1st and Five: The Weekly Halfdown July 4-10 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dear Internet:

So - whose career is more over?  Lindsay's...or Mel Gibson's?  They played that tape, Mel.  That's a life sentence in the entertainment penitentiary.  I won't say no possibility of parole; Mel made lots of money for lots of years for lots of people; life is long and the rehab centers are open 24/7; but it's a Charles Manson situation; he's got a swastika carved in his virtual head now; I wouldn't expect to see too many repeats of Lethal Weapon 3 on TBS in the coming years. 

I sort of like Lindsay's defiance.  I mean, it's presumably chemically fueled and has landed her in prison, but metaphorically and now, literally, she has been telling the world to screw off for several years.  I'd like to do that; I can't afford to do that, but I'd gain emotional satisfaction from doing that.  And from leaving my underwear at home.  That would also be good. 

But instead of that - Tendown 34.

First - Everything Ends, and Usually Badly, Otherwise it Wouldn't end.

I went to high school, undergrad, and law school in northern Ohio.  I finished up when I was 24 and had a decision to make.  I could stay "at home" - or I could move to a place where I would prefer to be.  Someplace warmer, perhaps. 

That's the first place where I walk into the LeBron James discussion.  Cleveland doesn't own him; he's a 25 year old man with options and wants to live somewhere other than Ohio.  String him up.  Chris Bosh left Toronto this week, but yet the Raptor owner was somehow able to contain his need to call it a cowardly betrayal. Dan Gilbert, who has spent years profiting from the labor of James, decided to label a free agent signing with another team as deserting a region. 

Curt Flood was 40 years ago; we don't assign athletes based on region like Lou Gehrig walking from Columbia to Yankee Stadium anymore.  Is he obligated to work in Cleveland the rest of his life because he went to high school in northern Ohio?  At what point in his life would LeBron James deciding he wanted to work outside of Ohio not be "desertion." 

I'm guessing it's not too many years from now.  Shaq's unemployed today, negotiating (or maybe he's signed, no one really cares) witht he Atlanta Hawks - not too many years ago he was the best basketball player in the world and more famous than LeBron is today.  Now, maybe he's going to backup Zaza Pachuilia or maybe he's not, I'm not really sure.  When its the team showing the athlete the door - that's just part of doing business.  When it's the athlete who leaves - it's disloyalty. 

Because while the lyrics of Gilbert's letter are asinine, we get the music - right - he's losing the best basketball player in the world, and that's a good sized loss.  I'd never burn a jersey, but as a 49er fan I felt upset when TO engineered his way out of town, as a SFG fan I remember Brett Butler hugging Tommy Lasorda after signing with the Dodgers.  He became the enemy - I didn't call it a "cowardly betrayal" and didn't write anything as cryptically stupid as:

Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

...but that's how sports works - LeBron benefits from the hyperbolic, frenzied way in which we treat sports stars and this is the flip side of it.  The fans burning his jersey today were calling him King James a week ago.  The TV special is largely a red herring - Dan Gilbert has spent years making money off of an image of LeBron James as a species slightly above human; I'm guessing you wouldn't have to look too hard around his offices to find images of James in a crown elevated above his royal subjects - but last Thursday was "narcissistic self promotion"?

I think the word that is most revealing is the word "self" - because last Thursday was a ratings bonanza for ESPN and Gilbert couldn't make a dime.  And more broadly - a common complaint I heard about the James free agency tour was something like "who does LeBron think he is, acting all big?"

From grumpy old man Buzz Bissinger to usually class conscious lefty sportswriter Dave Zirin, I heard sports media over and over decry the process - why can't LeBron just do this like everyone else, why does it have to be a spectacle - Kevin Durant just signed an extension with Oklahoma City and no one noticed - why does James (quoting Bissinger) make the NBA executives "grovel" in these negotiations?

The main prism through which I see this issue is one of labor and management.  Sports media and sports fans, conditioned to slavishly worship the power relationships of the corporate state - recoil from the idea that labor ever calls the shots.  They heard about a "free agent summit" of the top players and started talking about collusion - they see James and Wade, the two best players in the NBA, leveraging their power and grow uneasy at best and angry at worst. 

Who do those guys think they are?  Just sign your contract and go back to work. 

We dislike empowered labor.  We are a country who has watched its percentage of unionized workers decrease rapidly at exactly the same time that the distance between executive pay and the pay of average workers has exploded exponentially - and instead of being outraged about that - the people who take the streets complain about imaginary socialism.  Give us less power, they shout.  Don't restrain our corporate masters in any way. 

Every single professional sports labor situation of my life - every lockout, strike, work stoppage - has seen the bulk of sports media/fans side reflexively with management.  We are held captive by our own slave mindset, and when we see James, not as defiant as Lindsay Lohan's fingernails - but nonethless utilizing the power that he has to say, I want to play in Miami, I want to play with Wade and Bosh - we see that use of power and we burn him in effigy because of it. 

(there's a racial element to this too - Ohio isn't Mississippi and Cleveland, Ohio isn't like some of the parts of Ohio where I've spent some time - but there sure are a lot of white fans burning a black man's jersey - I remember watching the vicious reaction that Barry Bonds went through in places like Houston - where an overwhelmingly white, southern crowd supporting what had been a World Series team without a single African-American player, angrily taunted an African-American superstar in ways that other players similarly accused of steroid use have never gone through.   It's not the dominant prism through which I see the story, but to what extent does Ohio embrace young black men who aren't LeBron James - seeing the reaction of the fans, the reaction of the owner - knowing what we know about the world - is it really a shock that a young, wealthy, famous African-American man might prefer South Beach to Ohio?  There is another layer of anger that is revealed when a black man who had been totally accepted into a white world does something to get that acceptance revoked.) 

At bottom, what we say we want from athletes is to do whatever they can to win titles.  We say it over and over.  Kevin Garnett stayed for years in Minnesota and heard these whispers - "maybe he is too comfortable losing, maybe it doesn't burn inside him - maybe he just likes being the big fish in the small pond instead of really trying to go for it."  Kobe Bryant ran Shaquille O'Neal out of LA - they could have won a couple of more titles - but Kobe, so the narrative went, wanted selfishly to be the man - to be the reason why the Lakers won.  Winning wasn't enough for Kobe - remember that tag - he has to be Jordan, he has to be the main man, the reason why they win.  Selfish, selfish Kobe.

So, here's LeBron James - choosing to go to Miami, where Wade is already entrenched, already a championship winner, already a guy who is the second best player in the NBA.  Going to live where he'd prefer to live, play with who he'd prefer to play with, and going where his chances to win titles are absolutely maximized.

And we kill him for it.

I live in south Florida; I'm a Warriors fan but have historically been sort of warm on the Heat - I rooted for Timmy Hardaway when he was down here; I've always liked Georgetown basketball - the whole John Thompson/Patrick Ewing mystique, so I rooted for Alonzo Mourning during his career too.

So, I'm on board.  I hope they win every year (I mean, except for the years the Warriors win - we got David Lee!  And Steph Curry - and Biedrins, and Monte!  It's all gonna happen!  GSW!  GSW! GSW!).

Go Heat.

After the jump - an offisides aided Fivedown!
1. That's Some Funky Lemonade.
The Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada said this.:

STOCK: What do you say then to a young girl, I am going to place it as he said it, when a young girl is raped by her father, let’s say, and she is pregnant. How do you explain this to her in terms of wanting her to go through the process of having the baby?

ANGLE: I think that two wrongs don’t make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade. Well one girl in particular moved in with the adoptive parents of her child, and they both were adopted. Both of them grew up, one graduated from high school, the other had parents that loved her and she also graduated from high school. And I’ll tell you the little girl who was born from that very poor situation came to me when she was 13 and said ‘I know what you did thank you for saving my life.’ So it is meaningful to me to err on the side of life.

I don't want to hit her too hard - I'm pro choice and without any qualms, I'm on the side of science - but it's always seemed to me that if you take the position that a zygote is the equivalent of a person, that there is no difference - then you view abortion as a homicide, even in cases of rape and incest. 

It's only the most extreme pro-lifers who would say that, because it would not be a position adopted by mainstream Americans - but it's an intellectually consistent one. 

But answering a question about a father raping his 13 year old daughter with "turning lemons into lemonade" is freaky. 
2. You Know Who Would Vote For Her? 


3. But Not the Federal Court in Massachusetts
Part of the Defense of Marriage Act (you know, gay marriage cheapens straight marriage) was struck in a really tremendously strong ruling this week by the federal court in Massachusetts.  The most important language from the ruling was that there is no rational basis for the federal government to discriminate in marriage on the basis of sexual preference - sexual preference has remained an area of discrimination in the US because, unlike race or gender, where we utilize the tougher burden of strict scrutiny to examine laws which discriminate on those bases, sexual preference discrimination is only examined by the lesser rational basis standard.  If the government has a rational basis to discriminate against homosexuals, it's allowed to do so.  What the federal court in Massachusetts said this week is, when it comes to marriage, that it does not.  The only reason to prevent gays from marrying is bigotry.

That's it and that's all.  Opposing gay marriage in 2010 is the same as opposing interracial marriage in 1967.

4. I Read Books!

Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards

Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Feel free to read all of them. 

5. And this forum
You should also read this forum on Inequality .  Here, for example, is Robert Reich:

Consider: in 1928 the richest 1 percent of Americans received 23.9 percent of the nation's total income. After that, the share going to the richest 1 percent steadily declined. New Deal reforms, followed by World War II, the GI Bill and the Great Society expanded the circle of prosperity. By the late 1970s the top 1 percent raked in only 8 to 9 percent of America's total annual income. But after that, inequality began to widen again, and income reconcentrated at the top. By 2007 the richest 1 percent were back to where they were in 1928—with 23.5 percent of the total.

Each of America's two biggest economic crashes occurred in the year immediately following these twin peaks—in 1929 and 2008. This is no mere coincidence. When most of the gains from economic growth go to a small sliver of Americans at the top, the rest don't have enough purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing. America's median wage, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for decades. Between 2000 and 2007 it actually dropped. Under these circumstances the only way the middle class can boost its purchasing power is to borrow, as it did with gusto. As housing prices rose, Americans turned their homes into ATMs. But such borrowing has its limits. When the debt bubble finally burst, vast numbers of people couldn't pay their bills, and banks couldn't collect.

6. Okay, One Extra One
The guy who makes sandwiches in a can is charged with fraud.
A challenging week for us all.

That's it for this time - I'll be back next time - if there is a next time...

Your pal,




Anonymous said...

Let me answer your 'racial element' comment about LeBron James with the tact and diplomacy it deserves:

Fuck yourself and the goddamn horse you rode in on.

Those Cleveland fans that were burning the LeBron James jerseys? THEY BOUGHT THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE! And- guess what?- they were aware that LeBron James was black at the time.

To assign ANY racial element to our anger at LeBron James is a fucking cheap shot, unfair, and absolutely 100% wrong.

LeBron James has the right to work whereever he wants. He also has the right to draw out the procedure for weeks (leaving the franchise in limbo for the process), then dump the franchise that bent over backwards for him on national TV.

And as a fan, I have the right to tell him to go to hell for it.

But in the end, it was our fault anyways. In the immortal words of Animal House, "We fucked up. We trusted him."

But fuck you for saying that I'm a racist for not liking it.


Kirk said...

LeBRON? Miami HEAT? See, all this time I thought people were worried that Simon LeBon was going to leave Duran Duran for the Miami Sound Machine. Imagine my confusion and relief upon turning on ESPN last Thursday.

Oh, and forget racism, Gallagher lost me back when he smashed an Intellivision on HBO because the controls were too hard to use. Those were the best controllers in the industry at the time. So fuck you, Gallagher.


Blog said...

Though I wouldn't say it as strongly, I too fail to see the racial element in the Lebron backlash. I don't think the reaction would have been much different in Boston had Larry Bird done a one hour special in 1990 announcing that he was jumping to the Pistons so he could win another title with Isaiah taking some of the pressure off.

But that may be a bad example, as I can't imagine Bird being that much of an asshole. So fuck you LeBron.


Jim said...


I didn't want to be left out.

A few points.

1. I didn't say it was racist. I didn't event say racist element, I said racial element, those are different concepts.

2. Racists buy jerseys too. I've known some people who threw around the "n" word really casually who nonethless would have loved to hop on Beyonce. One doesn't preclude the other. As evidence against a charge of racism, jersey sales are really weak sauce. That charge, note, wasn't made.

3. What I did mean is exactly what I said, but I can't leave a comment long enough to say it - so it has to be a separate post. Which I'll put up now.

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