This needs to be shouted from the rooftops, through media, on websites, and on TV -- we do not discuss race relations nearly as much as we should, even in 2011. Prejudices and stereotyping, if not all-out racism, pervades our modern culture even with hundreds of years of sometimes painfully slow advancement. And though a pro sports league means relatively nothing in the grand scheme, this affects the way people talk about, observe, and discuss the NBA. That always will be the case.
That doesn't mean NBA Players Association counsel Jeffrey Kessler wasn't being incredibly stupid by needlessly bringing race into the discussion surrounding the NBA's ongoing labor negotiations with its players.
"To present that in the context of 'take it or leave it,' in our view, that is not good faith," Kessler, who also represented the NFL players in their labor dispute with the NFL, said in a telephone interview Monday night. "Instead of treating the players like partners, they're treating them like plantation workers."
In a phone call Tuesday, [NBA commissioner David] Stern blamed Kessler for the stalled talks and said he deserved to be "called to task" for the remark.
"Kessler's agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal," Stern said, "even if it means injecting race and thereby insulting his own clients. . . . He has been the single most divisive force in our negotiations and it doesn't surprise me he would rant and not talk about specifics. Kessler's conduct is routinely despicable."
Once again, the usual refrains:
NBA players have every right to be wary of an ownership group that consists of 28 white men among the 29 NBA owners (the league owns the New Orleans Hornets), and if concerns of paternalism aren't enough to the younger players, the uneasiness with having their lives and employment dictated by an overwhelming white majority while they work amongst a labor force that is around 75 to 80 percent African-American is prevalent to say the least.
David Stern has made no bones about trying to appear a good arm's length away from his younger NBA players for years, and hasn't minded in the slightest coming off poorly as he tries to enforce dress codes or acts as a judge and jury of one when handing down league punishments.
But hardline stances within labor negotiations do not a plantation owner make. Is the NBA being ridiculous as it sticks to its "take it or leave it" deal? Of course. Has the league already folded in dozens of significant concessions (totaling billions of dollars) from the players already? Yes. Isn't it obvious that a healthy portion of NBA owners are ignoring their fans and communities and have no interest in playing NBA basketball this year? Definitely.
Is that the NBA treating its players, regardless of their compensation, like "plantation workers"? No. And don't bring up the silly, "I'd be a plantation worker for six million a year" retort, either, because this is a ridiculous notion no matter how much these players make.
Kessler is doing the players he's representing a terrible disservice with this sort of nonsense, mainly because America has proven to be uneasy at best and angry at worst when it is forced to recognize the idea of racial discord. For followers who only know that the NBA players have heretofore rejected the idea of a "sounds about right" 50/50 split of basketball revenue, this isn't going to fly well. Heck, we've pored over every bit of minutiae regarding this lockout as far-from-fair-weather-fans, and this isn't flying well.
July? That was a time for bluster. August and September, maybe. Fire away with stupid rhetoric.
Workers who depend on the NBA for income, players excluded, are about to enter their second week without reliable paychecks. Their second month, if you count the lost exhibition games. The last thing they or anyone else want to hear about is some sort of indentured servitude amongst locked-out NBA players.
Especially with the knowledge that Wednesday 5 p.m. deadline could damn the entire 2011-12 NBA season.
UPDATE: Late Wednesday morning, Kessler apologized for what he called an "inappropriate" comment. Yeah, we'd call it that.
All indications point to the union counsel as being at Wednesday's labor negotiations, over the smart objections of some.
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