Monday, April 02, 2007

You Can't Fix A System Designed To Be Broken, Part II.

Previously: Part I. Now, here's where Mr. Whitlock and I probably run off the rails, because Part II for him is about athletes showing off "the wrong image" for pro basketball and football.

Change is coming in professional football and basketball whether hip-hop athletes and their groupies like it or not. We've already seen it in the NBA with the age requirement, dress code, rules limiting hostility toward the referees, importation of foreign-born players and harsh penalties for any negative interaction with fans. Now the NFL and its new commissioner, Roger Goodell, plan to join the fight by enacting a get-tough policy on law-breaking players. The NFL Players Association set the tone for this by suggesting a three-strikes policy shortly after TuPacman Jones allegedly made it rain one-dollar bills and bullets at a Vegas strip club.

"TuPacman" is absolutely unnecessary; a rhetorical blast of irrelevance designed to link any criminal actions of Pac-Man Jones with hip-hop, part of Whitlock's thesis and arsenal; he does not understand the relationship between correlation and causation, he would rather condemn the members of a youth culture he doesn't understand while refusing to acknowledge where such youth culture stems from. And what part of "allegedly" isn't understood (although it doesn't protect you legally)? The accusations are that one of Jones' associates shot up the club, which is an important distinction to make. Is Jones a troubled person? Most likely. Would a suspension based on prior record and legal problems he's still dealing with appropriate? Yes. Will a three-strikes policy possibly be as misguided and problematic in execution as it is as a sentencing guideline now? Most definitely.

Music is rebellious and sometimes divisive for no good reason. Sports are patriotic and unifying. There is too much pointless, unjustified rebellion in football and basketball right now. Muhammad Ali made sports fans uncomfortable for a good reason. That's why he eventually became beloved. Today's hip-hop athlete makes fans uncomfortable just because he can and for the approval of his fawning posse.


If this were the Sixties, Whitlock would be writing a column about how Ali should never have joined the NOI, never have sat out the Vietnam War, and should have shut his mouth. Frankly, we don't know if today's basketball or football star will go down in history as being bigger than just sport -- we can't be that forward looking, but they don't have fewer opportunities to do that because they're uneducated; a lot of it has to do with corporate handlers who prefer non-confrontational, non-political athletes. Don't stop the money train.

More and more fans sense they have nothing in common with the athletes they're watching. And, even more troubling, more and more fans are reaching the conclusion that they don't want their children emulating the style of dress or behavior of the athletes. Again, whether we like it or not, sports are supposed to be "All-American," played by the boys next door. We sing the National Anthem. The games are supposed to bring us together, make us see our common humanity. There is economic value in the perception that the players love their teams, love their schools, want to be educated and act and dress like middle America.

Black people are still trying to be part of middle America. It's only been 40 years since the struggle Whitlock prides (and rightly so) that ensured that we even got to vote. Back then, "all-American" and "the boys next door" meant all-white, non-bohemian, non-threatening to the archaic notions of the culture, and to some extent, despite the rise of black music as the driving force in pop music, it still is. The fear still exists, no matter what brown folks of any color do to stand out. Why would athletes whose parents didn't get a chance to be part of Middle America want to emulate all the factors of it? Most of your professional athletes want to be part of America, and they'd like to leave their violent pasts behind, I bet. But they want a measure of control over how they become part of the upper class.

There's a cultural clash going on inside the arenas/stadiums between the predominantly white fans and the predominantly black players. There's a mutual distrust and disrespect. From a business standpoint, the athletes are wrong. This is America, with its capitalistic economic system. The customer is always right.

It's nice to know that the right to be an ignorant consumer trumps the right of men playing on the field or on the floor; these gladiators are performing for your entertainment, and damn them if they happen to have body art or listen to music you find untenable. It doesn't reflect badly on you, because you paid your money, and the men on the floor are there to serve at your pleasure.

From a social standpoint, the black athletes are wrong again. They are contributing to a negative, stereotypical view of black Americans. No one believes that wealthy young men shouldn't enjoy all the excesses that America has to offer. You can enjoy those excesses without breaking the law, without mocking the educational system and without smothering yourself in prison/hip-hop culture.


If the black athletes are wrong, then so are the white handlers that sign them to contracts to sell sweatshop labor-made shoes to teenagers of all colors. And how many times do we have to state that hip-hop culture and "prison" culture are not one and the same? Many of the athletes signed to multi-million dollar contracts do exactly what Whitlock writes in that last paragraph: LeBron, Tracy McGrady, D-Wade, you can make a longer list of multi-millionaire players who have been nothing but clean. Still taking the examples of a few and tarring the many.

