Dave Zirin has a good
discussion of the coverage the brawl continues to receive and it was,
perhaps, naive on my part, to think that it would readily blow over.
Zirin argues that the punishment far exceeds the crime in this case, and notes that fighting occurs in all sports without anything like the kind of attention that the fight Saturday night received.
Zirin pins the blame for this on Commissioner Stern:
"Stern is responsible for this holier-than-thou atmosphere. It was Stern who last year issued the infamous dress code, banning ostentatious gold chainsand medallions and mandating business casual attire off the court. It was Stern who instigated the "toughon whining" rules this season--if a player so much assneezes in a referee's direction, he gets tagged with a technical foul. It was Stern who last year hired Karl Rove's public relations operative Matthew Dowd to give the league "red-state appeal."
This approach, in
my mind, is rooted in generational and racial anxiety, and efforts to
assuage that anxiety among the folks who can afford the pricey tickets
at Madison Square Garden. When Stern feeds the myth that players
somehow are out of control and undercivilized, it gives confidence
to the apostles of fear--like New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick,
who wrote, "NBAers are showing up to speak at schools and
in airports and for TV interviews looking like recruitment officers for the Bloods and Crips."
Zirin's right to connect generational and racial anxieties -
the two are both rooted in a lament about an idyllic by-gone era, in
which respect for authority was unchallenged and athletes knew their
place. That era happened to be an era with a white face, even if some
of the participants were not actually white.
And, this undertone
is simply missed by people like Stephen A., who on his radio show
yesterday pre-emptively decried anybody who would dare call David Stern
a racist for coming down hard on the participants in the brawl. Stephen
A.'s main defense of Stern seemed to be that, on Stern's watch, NBA
salaries have sky-rocketed. In other words, Stern is responsible for a
lot of "brothers getting paid." Ipso facto, he's not a racist.
As, I have discussed
before, this black and white understanding of the issue of race is one
of the central obstacles to our ability to have a useful conversation
about it. I have never heard or read a personal testimonial to the
effect that Stern is a racist and, as I noted in an earlier discussion of the late Jeffrey Williams' brilliant account of race in the NBA, there's good reason to think that Stern has an impressive grasp of the complexity of race as it relates to the NBA.
But, the point isn't
what David Stern does or doesn't personally believe. It's the
perception of his league - as a gangstered up, black league - and how
he's chosen to respond to that perception that gets to the core of how
race works to condition the national conversation about the NBA. Some
guys, like Chris Russo, are more or less honest about their disdain for
the league's "blackness."
Here's a fact: in 2006, all the public opinion data we have, not to mention countless studies from political science, psychology, sociology and beyond on people's core beliefs, their voting habits, etc., tells us that race and racial resentment continue to be a powerful force in shaping our politics and our public conversations. Therefore, given everything we know, it's simply naive to fail to grasp the potential of the issue of race to shape our outlooks. The NBA is arguably the single most identifiably black, high profile institution in America. And, given what we know about race and racial attitudes in all other walks of life, it's far more of a stretch to discount the role race plays in how we perceive things like an NBA fight, than to acknowledge it as a factor.