Under the radar is where the real seeds are planted. Whether they will sprout or not is the big question. But make no mistake, there were real seeds planted this week.
The mainstream media, who are essentially the Protectorates of the Plutocrats, will continue to obfuscate and sensationalize the story surrounding LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s ban for life from the NBA, and they’re quite good at it. What bothers me most during “the controversy of the week” is the trap so many of us get caught in, falling over ourselves to dissect and argue about the minutia, dictated by the red herring-dangling media, instead of seeing the bigger picture.
About that, one can not underestimate the power of the RW well-oiled propaganda machine, in place for many years and with many prongs, levers, media puppets, hired minions in think tanks, website commenter attack dogs, pr firms etc , to get out ahead of the controversy and establish the meme for the public, which we then run to like one of Pavlov’s dogs. That all of the faux RW outrage of “the slippery slope” “1st ammendement Rights,” “legality or illegality of recording private conversations” sought to hijack the conversation from proceeding to a deeper level is just so predictable. Yet we fall for it time and time again.
But before we get to the bigger picture, an acknowledgment needs to be made first of a debilitating deficiency. We need to get better at pushing against these tactics, especially on stories that demand we do them justice by finding the overarching kernel of truth and trumpeting it.
We missed the boat with the #myNYPD story, lazily running with the hyper-focus on the haplessness of the NYPD’s public relations people, rather than the very moving, bittersweet eruption of backlogged grievances, which had been forced to the margins by a complicit media, who have largely abandoned the plight of the aggrieved disenfranchised, in an organic effort on Twitter finally bringing to light for all the world to glimpse the anxiety and suffering of those abused, intimidated, brutalized, beaten and sometimes even murdered by the racist tactics of NYPD. Same with the fixation of Cliven Bundy. Where is the uproar over the double standard reaction of no government pushback on the RW redneck militia that came a-runnin’ to this loser’s defense, when a brutal crackdown was coordinated between Federal and local authorizes, in conjunction with the FBI, the major banks and Fortune 500 companies, was ordered on peaceful Occupy Wall St protesters? OWS member Cecily Macmillan is standing on trial right now in downtown NYC on bogus charges, looking at a seven year prison sentence, while these bigoted buffoons in Nevada continue to provoke and use threatening displays of force.
Given that we know (or should by now) the propaganda machine, the sensationalist media and the consumer treadmill fueled by advertising, expertly run interference all day on us, we should be better prepared to deal with the heavy smokescreen. Because in the case of the NBA players running Donald Sterling out of town, something else really big just happened.
This wasn’t about the legality of recording conversations or Freedom of Speech Rights or the “slippery slope,” It wasn't solely about racism for that matter.
This was about the power of a united front of workers acting in solidarity. This was about exposing the two-tiered justice for the rich and the rest of us.
This was about housing discrimination, a broken criminal justice system, depravity in the face of Big Money being flouted. This was about a long list of backlogged grievances for a system that is distinctly unequal, no matter that the millionaires who now make their salary on the hardwood floors of stadiums across the country were the agitators.
This was a forceful act that unions everywhere should take heart from. This was workers standing down the abusive owner. And winning. Big-time.
With great hopefulness I think there’s something to extrapolate out of this, that the stand by the NBA players was something more than an unavoidable temporary outrage toward a very public instance of racism that couldn’t be ignored.
By the same token, where was a coordinated NBA action of righteous indignation when the disgraceful Trayvon Martin verdict was handed down? All across the nation there were spontaneous marches of outrage; that day I was with thousands on a long snaking wildcat march that shut down the East Side of NYC and wound up in Times Square, steadying the foot of a young African-American woman who addressed the crowd from atop a grating. For some reason that didn’t merit a unified response. There wasn’t a unified stance by the players then.
Yet, there was this amazing press conference given by members of the NBA Players Association, which unsurprisingly went completely under the radar, thagt could provide something potentially game-changing in the country at large, bigger than its already-established impact toward a racist owner. Not only was Donald Sterling righteously ousted but the oligarchy, who have been firmly ensconced as the governing body of our country, have definitely taken noticed. If the NBA can stand together, in unified solidarity, to oust a billionaire racist slumlord, what can unified citizens of America similarly do in challenging seats of power?