Whitlock is right in saying that black athletes are our ambassadors to the world, but mostly because entertainment is the only way black men and women with any semblance of power are exported to the rest of the world -- business leaders, any other arena of society, that's white men being displayed as our oligarchy, our collection of the creme de la creme of American society.

They're failing us. And we are failing them. We have let them down by falling in love with their money, rationalizing their every misstep and not demanding that they embrace education.

You can't demand people embrace education. This is a fundamental and crucial misunderstanding of how learning works. If you are a parent, you have to give your children a reason to learn, and if you want to foster an embrace of education, you have to give those same kids a reason to be curious, a reason to love learning. You can tell a child to study for his own good, but when that child reaches the teenage years, that child wants more of a reason why. I've never heard of, met, or read about a parent that didn't want their kids to be educated, but the 24/7 nature of the American work force makes it difficult for families where both parents work two jobs to show kids why it's important. In that case, you need societal structures to help: after school programs, etc. -- but you cannot demand that anyone embrace education; otherwise, it's a crock, and the savvier segment of athlete, prospect, and ordinary teenager will smell a rat.

The letter he re-prints from someone teaching in China, with all the questions about stereotypes, is exactly what happens when you have a semi-monolithic media source feeding negative images and stories on many people who don't fit into the cultural majority. It's not what athletes put out; it's what the media chooses to focus on.

Now, I'm sorry, as a black man, and a proud one, I'm not going to sit quiet while a group of idiots define us all as idiots. No way. I know a little bit about history and how Martin Luther King Jr. and others won us the freedoms we take for granted today. We had the moral and intellectual high ground internationally. We had the bigots outflanked. These guys who serve as our ambassadors don't know that because we've failed to inform them. They can't see that the picture they're painting of us justifies the prison building (new slavery) at home and limits our ability to combat it.

And you stood by while your cities, states, and country failed to fund the elementary, middle, and high schools or either cut funding to the schools in a rush of standardized testing mania, and now you blame them for not learning from your example that they couldn't get in school? You got yours and didn't follow through. You let society pull the ladder up in the "greed is good" 80s ethos and now blame the kids that got put through that system for not knowing better? Blame the victim, indeed. At least the men who make millions toting the ball or shooting it had a way out. This is the ultimate problem I have with many prominent boomer black folk: it is never part of their responsibility to make sure the gains Dr. King, Malcolm X, and many others made were preserved by speaking out in the social or political arenas, and many of them decided to slam those who tried, like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, for being hucksters. I addressed a similar hypocrisy by jokingly asking why Oprah hated America when she built a school for girls in South Africa and took a jab at American kids.

It is rare when the right thing to do is also the right thing to do business-wise. Fortunately, when it comes to football and basketball, we are at that crossroad. My solution for fixing football and basketball is the right thing to do socially and the right thing to do financially for the leagues. The get-tough policies that are being adopted/suggested by the NFL and NBA won't cure what ails the sports or the athletes. They're public-relations ploys designed primarily to satisfy angry fans. They'll be as effective as America's "war on drugs/poor people."

So, why are you implicitly supporting those PR ploys here if they're going to be completely ineffective? The war on drugs/war on the poor is the elephant in the room, why the rest of America sees fit to build more prisons to house non-violent offenders, a prime contributor and developer of the "prison culture" you decry in modern American athletes. How ironic that the black market created by the war on drugs sends poor people with very few options to prison, and puts them into a culture that the writer deplores for being put to vinyl, cassette, and CD, there to supposedly influence others who grew up in the same realities.

Part III tomorrow, and Part IV will come after Whitlock writes his wrap-up column. I understand this stuff can be tedious to read, but I can't let this stuff go, even when I probably should.

3 comments:

Sanchez said...

Not tedious at all, not one bit.

I'm gald you've brought my attention to this S2N. Perhaps somewhat naively I am shocked at some of the bullshit rhetoric this guy is coming out with.

Eveything retort you write hits the nail of my thinking right on the head. Great job S2N, people who spout this crap need to be held accountable and IMO, bloggers are a huge part of that.

Oh and also "Again, whether we like it or not, sports are supposed to be "All-American," played by the boys next door" the *boys* next door? What about the girls??

And where exactly is the distrust and disrespect between players and fans? Oh I remember now, it was when Chad Johnson was chatting and shaking hands with some Browns fans before the game last season... no wait... that was good sportsmanship wasn't it?

Signal to Noise said...

Whitlock intentionally left out the women's hoops game for reasons explained in the first column, but to eliminate them from the "all-American" image of sports is probably just as nasty.

Glad you enjoy it, Sanchez.

Sanchez said...

Woops... yeah probably should have checked out the first column er... first.

My bad!