Burnt jerseys? “Benedict Allen”? Last week’s free agent defections by Steve Nash and Ray Allen to arch-rival teams received some forceful expressions of betrayal by local media and fans. However, only Allen’s story would make national waves, the “Nash backlash” would remain largely local, and as usual, the owners would walk away unscathed (despite weak efforts to sign them). The disparate media reactions would symbolize the intersecting dynamics of race, class, and white privilege in America.
One ESPN article referred to Allen as “Judas” while another was titled: “Ray of Darkness“. A marginal NBA player tweeted Allen as “traitor’, unsubstantiated rumors circulated about a “rift with Rondo”, and both “stories” spread across national media. While others argued Allen was no traitor, the national debate was on. ESPN invoked Lebron with: “The Decision 2.0: How Could You Ray?”
Before Allen ever took his talents to South Beach, ESPN/Lebron’s famous “Decision” allegedly left millions of Americans locked in unified arms with Cavalier fans singing “We Shall Overcome.” Now we get to see if these same folks have any sympathy left in their hearts for many suffering Suns fans.
In ”Steve Nash Laker and a Traitor“, Seth Pollack writes of about the “knife in the back”:
“Fans outside of Phoenix might not get it, but there is NO OTHER team more hated than the Lakers. This isn’t a rivalry in the sense that there’s mutual distaste. This is a full-on, one-sided inferiority complex stemming from the first postseason meeting in 1970. (All the gory details here).”
Nash’s declaration of independence — on July 4th no less — prompted this sentiment:
“Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers? Are you kidding me? What in the name of Judas, Benedict Arnold and Mata Hari is going on? This is more than the end of an era. It is the end of days.”
“Some [Phoenix Suns fans] are beyond shocked. Many are hurt, betrayed, morose and frenzied. …After the trade, threats of burning Nash jerseys have been appearing on chat boards and comment sections throughout the interwebs.”
Some fans followed through on those threats, but outside of Phoenix few knew.
Why wasn’t ESPN or the Associated Press chronicling all the hate? Lebron James wants to know!
While Lebron dumped his girlfriend with the whole world watching, Steve left graciously only to date her worst enemy (note: her name is Kobe and the wedding date is set for June 2013). To ex-girlfriends, splitting such hairs rarely means comfort.
Now I have no interest in bashing Nash — one of my all-time sports heroes, and enough cannot be said about his incredible off-court activism. I fully support his move to LA, Ray’s move to Miami, and also agreed with Nash when he stated this weekend that:
“There’s really no true loyalty in sports. You have to do what’s best for you.”
He should know. A young Nash was once traded by the Suns, and only returned after being rejected in free agency by the Mavericks — a team he helped rebuild. Sports owners can turn down a god like Peyton Manning, jettison a loyal winner like Derek Fisher without a phone call, and let a historically underpaid Wes Welker twist in the wind for months instead of offer him a long-term contract. Players learn quickly.
Last year NBA player Gerald Wallace felt the pain of a trade:
“I felt like it was a stab in the back, something I that I totally didn’t see coming… I was comfortable here. I thought everything was good… My heart was here. My heart and soul were here and it’s always been here for the last seven years.”
Now consider Wallace’s deep loyalty was to the woeful Charlotte Hornets! Nets guard Deron Williams recently elaborated:
“People get traded all the time. They don’t get backlash as an organization. If [players] leave, we are not loyal, we are ungrateful. People… are out there bashing me, saying to me I’m a traitor. I didn’t ask to be here. I got traded.”
Now consider that Williams — who just resigned with the Nets — was simply exploring free agency for a team he only played for half-a-season.
Now that’s the mind-shaping power of ownership — and the
corporate partners American sports media that almost always unconditionally supports them.
This owner-athlete loyalty sham thrives because sports media’s “triple-standard” between owners, white athletes, and athletes of color.
Steve Nash dribbles right through the middle of this intersection.
