Dr. Boyce: Bryant Gumbel Works to Free the High Paid Slaves of the NBA

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World.

I watched curiously as Bryant Gumbel, host of “Real Sports,” referred to NBA Commissioner David Stern as a “modern day overseer.”   The comments rocked the world, probably more so than anything Gumbel has ever said in the past.  Based on Gumbel’s remarks over the years, I quietly suspect that beneath the polished, articulate demeanor lies a Black Panther always waiting to happen.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons I respect him so much – there’s  nothing more threatening than a powerful, brilliant Black man willing to go to battle for a cause he believes in.  Gumbel might be more digestible for the power structure if he were a little less-educated – I’m sure that David Stern and company are left off balance after being called a racist by a man who knows more four syllable words than anyone he’s ever met.

My only interaction with Commissioner David Stern came in 2007, when a professor released a study arguing that NBA refs call more fouls on black players than white ones.  I was on the phone that morning with Stern, the professor who did the study and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.  I listened carefully to Stern, as he smoothly explained away the study by seeking to fully discredit the scholar who wrote the article.  Although I sided with Stern that the statistical significance of the study implied that the disparate impact was not nearly as great as some were trying to believe, I got a close look at just how dirty this man can be.

David Stern, in my opinion, is not a racist.  But you don’t have to be a racist to be an overseer.  Stern wouldn’t care if the players in the NBA were white, Black or any other race, since capitalist exploitation is designed to enslave anyone who is not positioned to fight back.  But what Stern fully understands is that it’s easier to be a capitalist overseer when controlling Black men than for any other group of people.  America doesn’t care how you treat Black men, because many already believe that there is something wrong with us – Stern would likely hear more complaints if he were trying to abuse puppies.

The media loves to report on black men doing bad things (while ignoring the good), they applaud when the commissioner implements a paternalistic dress code, and Stern is allowed to work with billionaire team owners to conspire with the NCAA to restrict athletes’ rights to free labor mobility.  One perfect example is the NBA age limit of 19 years old, forcing players to give away millions in marketing and branding value to the unpaid multi-billion dollar farce of an academic institution called college sports.  In fact, if the NBA is a sports plantation, the NCAA is not much more than an athletic brothel.

Gumbel’s public outburst toward Stern is a powerful and valuable shot across the bow that will surely snatch the attention of everyone involved.  Stern will have to dodge allegations of racism as he seeks to collude with NBA owners to further erode players’ share of NBA revenue, and Gumbel might find himself (like millions of other Black men) in the unemployment line.  But the beauty of this interaction is that Gumbel has been willing to use his power to make statements that will serve to help end (as William Rhoden at the New York Times calls it) the era of the $40 million dollar slave.

Gumbel’s remarks about Stern are a continuation of the drama that has been unfolding during the recent NBA lockout negotiations.  NBA star Dwyane Wade lashed out at Commissioner Stern during a meeting, telling him that he’s “not his child.”  The strong response by NBA players is an improvement over the horrible manner by which owners put the economic hammer on them during the last lockout in 1998.   Since that time, salaries have barely increased and the rookie caps are ridiculous relative to the revenue being generated by top young players.  Owners won the last battle by doing something that players simply could not do:  Stick together.

Things have changed since 1998.  Players now have international brands that they can sell around the world, giving them more opportunities than any overseer would like for his workers to have.  When I taught a class in Chinese five years ago, I was stunned by the number of Chinese boys who love basketball (even more than black boys do here in the United States).  Players know they have options and have shown their willingness to exercise them.

In addition to stronger marketability and a greater willingness to stand up for themselves, NBA players now have something else on their side:  Education.  While the stereotype of the deliberately ignorant Black athlete still does exist, more and more players are learning from the mistakes of their fathers.  They’ve learned the value of ownership and also fully understand that how you play the game off the court is just as important as your ability to hit jump shots and free throws.

Bryant Gumbel has done a wonderful thing for the players by acknowledging the racial writing on the wall of the NBA lockout.  Both the NCAA and NBA are effectively groups of rich and powerful white men seeking to control the economic options of a group of young black men.  Sure there are some exceptions, but anyone can see the dividing line of race.  David Stern and men like him are accustomed to calling the shots and controlling Black men in the same ways that we are managed in the school and prison systems, which are thinly-veiled derivatives of the institution of slavery itself.

