Now that the NFL anthem-kneeling problem has faded away, this is my top pick for a sports-related culture-war flashpoint during the 2020 campaign.
Old Trump boast: “People are saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” New Trump boast: “People are saying ‘team owner’ again.”
My sense after watching the Adam Silver clip below is that even he thinks this is stupid but is willing to go along to get along, not wanting to be contentious about a racial topic with a player as prominent and prone to verbal sparring as Draymond Green. (Silver even makes a point of saying that he doesn’t want to overreact to the controversy.) Green’s the one who started this dopey “debate” by taking issue with the term “owner” two years ago:
“For starters, let’s stop using the word owner and maybe use the word Chairman,” Green wrote. “To be owned by someone just sets a bad precedent to start. It sets the wrong tone. It gives one the wrong mindset.”
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got on him for that at the time, emphasizing that what the owners own is equity in the corporate entity, of course, not the players. Green doubled down last year, though:
“When you think of a basketball team, you don’t think of the Golden State Warriors and think of [the Bay Bridge logo on the team’s jersey],” Green said. “You think of the players that make that team.”…
“Very rarely do we take the time to rethink something and say, ‘maybe that’s not the way,’” Green said. “Just because someone was taught that 100 years ago, doesn’t make that the right thing today. And so, when you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery. The word ‘owner,’ ‘master’ — it dates back to slavery. … We just took the words and we continued to put it to use.”
Never mind that the NBA has, and had, black team owners. Michael Jordan famously owns the Charlotte Hornets and for a time Jay-Z owned a stake in the Brooklyn Nets. LeBron James will presumably own a stake in a team someday too, as he suggests in the second clip below. It may become a rite of passage for hoops titans eventually to continue competing after their careers end by moving from player to owner. But what do you do here if you’re Silver? Ratify Green’s foolish belief that the word “owner” has a political meaning to those who use it by insisting on protecting the term, dragging out this debate in the media until it’s a distraction for the league? Or take the path of least resistance and avoid some predictable accusations of racism by dispensing with it?
Green discusses this briefly in the second clip below (there’s profanity, in case you’re at work). The irony of this dispute happening within the NBA is that there’s no professional sports league in the United States in which the players, particularly megastars like James, have more influence over the sport’s business and culture. When pro basketball stars want to get political, the league knows its place and looks the other way. The reason “owner” is an “issue” in the NBA and virtually nowhere else in American entertainment is that most team owners are white and most players, especially A-listers, are black, which lends itself to the most superficial possible “slavery” analogy if you’re desperate to show off your woke credibility.
Exit question via Alex Griswold: If you were looking for a term with fewer racial connotations than “owner,” why the hell would you choose “governor” instead of CEO?