Quite simply, this proved that boycotts work.
A boycott was what was to happen, and no doubt was the catalyst for such swift and decisive action by the NBA Commissoner. The events leading up to and including the ban were pretty amazing to contemplate. First of all, the players made it apparent they understand the legacy they were coming from. In this regard, some of the star players who led the charge on Twitter, such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, not known for activism, deserve credit, for without start power getting out front it might not have happened.
At the press conference, which hardly got much notice, precedence was given to past sports civil rights heroes and dissenters who righteously stood down the establishment, acknowledging the courage of Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Sandy Koufax, the first three regarded as radicals. There was also recognition of the efforts of people like Jim Brown and Jackie Robinson. But it begged the question: where are today’s equivalents? Where is Jordan, who became the world’s biggest pitchman for Nike? Charles Barkley said when he was playing he didn’t know the owners of the team nor did he care and would have gone on playing today. But today’s players, whether in a momentary act of unification or not, answered the call this week. And it was quite dramatic, with the ramifications boding enormous, that is, once all the static can be run out of the media-hyped story.
The scenario described below by a player gives me goosebumps every time I think of it. During a half-hour meeting the NBA players had conceived of a daring plan, agreeing that once the ball was in the air for jump-ball start of the Clippers/Warriors game – all players were going to walk off the floor. Can you imagine?
“It would have been our only chance to make a statement in front of the biggest audience that we weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment,' [Warriors player Stephen] Curry said. 'We would deal with the consequences later but we were not going to play.'”As David Zirin explained, “Would this all have actually happened? Would players actually have walked off the court? In many respects, this doesn't really matter. As any union organizer will tell you, a threatened strike is a tactic in and of itself. One thing that we do know is that Adam Silver was aware these actions were discussed and there cannot be a question that it played into his thinking on whether to issue the lifetime ban as soon as he conceivably could.”
Indeed, it also proved to be an uncommon week of sports writing. By allowed writers with an eye toward sociopolitical history to recognize the dormant yet not often acknowledged power with America’s favorite pastimes. Here’s Howard Bryant at ESPN:
“There will be rightful pride in the collective outrage -- from all races and all classes -- at Sterling's comments and his beliefs and pride in the comprehensive resolution, during a time of significant racial tension in the country. Less than a week ago, a controversial Supreme Court decision upheld a ban on using racial preferences in admissions at public universities in Michigan, while Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy wondered last week whether African-Americans were better off as slaves…The question remains how these events will be interpreted not only by the players going ahead, but also the rest of us who have a gleaming nugget of a lesson to learn from. Again, Bryant writing:
But in the end, concluding an extraordinary 10 days of race, revolution and a revolution that never was, the lasting imprint for the remaining life of the league is the enormous power of the players -- if they choose to unite and use it, and believe in it. Baseball, hockey, football and soccer players should be listening, too.”
…real power is never given. It must always be taken. Jerseys turned inside-out became James, KD, John Wall and Paul texting and organizing a mass boycott of the playoffs. The threat of power made a wildcat strike unnecessary. This time.The players boycott action has been in sports for a long time. And in that regard it can not go unmentioned that Keith Olbermann really shone in his grasp of that too. For those of you like myself who don’t watch much sports these days (although I do love the games), this week was also a reminder of how amazing (and as a result sorely missed) Olbermann truly is, and I became instantly nostalgic for his beacon of fearless truth-seeking that was a lighthouse during the long national nightmare of Bush. His ESPN piece “What the Clippers Must Do” was a tour de force of hard-hitting journalism, relevant personal anecdote and revealing history lesson. At his best in these situations, Olbermann seized the moment and delivered a fiery challenge to the players to boycott, with backing evidences that it works. History has a funny way with vindication. As he explained, the righteous and the brave, after they are vilified, disparaged and threatened, are sometimes rewarded by their owners and many times treated like heroes and visionaries when the dust settles.
