Are NBA Players Really “Overpaid Slaves”?

1 of the things I hate about black media personalities is their propensity to say things out of context. Once again we have a black man in a socially-respected position comparing the business of professional sports to modern day slavery.

Bryant Gumbel’s argument and the delivery of his jab at David Stern is sensationalized and borderline subjective. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Gumbel’s comments racist though; just inappropriate. The comparison of black athletes to slavery is nothing new, though. The juxtaposition is that professional teams are owned by white males, the agents are white males, and the players are these poor and dumb, yet physically superior black males.

When it comes to this murky conversation, the reference people love to bring up is William C. Rhoden’s <u>Forty Million Dollar Slave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete</u>. Admittedly I’ve never read the book because I disagree with its premise. Kudos for using a controversial title! Based on reviews and commentaries I have read, the book is more or less a diatribe of varying periods in sports history. Rhoden talks about the black jockeys, the 1st black female athlete, and of course the greats we all know. On the outside looking in, it appears his book aims to educate rather than propose an actual discourse that can be engaging for people over the age of 40. (Mind you, the demographic of sports entertainment revenue is 18-35)

It’s easy to point to race as the dominant red herring because the major NBA players that we see are black. In fact 84% of the league is black. In the major markets on any given night, you’ll see 10 black men on the floor at once. But they are all there by choice and getting fair compensation for their work. 

The 1 thing about the slave/white man analogy that grinds my gears is it fails to address the responsibility that NBA owners (as the masters) have in taking losses. During slavery, when you refused to work, got maimed/injured or even glared at your massa’ from under the brim of your hat, you were expeditiously relieved of your “duties”. When you start a new job, you come up for review in the 1st 90 days. If you’re under-performing, you’re placed on notice. If you continue to under-perform, you’re fired. Just like that, slaves were replaced with no penalty to their owners.

The business of the NBA doesn’t quite work the same way. And I solely blame the owners for that flaw. The league has guys like veteran Rashard Lewis; who is making $22 million a season yet putting up the numbers of a D2 rookie. You have owners like Mark Cuban who are involved in every single facet of his team, rather it’s for the overall betterment or not. It took the Mavs how long to FINALLY get it right? Truthfully, the NBA is the only major sport where an athlete (regardless of race) can sit on the bench with a long-term injury and still collect a check because his team’s owner galvanizing greed is stuck with an un-voidable contract (Adam Morrison anyone?)

Yes, this guy has a championship ring...yet the great Reggie Miller doesn't

The other aspect that people don’t look at either is would the analogy be the same if a black man owned a soccer team of white players? Would you say “awww those unfortunate white boys, being manipulated by the evil black man”? Probably not. In the black community, we’d hailed that as a 1-up over “the Man”. The irony

And this is where I walk away from the table. The lockout is bad for the fans, bad for the players, and bad for thousands of workers who are employed by individual arenas. The only point I do agree with from Bryant Gumbel’s statement was that viable negotiations are being hampered by Stern’s arrogance. His constant need for absolute control has stifled the old values of the good ol days. Stern’s interests lie with the billionaire owners, as it always has. With the line clearly drawn, I see the lockout continuing into the winter months.

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