At the closing of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel last night, Gumbel issued some harsh words about the NBA Commissioner.Â He likened Stern to a “modern plantation overseer” for his handling of the negotiations.Â Gumbel accused Stern of treating the players like “boys”.
Anyone that’s even remotely familiar with race relations in this country is aware that referring to black men as boys is extremely condescending, disrespectful, and an open-invitation for an ass whooping.Â So for someone as respected as Gumbel to invoke slavery upon Stern is heavy.
Gumbel’s observation and opinion is literally a black and white issue.Â Nothing more, nothing less.Â He isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to describe a sports commissioner’s relationship with his players as master-slave.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was recently viewed similarly during his ongoing labor negotiations.Â It comes with the territory when you a) represent the owners, b) are a white male and c) preside over a league that is predominantly black.
When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was involved in his two labor disputes (1994-1995 and 2004-2005), he was never called a slave master.Â Instead, he was/is often referred to as a puppet master for his overly controlling ways.Â The public perception is that Bettman swindled the players out of well-deserved revenue and rewards.Â He also became unpopular for “Americanizing” hockey and compromising the integrity of the sport by entering warm weather markets.
The difference, however, is that only 3.7% of NHL players are black compared to approximately 85% of the NBA.Â Therefore a master-slave analogy would not have the same sting if applied to Bettman.
As long as the NHL remains light on blacks, Bettman will remain absolved of the slave master label regardless of how unfavorable fans view him.Â But, the other three major leagues will remain susceptible to such claims.Â Â And, even if we’re fortunate to see a black person become the commissioner of a sports league one day, the narrative will shift from master-slave, to uncle tom because the commissioner will never represent the interest of the players.Â That’s simply not in the job description of a sports commissioner, but acting as an overseer and authority of the players are.
Based on Stern’s reputation for playing hardball and his deliberate shrewd leadership style, I doubt Gumbel’s remarks will have an impact on how Stern governs in the future.Â Stern’s made it very clear that he’s not in the business of making friends.Â He’s in the business of making money.Â And quite frankly, I don’t even want Stern to take his focus away from striking a deal with the players by addressing Gumbel’s comments.
Call me crazy, but something tells me if Gumbel was in Stern’s position, he wouldn’t necessarily treat the players as equals either.Â Just a hunch.
Check out the video and let me know what you think.
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