Instead of revolution, the players believed in the notion of the NBA family and in Silver, even though the day will come when a collective bargaining agreement will expire and he will be their adversary. They believed in Silver even though they had no input in his hiring and have no input in his successor, proof that their power is not yet realized. They believed in relationships. Magic Johnson has called Rivers every day since Saturday. Silver confirmed the power of Rivers, Paul and Kevin Johnson at the podium. The players believed Silver would make it right, and he understood the consequences of coming up small. Maybe the end of Donald Sterling was an example of what America does best: isolating the bad apple while keeping the mechanism in place, and now the players can return to cashing the checks and calling owners "Mister." Or maybe the players finally saw the possibilities of their muscle, and what the playing field might look like if they actually used it.” (emphasis mine)
The triumph over racism aside, the point is that this just as much or even more about the relationship between money-power interests and institutionalized racism, as well as oligarchy completely usurping democracy that is now on full display – and that’s where our focus should go now. The same plutocratic power that runs the NBA is the same oligarchy that runs our government.
The Sterlings of the world are the same people who buy legislators and the justice system and influence the prison industrial complex, voting rights, disproportionate minority incarceration, “whites only” water fountains in the South, the NRA-backed Stand Your Ground laws, union busting, and then pull the levers of the media outlets they own because of lax anti-trust laws that enable media conglomerate monopoly, who pump out the propaganda to distract from real issue of rampant, pervasive, insituttionalized racism and its connection to unobstructed power from money that cements the status quo. Can there be a more hideous example of the role that money plays than Sterling being presented with a lifetime achievement award by the NAACP, despite being sued for being a racist slumlord? I’m tired of money doing all the talking.
And on that subject the fine Sterling paid ($2.5 million) was .4% of what he has. It’s the same scenario for the criminal banksters, who also get to, in a corrupt judicial system that protects them, admit to no wrong and pay infinitisemal fines against their earnings/worth. It would be the equivalent, as one commenter on an encouragingly angry NY Times thread about the SEC’s impotence in dealing with mortgage fraud, of replacing "the NYS Courts with the SEC. The next time an inner city youth steals $20 from a convenience store, he can "neither admit nor deny guilt" and pay a fine of $1 and then go home with the other $19. oh wait, we can't do that then it would be equal justice for all.”
In a way this week’s events have been the Plutocrats' greatest fear realized. The most monumentally oppressed group in American history, leading a charge against the vested, old guard power elite. Think of it. As the great Akreem Abdul-Jabbar put the context to Rachel Maddow, “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Mr. Sterling is very wealthy. He employs lawyers and PR people to help make him look good. People feel very uneasy calling him on things because he has the means, especially financially, to make their lives miserable.” But they did it.
There is a grave forewarning in Kareem’s statement. It is the acknowledgment that the wealthy can always afford to fight protracted cases in court. Whether that is for suing a dissenter/activist/business competitor, or a batte of attrition they always win, the table is always tilted, the game is always rigged. “And nobody seems to notice,” said the great George Carlin.
Let’s hope this is an epiphany for us, just as much as it is for the players. In an ironic parallel, just last week 30,000 workers in China stage had been engaged in a two week sit-in strike at a factory in China that makes Nike sneakers. Of course there was hardly mention anywhere, even here. Can you imagine those workers getting the news that the NBA walked-out of their games to protest conditions in their owners’ ranks?
This could be a moment in time we look back upon, when the NBA Players united in solidarity to provide another clarion call, like Occupy Wall St, that the owners of this country don’t have our interests at heart - and are on notice.
This should be a rallying cry to the beleaguered unions, a shining example of what the power of one clear voice can do to the Moneymen.
The young players in the NBA have something to be proud of, certainly. But it would a shame, a truly missed opportunity it they, or we, stay contented with that alone.
For, alone among all sports, basketball, and specifcally the NBA, has become an ambassador of American culture to the world as the singular American sport to be embraced internationally – and for that these players have a very powerful rank in society. If they want it. I hope they do.
When workers stand united, in other words in “union,” they undoubtedly hold the keys.
The Bigger Picture is what it’s always about. Fix your eyes on the prize.
We need to take a page from the NBA, and cultivate those seeds.