A handful of notes:
1) just heard Moe Egger on ESPN radio describing how well things are going for the NBA right now. With appealing and marketable superstars, an ever rotating cast new young talent, Adam Silver is taking over the commissionership in what is an enviable situation. Egger contrasted the NBA’s embrace of youth Major League Baseball. To illustrate the difference, Egger noted the uproar over the possibility that Yasiel Puig would be invited to participate in the 2013 all-star game. That was impossible, Egger said, because baseball doesn’t welcome young players the way the NBA does. I think it would be hard to deny that, led by the Bob Costases of the world, there is a particularly strong fuddy-duddy, tradition-defending phalanx of baseball commentators, intellectuals and high priests, ever ready to remind us how much better things were in the idyllic pre-free agency era, when Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and the like played baseball the right way.
Never mind that, on most days of the week, you can hear plenty of chatter across the universe of sports commentary about the lack of discipline of today’s basketball players, the fact that the one and done rule means too many inexperienced guys are entering the NBA too soon and how the game would be better off if players had to wait two, or even three years after high school before they entered the NBA draft.
But Egger really doesn’t have it right about baseball and youth. First of all, the immediate source of the controversy about Puig appearing in the all-star game was that he’d made his major league debut just about one month before that game was played. As it happens, I would have invited Puig to the game. He was an electrifying player, the game really should belong to the fans and he played so well in that first month that there was a good statistical case to be made for his inclusion. But all-star rosters including a bevy of great young players, including Manny Machado, 21 years old at the time of the 2013 all-star game, Bryce Harper, who was 20 and Mike Trout, already the best player in the game, at the ripe old age of 22. All three are younger than Puig. Machado and Harper, by the way, are younger than every player appearing in today’s NBA all star game other than Anthony Davis. And plenty of other guys 26 and younger showed up at Citi Field for the all-star game last summer.
It’s a popular sport among sports pundits to pick at baseball and its foibles. As I wrote a few weeks ago, its TV rating and popularity are always derided in relation to football. And certainly, its problems with PEDs have drawn lots of negative publicity to the sport (double standards aside). But the fact is that the game is booming. An average of 30,000 people are showing up every day for six months at baseball stadiums around the country (think about that for a minute). Teams are inking lucrative, two-decades long TV deals like its nothing. And a global infusion of young players continues to accumulate on Major League rosters.
I agree that the NBA is in good shape. And that baseball “traditionalists” play an outsize role in defining the game for the public. But baseball’s swimming in young talent. And some of those guys are even being allowed to show up to play in all star games.
2) Lots of discussion this weekend about the report that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made $44 million in salary in 2012. Whether he is “worth” that much is a debatable question, as are big salaries in general. But one of the arguments frequently made for why Goodell is making so much money – in a more typical year – he’s likely to pull in roughly $30 million – is that he did such a good job of helping the NFL navigate the summer 2011 lockout, the end of which resulted in an agreement that, by near consensus, favored the owners. I mention this because, without exception, in every labor dispute, before its resolution, an army of sports writers and commentators manage to manufacture all manner of reasons why the the NFL, or the NBA, or MLB, or the NHL is in dire straits. There is a maddening tendency to refer to every one of these fights as a “strike,” even when it’s a lockout, as if a dispute between management and labor is always the result of the workers being ultimately unreasonable. More to the point, there are rivers of money flowing into the coffers of pro sports teams, they enjoy a range of anti-trust exemptions and ludicrous tax breaks that that most businesses can only dream of and, as if they’re not already wealthy and privileged enough, they continue to be the beneficiaries of enormous public subsidies, even in areas that are otherwise going broke.
In spite of that, every time we approach the end of a collective bargaining agreement, the Peter Kings of the world manage to explain to us that up is down and black is white when it comes to sports labor disputes. Can someone in the mainstream sports media please remember this the next time a CBA expires?
3) Among the more interesting conversations during the two week build up to the Super Bowl was prompted by Richard Sherman’s comment that the word “thug” is the newly accepted way of calling someone the “N-word.” The just concluded trial in which Michael Dunn faced a first degree murder charge and three counts of attempted murder is a good illustration of Sherman’s point. Dunn is the 47-year old white man who fired ten shots into a vehicle after a dispute over the volume level of what Dunn had described as “thug music.” The jury was hung on the charge of murder in the first degree in the death of 17-year old Jordan Davis, but convicted Dunn of the attempted murder charges against the three other young men who were in the car with Davis.
Dunn’s lawyer, Cory Strolla, insisted that the trial was not about race, but instead about a “subculture thug issue.” But what work is “thug” doing here, other than to dehumanize a group of young men for the purposes of devaluing their lives in order to justify ending them? Maybe Jordan Davis and his friends were being obnoxious that night. Maybe they were being *really* obnoxious. I don’t know because I wasn’t there. But “thug,” in this context, is meant to signal that, almost no matter what those kids did, they deserved to be treated with a lesser presumption of basic humanity and were, therefore, justifiably subject to the ultimate punishment. If you’re already in a lesser category of human being, then one false move, like playing loud music, means it’s open season. This is, I think, in part what Ta-Nehisi Coates meant yesterday when he wrote, in the aftermath of the Davis-Dunn verdict, of the “irrelevance of black life” in America. And it’s what Richard Sherman knew to be true when he made his comments at the Super Bowl about the use of the word “thug.”