Michele Roberts is the new executive director of the NBA Players’ Union. She is the first woman to be union chief for a major North American sports league. The players were fleeced during the negotiations that ended the 2011 lockout. To hear Roberts tell it, that’s not going to happen again.
Roberts said that the owners should be credited with having “done a great job of controlling the narrative.” A measure of their success is that the perfectly sensible things to Roberts says are going to sound alien or hostile, because professional owners have often been so successful at using terms like “markets” and “competition” in nearly the opposite of their commonly understood usages.
Among her claims:
1) it’s ridiculous that owners should be splitting the revenue 50-50 with the players. Roberts asks: “why don’t we have owners play half the games?” As she says, “there would be no money if not for the players.” Even the conservative columnist George Will is on the record as saying that when it comes to pro athletes, he subscribes to Marx’ Labor Theory of Value (that’s Karl – not Groucho).
“Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money,” she added, pausing for emphasis. “Thirty more owners can come in, and nothing will change. These guys [the players] go? The game will change. So let’s stop pretending.”
Yes, we can quibble over whether the players should get *all* the money. But the owners’ fatuous claims that they teeter on the brink of bankruptcy unless they receive an ever-expanding share of the pie are much less serious than Roberts’ assertions.
2) Roberts described the salary cap flatly as “un-American.” We can quibble about that. But what is undeniable is that the owners, as a collective, would regard as an outrage and an affront to everything America stands for any effort to cap their profits.
3) She rightly bashed the owners’ desire to raise the NBA age minimum. We’ve covered this ground before. Their arguments for doing so do not withstand scrutiny and the larger discussion of age limits in American sports have an undeniable racial tinge.
4) Roberts response to the recent claim by Commissioner Adam Silver that a third of teams were still losing money was the only appropriate one there is:
“I initially just started laughing, to be honest with you,” she said of her reaction to that statistic. “I know that as a result of the last CBA, at least 1.3 billion dollars in revenue that would have otherwise been on the players’ side is now on the owners’ side. I see the valuations of these teams going though the roof. … How much more do you need to make money?”
It’s going to be fun to watch her in action when the players consider opting out of the current CBA in 2016, just before the massive increase in television revenues begins. On the whole, sports media are painfully guileless about the owners’ ridiculous claims of poverty and their absurd attempts to defend their unrelenting greed and market-defying privileges by invoking shibboleths like “competitive balance.”
Roberts seems well-placed to take those head on.