Jesse Jackson and The Merits of the Slave-Owner Sports Analogy

Jesse Jackson sure has hit a nerve with his most recent press release about the open letter that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert released criticizing Lebron James. On the surface Jesse Jackson may seem to be a bit far-flung in saying that Gilbert is acting as if Lebron James is a runaway slave and he is a slave master. But digging deeper reveals a level of uneasiness with the way the situation has been handled that has even left me wondering about a lot of things.

I have always believed that modern day sports has clear similarities to slavery. While athletes, more often than not black and brown ones, make exorbitant amounts of money, their livelihoods are often inextricably tied to the whim and fancy of owners, almost all white, who are making considerably more money. If athletes fall out of favor with ownership they are often shipped out without any consideration of how that may impact their lives. I see no difference in this sort of ownership and what occurred during slavery when slave owners would own the rights to their slaves and sell and barter them as they seemed fit. Please realize that the slave owner dynamic is not something that only exists in sports or can only happen with people of color. In almost any profession where you are beholden to an owner of a company this dynamic can occur.

Please lets not forget that the value of the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped by almost $200M since Lebron was drafted by them seven years ago. In more general terms looking at the racial makeup of athletes in any professional sport aside from hockey, the percentage of people of color playing on the field is extremely high, while the number of owners, executives, and coaches are fairly low. While the NBA has done a very good job diversifying its management rankings proportionate to the players, there is still work to be done.

Going back specifically to the comments made by Jackson, there is one segment that is worth exploring. Jackson states that "by saying that he (Lebron) has gotten a free pass and that people have covered for him way too long, Gilbert suggests that LeBron has done something illegal or illicit." This is an interesting aspect to be discussed. For all intents and purposes while Lebron was a Cavalier, no one ever had negative comments to say about him. I find it very interesting that the day he decides that he wants to leave, there now is this maelstrom from the Cavaliers organization that Lebron is somehow a bad guy or is complicit in some behavior that is wrong. While Gilbert may not like his decision, his comments are simply out of touch with the reality of the situation.

Furthermore Jackson makes an outstanding follow-up to those who may defend Gilbert calling James out by stating "if he believes that LeBron quit in games 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, then, why did he fire the coach? If he believes that LeBron intentionally quit...why did he pursue him and offer him an additional $120 million to stay in Cleveland?" It seems that as bad as Gilbert wanted to paint Lebron as, he was still ready to hitch on to the bandwagon of his prized horse and ride him yet again. Or should I say he was ready to get Toby back to the plantation because he knew Toby could reign in more cotton than the rest of his slaves. I guess Toby saw better pastures on the other plantation in South Beach (I am only being partially sarcastic.)

I compare the Lebron James situation to the Brett Favre situation. While I believe there are clear differences in each, the level of passion, and subsequently the level of hate that the Cavs fan base feels compared to the Packers fan base is very different in this situation. At the end of the day the result was the same. Brett Favre was the face of Packer country for over a decade before he unceremoniously exited the franchise and ultimately played for the archrivals. While he is clearly disliked in Green Bay, I do not feel as though he is hated nearly as much as Lebron is. There needs to be some level of understanding why Lebron's jerseys are being burned in effigy while Favre wasn't. Why is the owner of the Cavs more angry than the owner of the Packers? Essentially both players did the same thing. But by no means is the reaction of each side similar at all.

Whether you agree with Jessy or not the fact that his comments struck such a strong nerve this morning is proof enough to me that there is some validity in his arguments. People do not get upset unless deep down there is a reason for that anger. Lets not just throw away Jackson's commentary. While it may sound ridiculous on its surface digging deeper allows us to have a more robust conversation on how vestiges from our past inherently impact our present and help shape our future.

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