Is Slavery’s Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports?

In the N.B.A., the very term “owner” has come under fire, as players, most of whom are black, assert self-determination.

Comments: 62

  1. There is a significant physical and emotional difference between being chained into slavery and signing a four year contract that commits you to an employer. To imply that slavery to anything but slavery is ridiculous. A slave works without any compensation, food, is beaten for a lack of production, and is bought and sold without any concern for the slaves humanity. Professional athletes are traded but they're well compensated for it. A trade, regardless of what you call it, isn't about owning someone, it is about what is best for a team. Athletes don't commit to a team alone when they're drafted. No, they commit to the league they play in. Owners are not slave masters. Michael Jordan rose from player to owner and played for Phil Jackson for over ten eight years in Chicago. When Jordan, Pippen, or Grant were seeking more financial compensation from management Jackson always sided with the players. He knew owners were greedy and minimized the players value especially after winning six NBA Titles. Jackson never told his players to take a home town discount. Even if it meant loosing Grant to the Magic! Kobe, Magic, and Michael were all committed to winning first! That simple! When Jackie Robinson was much older he saw the turmoil of the sixties and wondered what his legacy would be, "I began to talk and some shouted 'Oreo!' You know the cookie that's black outside and white underneath." Even Robinson was viewed as an establishment presence in sports. But he was never a slave.

  2. Is it "problematic" that Michael Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets?

  3. They may have a point, but microaggressions against millionaires is going to be low priority to me.

  4. A multi-millionaire, who could easily walk off his job and buy an island on which to live out the rest of his life, is about the furthest from an enslaved person that I can imagine. How many low-paid employees of color work in each of these players’ mansions (i.e., glass houses)? Just curious. Imagine the good you could do in the world with that kind of money, to help alleviate actual suffering. It baffles the mind! To be clear, “owners” of a business that pay their employees millions of dollars are nothing like owners under chattel slavery, both practices having started thousands of years ago. The ancient Greeks and Romans had the concept of property ownership, games, players, and chattel slavery, as did many (but not all) locations in ancient China, ancient sub-Saharan Africa (Mansa Musa for goodness sake!), and the ancient Americas. All of that said, every multi-millionaire deserves basic human respect and higher income tax — team players and team owners alike!

  5. If you worked at Goldman Sachs as a high paid trader but the owners said you can play for Morgan Stanley? Same thing.

  6. Actually, who cares what happens in the NBA. The game is boring. The players are consumed with themselves, their individual stats and their braying taunts against both opponents and enemy fans. If it were not for gambling and the incessant TV coverage that it induces, the NBA would go out of business, at least in this country. Oh, and by the way, the owners do own their teams, do own the contracts which obligate the players and the coaches to perform in return for the multiple millions for which they are compensated.

  7. When the NBA started in the 1940's it was overwhelmingly white. For the last 30 years it has been overwhelmingly black. Why? Because blacks for the most part are the best players. And even the last guy on the bench gets paid well. Many coaches and executives are black Instead of celebrating this achievement the writer somehow wants us to believe that black players were until recently "wealthy slaves," and most are offended by the word "owner," which takes political correctness to the most ridiculous extreme.

  8. I would hope you can present your disagreement with equal references, and logic. Seems to me she or he did. The language used in the NBA to describe the person who pays the wages and the recipient of those wages predates the rise of African - Americans in the NBA. African - American NBA players may be uncomfortable or even offended by that language, but to argue that the arrangement of 'owner' and 'player' is racist or is linked to slavery is pure sophistry.

  9. There's really no need for grown men to play a child's game, even if they are better than children and have flashier uniforms. Imagine if money in Universities were used for teaching purposes only? But seriously, we're a knowledge based economy and putting a ball through a hoop isn't very "knowledgy". When you think about it, basketball should be an amateur pursuit of those with day jobs that make the world a better place, like engineers, doctors, lawyers, police men and women, nurses, members of the military, etc. The same should be the case for all "pro" sports. These "Athletes" would be so much better served if all sports were amateur pursuits than the plantation system of "owners" and owned the way it is today.

  10. This article is a mess - it runs the gamut from straight up old school racial slurs (Donald Stirling) to a poorly informed star player (Draymond Green) who thinks that terminology like "owner" is somehow linked to slavery. The NBA is a younger league than the NFL or, especially, MLB, and so a lot of its business terminology (draft, owner, franchise, commissioner, etc.) is simply lifted directly from these older leagues. The older leagues were totally (MLB) or nearly (NFL) all white prior to the 1950's, and so it is a stretch to think that there is some way in which being the "owner" of the 1920's Yankees is any sort of nod to slavery. In fact, as the Curt Flood example demonstrates, it is in the period from the 1970's to the present that sees pro athletes with the greatest, well, free agency (sorry!) over their own employment prospects. If anything, it was the all white pro teams of the first half of the 20th century that labored in something like serfdom; as the number of black players rose so did player autonomy. I personally think that this has mostly been for the better, but nevertheless it is a heck of a stretch to see the hand of Jim Crow in today's NBA. Perhaps the most useful takeaway from this sloppy article is that if I were as good at basketball as Draymond Green, I too could say dumb stuff on TV and have people praise me for it.

  11. This is beyond silly. They are the most idolized athletes -- correction "people" -- on the planet, their names are legendary among little boys in far-flung corners of the world -- Calabar, Kashgar, Yakutsk, the Gorbals, and thousands more -- and they are multimillionaire superstars, but for all their success brilliant young African-American basketball players are moping because they cannot look at N.B.A. leadership and see their own reflections in the ranks of coaches, general managers and franchise owners? Really? They are on top of the world, and the vast majority of coaches, managers and even owners are just ordinary mortals toiling far below at the routine tasks of making sure bills are paid on time, transportation is there when it is needed, hotel rooms are booked....

  12. You had me up to the point where you mindlessly repeated the cheap slam on Phil Jackson. C'mon. He used the term "posse" as a dig with a glint in his eye. It's called bustin' chops. Are we now so uptight that the Language Cops are going to scream foul - and racism to boot - for something that had zip to do with race. Not overtly. Not implicitly. Not nada. C'mon boys and girls. Wake the heck up. There are real problems. This ain't one of them.

  13. Opening line: “Owner” is a distasteful term Suggested solution: Replace with Chairman or Governor A few paragraphs later: The author describes Sterling as an owner...priceless! It really *is* hard to be politically correct these days.

  14. I would like Draymond to show me the historical evidence that slaves used the term “owner” to describe the master.

  15. Perhaps we need Congress to pass a law requiring all professional sports teams to reflect in both their management and athletic talent the racial makeup of the country—with a 5% margin of error. That should make everyone happy! Well, except the fans who require nothing less than excellence when it comes to professional athletes and who have no interest in affirmative action on the playing field.

  16. The fact that current NBA players have the ability and right to quit at any moment makes any comparison to slavery obsolete and frankly ridiculous.

  17. My heart truly goes out to these poor exploited souls. It must be just terrible to be a global sports star. The conditions are probably exactly what it was like to be a slave 400 years ago, so I can understand why this issue is so important. I really feel for Draymond Green and his pals. How they endure the daily torture, rape, back-breaking work, complete denial of respect and human dignity, million-dollar sponsorship deals, and generally being treated as a piece of farm machinery from early childhood to death is completely unfathomable. This is a human rights outrage of massive proportions and the whole world needs to stand up (or kneel) for the downtrodden modern day slaves of the NBA; black, white and everything in between, who live in squalid poverty and fear for their very lives every single day. I pray that they will find relief from soul-crushingly hurtful organizational terminology like “team owner” too, which seems to be the absolute worst thing about life as a demi-god with a sneaker deal and a warped sense of reality. This is surely the single most important issue in the free world today and deserves our full attention. How can we just sit idly by and watch this horror unfold? Are we completely devoid of compassion? Has anyone alerted the UN?

  18. I am white and work for an “owner” of a company. Sometimes I feel like a slave and don’t make multi millions a year. Quit and find another job.

  19. If I own a company are my employees slaves? Going forward when I speak of my house I will refer to myself as its "chairman".

  20. Get paid $40 million a year to play a game that you love to play...for nothing? Where do I sign up?

  21. This article is asking us to be sympathetic to a fantasy!! There are black billionaires who "could" own NBA teams if they felt that ownership would be effective for them. Let's start with Oprah, then Robert Smith, and Bob Johnson. These NBA stars are not "slaves" and it's ridiculous to imply such. They are among the richest men in the U.S. and they earn their money doing something they love. NO sympathy here!

  22. So many of the commentators to this piece completely miss the larger, societal point. Despite their wealth, even because of that wealth, these highly gifted, professional black athletes remain subject to the vilest of racist language and hateful acts,many of which I’m certain we don’t ever hear about. Not long ago, LeBron James’s L.A. estate was defaced with graffiti. If you think that their economic status insulates this group from the continuing ravages of bigotry, in all of its reprehensible iterations, there is an iconic bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell to you. Lift your ostrich head out of the sand and at least know the facts!

