I've written on the phenomenon before, most recently, while examining the trite hate-fest that pretends to be media coverage surrounding LeBron James. And frankly, I've found myself disagreeing with Bryant Gumbel on a number of salient points throughout these discussions. This time though, Gumbel is on-point. Recently he made these comments, regarding the NBA Lockout and how NBA Commissioner David Stern is handling it:
Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.
His comments have drawn a lot of ire, much of it from black media members. (In full disclosure, I tend to discount white media member's discomfort when a black person uses a supposed slavery analogy. Call it a personal failing.) Try though I may, I can't find what is incorrect about Gumbel's statement.
It's accurate, right down to Stern's approach in handling "his" players. Apparently, invoking slavery—or seeming to invoke slavery, since Gumbel didn't call the NBA players slaves—is a special case of Godwin's Law. I get that too, but here's the thing. The fact that those who are under control are better paid is no reason to conclude that control is not taking place. (A similar analogy is applicable to the American State and its "freedoms.") The amount of compensation doesn't necessarily change the relationship between those under control and those who control them. (It can however, and I'd be among the first to admit, make the control feel better!)
Sometimes, the plantation is in our minds. One of my idols, Carter G. Woodson, might suggest that this is often the case. The walls surrounding this mental plantation were on full display during a recent "debate" I watched on ESPN. Asked if the players should start their own league, one of the commenters said "No!" He suggested that they should instead hold out and continue to fight the owners, hoping that they eventually receive—what this commenter thought—was appropriate compensation, or a "better deal" from the owners.
So, they're not really on a plantation, i.e., they can leave and "do their own thing" whenever they like, but instead of doing that, they should debate with the overseers about how much cornmeal is enough? Damn. I'm forced to quote Woodson again:
When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary. ... History shows that it does not matter who is in power … those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.
Count me among those who hopes, desperately, that just this once, rich guys living in a mostly-free society tell their ostensible overseer to go jump in a lake, and use free enterprise to their own advantage. (They probably won't—but a guy can dream, right?)