World Peace?” (“Metta,” by the way, is defined as the Buddhist virtue of kindness.”)

The one concern I might have for Ron is perhaps appearing like he’s on the verge of jumping the shark. It’s one thing to thank your psychiatrist before conducting a freewheeling, heartfelt press conference for the ages. It’s another to adopt a very unusual moniker. Too many moves at once, however well-intentioned, could come off as cartoonish.

The fact that his decision to change has led to ample ridicule and criticism, leaving one to wonder how this was an attempt to reform his image, is revealing.  Unable or unwilling to accept the name change on his terms, analysts and the many people who offered comments on various pages took the opportunity to once again deconstruct, analyze, psychologically prod Artest.  In my forthcoming book – After Artest (SUNY Press) – I argue that Artest (and the NBA’s black bodies) were unable to transcend and move beyond the prism of the Palace Brawl.  That is, the 2004 Palace Brawl overdetermined the media discourse surrounding and public consumption of the NBA; and both the Palace Brawl and the representations of the NBA were overdetermined by the blackness associated with the league.  The spectacle surrounding his name change, the demonization, the ridicule, and the efforts to psychologically analyze Artest demonstrates how both blackness and the Palace Brawl overdetermine this reaction.   The level of animosity and judgment is not only evidence to the impossible path to redemption, but also how we as a society might grow a bit if we simply thought about what Metta (Ron Artest) is trying to tell us.  According to Acharya Buddharakkhita, Metta means the following:

The Pali word metta is a multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence. The Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others (parahita-parasukha-kamana). Essentially metta is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest.

If people could simply hear and practice what is in his name, I can only imagine what the sporting world would look like (not too mention the comment) as well as every other institution within our society.