Without the lockout and partial cancellation of the National Basketball Association’s season, tensions have climbed high for those on both sides of the board table in trying to work out a new collective bargaining agreement and labor issues. However, one place I was very surprised to see the comments and general atmosphere surrounding the debacle go, was one with either overt or subtle racial undertones. With sports analyst Bryant Gumbel’s comments on the way he sees NBA Commissioner David Stern’s handling of the lockout, the public received a rude awakening as to the possibility that some people may see this as not just a labor and union issue, but one characterized as a kind of racial battle. On HBO’s “Real Sports” program, Gumbel referred to Stern and his actions during the lockout negotiations as efforts that “were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern day plantation over seer treating NBA men as if they were his boys”, adding that this sort of behavior is “part of Stern’s MO” and that he should “stop being part of the problem”.
The question becomes, is this the sort of atmosphere that will always exist as long as black men work under a white man in any position of power, be it an NBA commissioner, corporate CEO, etc? Similar comments were made by Reverend Jesse Jackson about the Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, slandering of former Cavaliers player Lebron James after James elected to leave the Cavaliers and sign with the Miami Heat in what was perceived by many as a lack of respect and loyalty to his hometown team. Jackson exclaimed that Gilbert saw James as property and that to Gilbert, James was a “runaway slave”. Gilbert’s behavior has been agreed upon by many analysts as having been childish and unprofessional of an owner of a professional sports team, and Commissioner Stern has come under fire for his bullheaded approach to labor negotiations; however why the likening of these men to slave masters? It seems as though there is nothing to base such comments on other than the fact that the athletes or employees were black while the men of higher authority were white. What would Jackson and Gumbel be saying if the NBA consisted predominantly of white players and the Commissioner or Mr. Gilbert were black? When broken down, there is nothing more than the coincidence that the people of higher positions of authority are white, while the players (seen as workers in a sense) are black. Both white and black people close to the NBA have criticized both Jackson and Gumbel, as former NBA star Charles Barkley called Gumbel’s comments, “stupid” and said that to compare slaves to athletes making millions of dollars a year was insulting to those who endured slavery. Barkley also went on to point out that the average salary of players has risen significantly from Stern’s first year in 1984, explaining that “Stern isn’t holding anyone back”.
Can a work situation in which black men work for or directly underneath white men be one completely void of any sort of racist undertones? Barkley was brilliant in pointing out how players very much control the sports world and comparing their often bloated salaries to slaves is ignorant and short sighted, but if this seems so obvious why then do we have professional and educated men such as Gumbel making such desperate accusations?
Barkley’s comments on Gumbel: