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Why Black Athletes Shouldn’t Take PR Advice from ESPN
Henry Abbot, founder of theespn.comTruehoop blog, suggested NBA players should follow the leads of Keith Richards and Jay-Z and explain what their past and present lives are really like. All I could do after reading it was shake my head.
Why don’t black athletes open up to white journalists? One reason was summed up perfectly by Joyce Hobson in the ESPN 30 for 30 film, No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson when she said, “It is important for African-Americans to tell their stories. [White people] cannot paint our stories for us…. We lived it!”
Why would any black athlete trust their personal stories with the same group of prejudiced reporters and analysts that attacked LeBron James because they didn’t like his free agency decision? Abbott admits that race is a factor in why the real stories about black athletes don’t get told but he didn’t explain how big a factor.
Carmelo Anthony was labeled a thug when he supported the Stop Snitching DVD produced by drug dealers that supported his basketball career. Allen Iverson was more honest than most players and to this day white reporters and analysts still call for him to be less than who he is and submit to a bench role. Nobody ever asked Brett Favre to be a backup quarterback during any of his comebacks and when he refused to tutor Aaron Rodgers, none of the white reporters and analysts that called for Iverson to take a submissive role suggested Favre humble himself in a lesser role.
But this isn’t about Iverson and Favre. This is about double-consciousness and white supremacy.
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
W.E.B DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk Abbott suggested black athletes follow Jay-Z’s lead and open up about their personal lives for the purpose of “building connections with audiences of all colors.” It was one of the silliest things I’ve read this week (and I’ve read, and written, some silly things this week).
Black athletes know how white society perceives them because it’s stated loud and clear every day in the sports media. It’s silly of Abbott to ask them to portray themselves the same way Jay-Z did in his book, Decoded, because society doesn’t perceive athletes and rappers the same way.
Abbott praised Jay-Z for discussing details of his life as a drug dealer in the book. He went so overboard with this praise that he posted, “I WOULD LIKE TO THANK JAY-Z FOR TAKING THE TIME TO BRIDGE ONE OF THE BIGGEST CULTURAL GAPS IN AMERICAN HISTORY.”
Uh, Henry, that’s how Jay-Z made his fortune – by discussing details of his life as a drug dealer in rhyme form over dope beats. White society wants to hear the details of rappers dealing drugs and will compensate the best of them handsomely for fulfilling that desire. White society doesn’t want to see black athletes like Carmelo hanging with drug dealers. White society just wants to see them play basketball and will compensate the best of them handsomely for fulfilling that desire.
Jay-Z didn’t bridge any cultural gap by discussing his desire to sell drugs after his “mentor” was murdered. He just found a way to exploit his double-consciousness.
I haven’t read Decoded, but I’m from Trenton, New Jersey. Jay-Z acknowledged he spent time hustling in Trenton on the title track of The Blueprint when he said, “East Trenton grew me…” I have an older cousin that was very familiar with drug dealers in Trenton back then, and he told me a story about the time he saw Jay-Z run into a building to get away from some dude that was going to whip his ass. That story probably didn’t make it into Decoded. I’m not saying it was an important event in Jay-Z’s life. My point is that most of the stories in the book probably support the glamorized image of Jay-Z as a drug dealer turned rapper. A story about him running like a bitch instead of fighting like a man doesn’t support that narrative. So while Jay-Z may be very honest in his book, I doubt he’s telling the whole story because his double-consciousness knows what people want to read about him.
Comedian Eddie Griffin used to tell a joke about gangster rap. He said the term “gangster rappers” was funny to him because gangsters follow a code of silence while rappers talk too much! The punchline, and the point of the story, is that Abbott shouldn’t be impressed by Jay-Z talking about his life as a drug dealer – that’s his job and it’s what he’s good at.
On that same note, Abbott shouldn’t find it weird that NBA players don’t talk about their lives outside of basketball because that’s not their job, it’s not what they’re good at and their double-consciousness knows it won’t be a productive endeavor.
Of course, the fact that two-thirds of NBA players don’t come from poor, broken homes in the ‘hood like Jay-Z could be another reason they don’t tell the same stories he tells. In the July 25th issue of ESPN the Magazine, Peter Keating wrote a story about published research from the International Review for the Sociology of Sport that revealed 34 percent of black players in the NBA from 1994 to 2004 grew up in homes earning no more than 1.5 times the poverty line (which equaled less than $23,000 dollars in 2010). Keating also wrote that 90 percent of players came from inner cities in the 1960s and 70s, but now a black kid from a low-income family has a 37 percent lower chance of making the NBA than a black kid from the middle or upper class.
The idea that the NBA is a league filled with poor kids that went from the ghetto to the good life is quickly becoming another myth propagated by the Dead Basketball Poets Society (DBPS for short). But let’s get away from the Jalen Rose vs. Grant Hill debate and get back to double-consciousness, white supremacy and Truehoop’s PR advice for black athletes.
While double-consciousness prevents the black athlete from trusting their personal stories with white journalists, it doesn’t prevent white journalists from trying to tell those stories. It struck me as ludicrous that Abbott blamed players instead of writers for failing to take the lead to tell stories that, in his words, “sync our expectations for players with the reality they inhabit.” Players get paid to play. Writers get paid to write. If Abbott doesn’t like the stories being written, then how is it the players’ fault?
This is where white supremacy comes in to play. Neely Fuller, Jr., the author of The United Independent Compensatory Code/System/Concept – a textbook/workbook for thought, speech and/or action for victims of racism (white supremacy), gave this simple definition of white supremacy in an interview, “If you are non-white and I am white, I will always and forever tell you what to do to my satisfaction.”
It’s very convenient for Abbott to blame players for not telling more stories that “sync our expectations for players with the reality they inhabit.” White supremacy provides that convenience. Why should any NBA player trust any member of the Dead Basketball Poets Society with intimate stories from their personal lives when they can’t even get the basketball stories right?
The Carmelo trade rumors and Deron Williams vs. Ken Berger incident are just two examples of the white noise from last season that illustrate why NBA writers don’t have the credibility to be trusted with the type of stories Abbott wants the players to tell.
That is what’s missing from Abbott’s PR advice. Jay-Z didn’t write Decoded. It was written by dream hampton. Hampton established the credibility and trust required to write a book with personal details of Jay-Z’s life. As a friend of the Notorious B.I.G. and the first female editor at The Source magazine, she had Hip Hop credibility. As a writer from Brooklyn with friends that said someone in Jay-Z’s crew murdered their brother, she had street credibility.
Who is the equivalent to dream hampton in the Dead Basketball Poets Society that has the credibility to be trusted with the personal life of an NBA player? Lisa Salters? Her story for E:60 on Dwyane Wade and his mother’s heroin addiction was great, but I don’t see her writing biographies or co-writing autobiographies.
Personally, I don’t think the NBA has a dream hampton. That’s why Iverson chose to wait for his own documentary to be released instead of talking on camera to Steve James, the award-winning director of the documentary Hoop Dreams.
If Abbott wants to read more realistic stories about NBA players, then he should go out and do the hard work of writing them and compel the rest of the DBPS to do the same. Of course, you don’t have to do that hard work when you have the convenience of white supremacy that allows you to level criticism that attempts to passive-aggressively command them to come to you.
If Jay-Z fans really wanted to know what it’s like to be a drug dealer, then they could do what sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh did and go spend time with them. If NBA writers really want to know what NBA players lives are like, then they could establish a relationship with a player and go spend time with their friends and families. Of course, that requires hard work. The convenience of white supremacy makes that unnecessary.
Abbott’s public relations advice to black athletes is really just bait to make his job better and his NBA experience more enjoyable. He said that NBA players talking about their interactions with gangs could be “heroic role-model stuff” but that’s nonsense. NBA players talk to kids all the time via community outreach programs run by the league, the teams and the players’ own foundations. They don’t need to publish a tell-all book to teach kids about gangs.
You know who needs a tell-all book about an NBA player? NBA writers with nothing to talk about during a lockout. NBA writers that cannot establish their own connection with a player to ask them personal questions. NBA writers looking to benefit from the convenience of white supremacy.
What Abbott masked as “advice” is really just bait. It’s a setup. It reminds me of a scene from Deep Cover starring Laurence Fishburne as police officer Joe Stevens.
INT. INTERVIEW ROOM – DAY GERALD CARVER, 36, an ambitious government lawyer with a relaxed, vaguely hip manner, looks over the file of the ingratiating BLACK OFFICER sitting across the desk from him.
CARVER: Officer Leland? You know the difference between a black man and nigger?
Leland is startled, insulted, but doesn’t want to blow the interview. He smiles weakly, shakes his head no.
CARVER (continuing; pleasant smile): Yeah, most niggers don’t.
Stung, Leland tries to laugh. Carver puts his file aside, picks up another.
CARVER (continuing): Nice to meet you.
INT. SAME – ANOTHER INTERVIEW Joe Stevens watches Carver reading his file and waiting for an answer. When none is forthcoming, Carver glances up, finds Stevens looking right back at him.
STEVENS: The nigger’s the one that wouId even answer that question.
Only a foolish and confused black athlete would take Abbott’s public relations advice: “Keith Richards school of public relations – TrueHoop Blog – ESPN”.
As Fuller, Jr. said on the first page of his book, “If you do not understand White Supremacy (Racism) – what it is, and how it works – everything else that you understand, will only confuse you.”