If men like Bryant Gumbel continue to stand up and speak truth to power as they did in the 1960s, we may see plantations being cracked at their very foundations.   Black people as powerful as Gumbel are supposed to be afraid to confront race and to tip toe on this delicate, unforgivable terrain, like wimpy DC politicians.  But Gumbel is breaking the unwritten rule stating that honest discussions of race by men in Gumbel’s position are strictly forbidden (even as we build memorials for Dr. King with Walmart money), and this lays out a frightening scenario for those who’ve become accustomed to being able to control the thinking and actions of educated Black men. Welcome to Part 2 of “The Rise of the Planet of the Athletes.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and a Black Scholarship in Action resident for YourBlackWorld.com.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 


31 Comment

  1. I have always known that the mentality of the commissioner and the owners was of the “Plantation Owner” thinking. These people are very greedy and racist. They want way to much money and the players are doing all the work ,away from home and their families.

  2. It’s about time…I met Bryant years ago while working for a major insurance company. His TV news show, I believe it was the “TODAY SHOW”, had temporarily moved to the insurance company’s lobby to do a few shows. This was in the ’80’s across the street from the Wrigley building in Chicago.

    As this top shelf insurance company only employed a handfull of African-Americans, I asked Bryan to give me(us) some play on his show, meaning the brothers and the sisters, he told me “we are giving you some play-we’re doing our show in your building, I said “you know what I mean Bryant – I mean the brothers”. He gave me the most confused look, as if he did not even know what I was talking about.

    I am glad to see that he appears to have come around.

    Keep on Keeping On!!!

  3. Thank You Bryant, for the information and speaking up.

  4. Unbelievable. Why do we continue to force a gap between skin color on issues that have nothing to do with race. We are all mankind and we should work towards racial unity. This is just absurd.

    • OMG

  5. Ha,ha,ha it’s the truth. I wonder how many black’s already knew that also.It use to be when a black player made it in the nba it was a lot of pride and these real brothers really tried to help the rest of the black masses.A vast % of these current so-called players over the years have let themselves be exploited and basically made to look like fool’s,clowns and so-called thugs.Notice,that vast % of these player’s do not speak up on real major issues.Remember what happen to Craig Hodges when he got whiteballed from the nba for wearing Afrikan looking clothing to dc.
    But it was okay for Dennis Rodman to dress in drag when he went to dc.So yes,it’s definitely some type of plantation scenario going down.Look’s like all these fans love to see huck and buck on the nba floor.

  6. I thank Mr. Gumbel for speaking up this Is what It’s going to take , you have to do the right thing by people no matter what race they are. He know that this Is not right, This what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr did he was not scared he spoke when he saw how his brothers and sisters were beening treated and he took action.Hats off to you Mr. Gumbel keep the faith.

  7. As much as I respect Gumbel for his lifelong achievements and intelligence, I believe at times he is misguided. I fully support his freedom to speak his mind and give his opinion. Now I shall give mine. I do believe that it is simply because Stern is Jewish, and Jewish people are always seen as an overseer trying to control people, doing whatever they can to whomever to make money.

  8. Gumbel is spot on. There a lot of people in the country who are in denial because he’s black and used the word, slavery. Stern is a pompous individual.

  9. Mr. Stern has done great things for the NBA and the players, not to mention the owners.
    But what I see here, is exactly what Mr Gumbel pointed out. It’s all good as long as you don’t talk
    back. How dare you buck….I’m in charge ….almost to the point of saying “I OWN YOU!”
    WOW! white billionaires v black millionaires …..Hey, from my ponit of view it’s getting better,
    the playing field is leveling. Now if we only owned HBO…then Mr Gumbel could keep
    his job.

  10. Bryant Gumbel, is one of the best substancetive journalist that you’ll ever find. He’s objective, exciting and to the point. I love his work.

  11. I’d like to start by saying that I like the short story entitled “At $5 million a year, put me on the NBA ‘plantation'” in the Atlanta Journal Constitution blog. I also would like to say that in 1998-1999 the average salary was above 3 million, and now it’s 5.84 million per year. So, I don’t understand how salaries have barely increased. Almost doubling is pretty much a HUGE increase to me. I don’t understand what the problem is with the 19 year old age restriction anyways. Why would I want to pay to see a team that drafted a rookie that has no experience or very little experience at the college level? Shouldn’t he have to prove something to everybody first. I’m not talking about freak talent like Kobe or KG or LeBron, either. So, I draft a rookie straight out of high school or with a single year at a more competitive level and then I just pay him to be in the Development League when he could be learning and proving in a much more hostile environment for FREE? A $40 million dollar slave? ANYBODY WOULD BE A SLAVE TO ANY WORK ENVIRONMENT FOR $40M. Are people just stupid? One year in the NBA at average salary is enough to get anybody through life financially EASILY. And you get to play a game and have fun while doing it. I make a little over $12/hr for a LOT of work. I’m a slave. What a joke.