To simply honor Nash’s greatness without studying the incredible white privilege that he receives is to disrespect and dishonor his NBA colleagues. Nash is not only the most under-criticized NBA superstar to never reach the finals, but his smooth escape to LA, candor about the importance of money, and bold statements on “no true loyalty in sports” with no national debate has redefined “Disney World” for Dwight Howard .
Allen knows better than to utter Nash’s words, and Lebron’s act (not manner) of joining other stars to chase a ring brought labels of “coward“, “fraud“, and “scared little kid” deserving of an “asterisk” on future titles — and that’s just one article!
If Steve rides Kobe’s coattails to a title, will it be tainted? Will it even be debated?
Such actions from Black ballers are regularly met with “get-back-in-your-place-you-spoiled-ungrateful-fill-in-the-racial-code-word-blank” media backlash. If you remain skeptical, then please pick up a copy of David J. Leonard’s tremendous new book: “After Artest: The NBA and The Assault on Blackness“.
If you think that I’m suggesting that “bashing Nash” is the ultimate solution, you are missing the point.
Exposing white privilege is not about treating Steve like Ray — it’s about treating Ray like Steve.
It’s about allowing Allen to speak freely like white all-star Kevin Love did this week:
“My patience is not high. Would yours be, especially when I’m a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness? …If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen.”…I think our front office and ownership needs to step up and get us some pieces.”
How did ESPN frame Love’s warning to management despite recently signing a contract?: “Kevin Love: I Want to Win“. The playoff game experience between Ray Allen over Kevin Love is 128 – 0, but in terms of media respect, its Love over Allen: 1-0.
Ray is Judas, Lebron is a coward, but Kevin just wants to win.
Now that’s the mind-shaping power of whiteness — a shield that has protected Love in the past.
Exposing white privilege is not about hating on Love, it’s about hating on hate.
It’s about treating others with Kevin’s love and asking what the media might say if Dwight Howard said this:
“The Magic have done a lot for me, but I’ve got a question for y’all: Have I done a lot for the Magic? …”
“When it comes down to it, people don’t understand, fans don’t understand, this is a business, this is an entertainment business…”
“I love everything about [the Magic]. But I’m not going to sit here and say that I owe the Magic. I don’t feel like I owe the Magic.”
But Howard never spoke these words. That barely altered statement (“Magic” replaced “Rangers”) came earlier this year from Texas Ranger’s slugger Josh Hamilton less than one month after his latest public drug relapse. Hamilton quickly backpedaled, and all was well again. Despite embarrassing relapses, Josh’s well-chronicled crack and drug addictions have produced a media woven romantic tale that is simply beyond belief.
The passes for Hamilton, Love, and Nash are all part of the same media-driven pattern of white privilege that ironically prevents many fans from critically examining the relationship between owners vs. all athletes. Beyond local cities, sports fans mainly read about athletes of color as potential “traitors” who are a selfish, disloyal divas.
When media does this, it becomes perceived as “a black thing” — not “a player thing”.
And no one benefits more from this confusion than opportunistic owners who ruin the games we love. Lack of loyalty by owners is so normalized, it goes uncriticized.
Owners like it that way, and sports media keeps it that way. Should an astute player realize this loyalty sham, they are blamed. If not white, they are crucified.
Exposing white privilege is not about dividing players, it’s about uniting them.
It’s about clearly seeing their unified stance and understanding of an inherently disloyal system that only requests honor from them.
As long as our national sports media separates Nash from Allen, Lebron’s “Decision” from ESPN executives, and continues to give owners a free pass, there is only one word for those perpetrators:
- ESPN: Why White Fans Don’t Hate White Athletes
- The Undemonization of Kevin Love
- It’s Not Steve Nash’s Fault: A Study in White Privilege
 References to Lebron’s “Decision” should include ESPN, who was the co-facilitator before disappearing from memory like Justin Timberlake once did from Janet Jackson.
 With respect to Howard’s “should I stay or should I go” indecisiveness, Brett Favre did this for over five years before unfavorable media coverage ensued.
 Fans themselves are arguably no more loyal than owners — something players find out five minutes after an ACL knee injury. When fans can get a better deal for even their favorite player, most a very willing to make that deal.
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