Monday, November 22, 2004

[This post will be meaningless to anyone not aware of the situation and will probably alienate those who are, but I can't keep my feelings to myself on this one.]

25-game suspension for Jermaine O'Neal, 30 for Stephen Jackson, the rest of the season (73 games) for Ron Artest. I will never again in my life roll my eyes at any NBA (or NFL for that matter) player who claims the league treats him and other black players like slaves. Although I still think it's not quite an apt metaphor: "like retarded children" is better.

The league must always contend with the fact that most players are black and most fans are white. In order to make this less unsettling for the average white fan, the players are not treated like "grown-ass men" (as Rasheed Wallace, who looks more insightful all the time, puts it). Ron Artest, a grown-ass man, reacted with violence to being hit in the face with a full cup of ice & booze by a fan. Because he is paid millions of dollars a year to play basketball, the average fan believes Artest should have ignored it. He should have ceased to be an emotional being, because we pay him a lot of money to play sports for us and make us cheer. We don't want to see your humanity, we want to see your vertical leap! An "example" was made of him. He is a grown-ass man, not an example. He's not a symbol. Ron Artest symbolizes nothing other than Ron Artest. Fuck "sending a message". His punishment, assuming he should have received one, which I do not believe he should have, should have focused on the individual facts of this individual incident, not as an opportunity to "send a message" to other players who might at some point consider acting without regard for the financial well-being of the white-run league. "Sending a message" is how you discipline children.

The "message" that should properly be sent is: Hey, drunk-ass white trash fans who believe your paid attendance at a game permits you to harass and assault the players? You deserve no protection, any more than you would if Ron Artest worked at an insurance office and you entered the building, ran up to his desk and threw your drink in his face there.

I'm physically sickened by this mess, not because of players going into the stands but because as soon as Artest started swinging I knew how the nation would react. What are the images associated with this? Are we being shown the pictures of Jermaine O'Neal completely soaked in beer and spit? Are we seeing the colossally drunk asshole who was on the court baiting players to punch him? Nope, the photo on every newspaper cover is Artest's scary black face and scary black muscles. Oooooh, you see that big black guy? Why, he's such a beast that if you throw a full cup of ice and liquor in his face, he might react! We'd better send a message.

I literally gagged on bile listening to Commissioner Stern's condemnation of Artest and the other players involved. His purported moral outrage, expressed with no shortage of name-calling and infantilization, was mere theater, scripted to hide his true interest, which is strictly financial. These boys acted up and damaged the NBA brand. That's their real crime. That and behaving like autonomous individuals, flawed but sentient. The owners and executives of the league make their money off the bodies of these athletes, and thus expect to control those bodies.

It is not, I realize now, my citizenship I want to renounce. It's my race. Where's the consulate for that?

(On the very off chance anyone wants to debate this, feel free to e-mail me. My girlfriend would probably appreciate someone else agreeing to discuss this with me.)


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