In the final segment commentary of his HBO program “Real Sports” Bryant Gumbel stepped over the line into very dangerous territory. In commenting on the NBA lockout he likened NBA commissioner David Stern to a Plantation owner, and accused him of treating the players as “his boys”.
For those who don’t follow the game the lockout is in place because the deal between the players and the owners has expired, and with 23 teams in the league losing money the owners feel they need to renegotiate. Now admittedly the particulars of the dispute become more complicated, but in the end it boils down to money and who gets how much.
Drawing a comparison between this situation and slavery is obscene. It disrespects the horrors and miseries endured by generations slaves. Men and women were ripped from their families and communities in Africa, forced into cramped and dirty spaces aboard ships where they endured a torturous journey across the Atlantic. Once here they were paraded across trading blocs like cattle and sold, officially the property of another man. They and their descendents endured under the reign of a population that considered them less than human with none of the rights we hold dear today.
How Mr. Gumbel can compare the relationship of the players who have been made multimillionaires by the sport Mr. Stern manages, to that of slave and owner escapes me. What did the slaves receive from their plantation owners? No more than food, shelter and the most basic of necessities, the quality of which undoubtedly varied from plantation to plantation. Slaves certainly never had the option to sit across a table and negotiate for their compensation. No federal mediators were assigned when and impasse was reached.
David Stern is known to be a tough negotiator and has certainly raised some hackles over the years, but would a black commissioner have acted any differently? The negotiations are in the interest of the game, it is not Mr. Stern’s job the make the players happy. If there are legitimate complaints of racism they should be investigated, but as the players and team owners argue over divvying up their millions it is absurd to draw any parallel to the slave and owner dynamic. In the memory of those that truly suffered Mr. Gumbel owes an apology.