A good old-fashioned internet brouhaha has broken out since last night, as a result of an inflammatory tweet by Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo: “Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime.”
Garofalo’s being very widely trashed for the statement and among his quite weak attempts to “clarify” what he said was this:
“I was talking about the NBA’s high arrest rate and that their punishment for positive drugs tests are weaker than other leagues. No intent beyond that. The culture among many pro athletes that they are above the law is the problem, not people like me pointing that problem out.”
Kyle Wagner of Deadspin just did a little back-of-the-napkin number crunching, despite the fact that “this exercise is idiotic, and I can actually feel my will to live fading with every keystroke,” and determined that, no, NBA players do not have a high arrest rate.
As has become standard fare among Republicans, Garofalo has attempted to depict himself as a brave truth teller while simultaneously running away from the obvious implication of his statement.
Garofalo has a reputation as a provocateur (what you kids call a ‘troll’) who has a questionable relationship to truth telling. His little outburst last night, however, is only a particularly meat-headed version of a larger problem facing the NBA – the razor’s edge it teeters on because of its racial composition. As I said over the weekend, the fact that my tentacles are up when it comes to the age question in the NBA is a product of the larger cultural context within which the NBA operates. The representation issue – the degree to which the conduct of individual black athletes becomes representative of black America more generally, in a way that is simply not operative for white athletes – extends beyond basketball, of course. But because the sport is so dominated by African American players, while the paying customer base, ownership and the media covering the sport remain overwhelmingly white, racial implications are never very far from the surface of basketball conversations, whether we’re talking about dress codes, age limits, style of play or labor negotiations.
I’ve got no problem with people piling on Garofalo. He’s a dope and he deserves it. Let’s just not get too caught up in distractions like him – the hard stuff is that less simple-minded people struggle with.