Or at least to cut him some slack.
I’m one of those people who see the Miami Heat as basketball’s Evil Empire, or like the bad guys in an underdog-story kid’s sports movie. I still haven’t forgiven LeBron for “The Decision” (or for beating the Pistons in the 2007 playoffs). Having him, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh—three of the league’s elite players—on the same team just feels like stacking the deck. It’s as though a team that talented is supposed to win. What fun is that?
But Mychal Denzel Smith has me reconsidering. I spoke to him yesterday for a story I’m writing on money in college sports, and as an aside he said:
In 2010, when LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all decided that they were going to play in Miami together, what you saw was a shift with black men taking control of their destiny in professional sports and no longer being necessarily what William Rhoden called the “40 million dollar slave,” right? They were understanding their value, and understanding the market, and understanding what it is that they bring to the table. And capitalizing off of their talent and their business savvy in order to do what it is that they wanted to do in order to make themselves more profitable and their brands more profitable.
Maybe as sports fans, we’re not accustomed to athletes being strong self-advocates and asserting control over their careers. And it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that race influences our expectations. I’ll almost always still root for the underdog (in this case, against the Heat) but I’ll definitely try to spare the scorn.
College bowl games this year include: the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, the Little Caesars Bowl, Military Bowl Presented by Northrup Grumman, New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Hyundai Sun Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Capital One Bowl, GoDaddy.com Bowl, Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, and, of course, the Discover BCS National Championship.
On this list, there isn’t a single bowl without a company in its title.
I struggle to wrap my brain around what exactly it means to put providers of insurance, fast food, and apparel in these honored name slots. At the very least it seems like vandalizing of tradition. Will we even be able to tell where culture ends and money begins?
One thing I can say for sure is we don’t need to do this. As a society, we are not desperate for money; there’s no obligation to sell our culture to the highest bidder.
From a book I’m reading:
Rabbit kept at it. “We all from Dexter here, and we ain’t never had nothing!” Several younger boys came into the Coney. They looked like elementary students, and Rabbit assailed them as well. “Don’t fuck around with this dope game, y’all,” he said, as the boys looked askance in embarrassment and went to the counter to order. “Y’all need to stay in school, for real!” he continued. “You need to be down at the boys club, practicing your Js and shit, know what I’m saying? ‘Cuz you all need to get the fuck out of here, you know,” he said, flashing the Dexter D. “Little punk-ass motherfuckers never had shit.” He repeated with rhythmic regularity, “We from Dexter and we ain’t never had nothing.”
I want to note how closely he associates jump shots with getting out of the hood. It makes sense: with little access to quality education or solid blue-collar job opportunities, young people in inner cities have few options.
As dead prez says:
See where I’m from it’s a few ways out
either rappin’ or sports either dope or the casket
I went to my first-ever NBA game tonight: through work, I scored free tickets to watch my hometown Pistons play my adopted-hometown Wizards. Aside from Rodney Stuckey’s game-winning jumper, the highlight was surely the Chipotle “Burrito Dash.”
It’s moments like these that remind me of how little time I spend in mainstream American society. It’s not like I’ve never seen burritos fired out of a cannon before, but I was taken aback by the theatrics of it all. The crowd was cheering wildly. As the cannons fired and music blared, the Wizards’ hype man belted play-by-play. (“Freeeee foooooooood!”) Chipotle logos jittered across the jumbotron and—most bizarre of all—stone-faced, bare-bellied cheerleaders gyrated along the sideline.
I say it was a highlight for me, but it seems like others shared my opinion. For the 11-and-38 Wizards, burritos elicited as much fanfare from spectators as any moment of actual gameplay. Guy Debord said that we experience capitalist society as “spectacle.” I wonder if this is the type of thing he means. Thousands cheering your product as cannons deliver it to a lucky few? What CEO wouldn’t kill for that?