  12. I have always loved Bryant Gumbel,every since I heard him come out in say on good morning America (the autobiography of Malcolm X was his favorite book of all times)this stunned his white counter part’s who did not know what to say are how to respond.I have also had to blast many NEGROES for trying to insult this brother, because he did not have a hood nor ghetto mentality..

  13. I agree with the good doctor regarding high visibility black men taking positions that are anti-status quo. However I disagree that Mr. Stern is not a racist. I believe in my heart he is an absolute racist. Anyone that has the innate ablility to maintain business as usual is a racist. As human beings it is incumbent upon us to conduct ourselves in the boundaries of the righteous laws(humanity) to the best of our abilities. Mr. Stern perpetuates the business as usual model. I am a firm believer that
    that as nation we have not learn how to operate out of plantation modality.

  14. Commissioner David Stearn, is of the same mind as Harvard President, Larry Summers, when one of his first actions was to put Professor Dr. Cornell West, in his so-called place. Bryant Gumbel, is my hero, and should be saluted by all (black, white and other) of the NBA and NCAA ball players. It takes courage and a sense of self-worth, to stand and tell it like it is, when you know that the price for the telling might be high. Should Gumbel suffer any price for the telling, the NBA players should hire him as their consultant and spokes person.
    HOORAY, HOORAY for Bryant Gumbel!

  15. Finally !!!! Now all we need is for the most powerful on the court to stand together and speak out. It’s sounds good that behind closed doors , Dwayne Wade stood his ground regarding the way he was addressed and spoken too. Bryant Gumbel is speaking to something far more powerful than a verbal insult. IF WE COULD ONLY GET THE PLAYERS TO STAND WITH BRYANT GUMBLE THEN , THEY WOULD BE STANDING FOR SOMETHING.

  16. This tripe reminds me of the term “nattering nabobs of negativity.” Just so much dung.

  17. Excellent analysis of Gumbell’s pivotal role in the NBA dispute. Thanks!

  18. Thank God for an educated black man that will stand up for the right things. Mr. Gumbel have done that many times even when on the TODAY show. Mr. Gumbel keep on telling it and one day soon I hope that we all get the message.

  19. Just because Stern is Jewish does not mean he is an overseer. The race card can go both ways Mr. Gumbel. I do respect you but please, just because of what you see and read says all Jews are overseers and in charge of money, banks, etc, does not make it true.

  20. Let’s not go overboard with praising Bryant Gumbal. After all Richard Nixon is one of his personal hero’s! I will give him credit for using his bullypulpit to state the obvious! More importantly we need to also deal with the NCAA as Dr. Watkins points out. As a republican Bryant Gumbal is no Black Panther. Furthermore the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” is a treasure and should be read by all. For me personally “The Fire Next Time” is prophetic of the times as far as white/black relations. Read that, James Baldwin was marginalized because of his sexuality. Maybe now we can gleen the wisdom he imparted for all of us to face this hideous enemy embeded in America’s institutions.

  21. Beautifly written, always good to read a piece by the good doctor, can’t wait to hear you on OPEN LINE

  22. What we all know is one has to” pick the hill to defend”, anyone in business knows when race is brought up it changes the tone of the conversation. I was brought up with the philosphy of at work one does not discuss religion, politics or sex. Bryant G has started conversation and that is always good, perhaps ruffled a few feathers but that too is ok. What we now need to see is more after BB success stories, to show that times are changing. Love this Site, Peace Out

  23. you’ve an ideal blog here! would you prefer to make some invite posts on my weblog?

  24. Odd…Bryant Gumbel can see Commissioner David Stern’s NBA Plantation, but can not see his own failing supports for the Plantation that is the Democratic Party policies that has held Black Americans back for 45 years! Oh, yeah—Bryant’s a Millionaire huh? Well, for now, at least……until this present Administration forces him to Pony-Up his FAIR-SHARE! Hmmm—I’ve believed for years now, that “FAIR” is just another 4-letter “F – Word.”

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