  23. You can't get rid of the weeds unless you get the roots. In this case, the root is the NCAA, which has been practising modern-day slavery for decades. Major changes at NCAA - and I do mean MAJOR change - will work it's way up to the NBA and NFL. Black athletes must take their power starting with collegiate sports. Done en masse, permanent change can be achieved.

  24. Yes you are shackled whether it is working as a corporate executive held by golden handcuffs or as an NBA player. If you want to talk about injustice, let’s talk about the collegiate athletes who risk their body in return for a chance of gaining a degree or signing a contract with a professional sports team. Let us shout for justice for these kids and demand that they share in the millions being earned by their talents!

  25. This is absurd. Labor in exchange for compensation is what is going on. Whether that compensation is fair or the terms of the contractual agreement are fair is open to debate. But the labor is free to end the agreement. Slaves have no rights, they agree to nothing but to what they are allowed to have by who keeps them enslaved, they are property. The issue of working for another is a big deal in a lot of ways. Ideally, labor and the entity hiring that labor are able to negotiate freely. A lot of times it’s not fair. But injustice and enslavement are not equivalents.

  26. Slavery is not relevant. The issues are labor and liberty, and ownership verses the commons.

  27. Corporations don't "own" us but they sure know how to run our lives and control enough variables to imprison us in a prescribed mode of behavior. The very word "owner" is a euphemism for "capital" which prescribes a hierarchal relationship of those who do and those who control. American sports has always had a plantation model for governing its affairs whether the participants were white or black. To see the NBA players attempting to upset and redefine this model is a refreshing and necessary development.

  28. There is a fundamental flaw in the article when it links owners and GM's to white men and complains about the lack of black ownership. The problem with this argument is that basketball teams rarely change hands and very new teams have been created. Also, today one needs about $2 billion to buy a team. Although black Americans have risien in the income ranks and there are now many players/actors etc who are millioniares, few are billionaires. Those teams recently bought/sold were by billionaires such as David Tepper, Joe Tsai and Steve Balmer. I'm not doubting the problems in how players were recruited, transferred between teems in the past in the NBA history. But to make the link between owner and slave in this case is obsurd. As many others have pointed out, owner is a common word. One owns his house or his car. Unlike slavery, every player always had the right to quit. Slaves can't. However in defense of the players, it was not a fair system nor financally equitable. One of the

  29. Kudos to LeBron, Draymond, KD and Andre Ig. for demanding the autonomy any executive has, and more of the profits they create for “owners” of teams with asset values in the billions, and mostly taxpayer funded arenas.

  30. Everyone wants to be a victim, these days, and to claim the virtue inherent to modern victimhood. Even if they're making millions of dollars for bouncing a ball. "A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave." No, a well paid slave isn't a slave at all, because slaves aren't paid for their labor, and a wage slave isn't in the top 10% income bracket. This is like someone seeing a dolphin and calling it a fish because it swims. Ridiculous.

  31. My uncle, a tall, handsome white guy who emigrated here from a small village in Greece, became a basketball player. Basketball leagues and their owners didn't begin with black men. You're pushing it, New York Times.

  32. Shouldn't there be affirmative action for white, Latino and Asian basketball players? If not, why?

  33. Salary. Contract. Free agent.

  34. Do we have to see ‘race’ in everything? White players are also traded. Nothing stops blacks from owning a team.

  35. The society of Social Media is telling every white man go back to your caves and only come out when you comply to sensitivity issues determined by the social political juggernauts...

  36. It doesn't come from slavery, though, does it? It's probably been around since pro sports were all-white, and refers to the owner of a business. Articles seems unnecessarily provocative, to me. Are blacks supposed to just be able to prohibit or run from the word "owner" in all contexts of life now, just because of slavery that happened 150 years ago? These athletes are made into millionaire celebrities, lol, without exception. There's real crime, real things that violate people and ruin their lives today. Can't believe that a premiere newspaper like the NYT is spending time on this, on over-sensitivity to a word.

  37. Newsflash to Draymond- the word owner does not date back to slavery, it dates back to when people started owning things. And guess how Italian soccer team players, Japanese baseball team players and Irish rugby team players address the person who owns the team? That’s right, ‘owner.’ Institutionalized racism is a real problem in America; muddying it up with this stupid take is a waste of our time. C’mon.

  38. Old white guy here. To other old white guys: can’t you see that “owner” is a word that carries emotional baggage for African-Americans? Has anybody been reading the 1619 series with an open heart and open mind? Maybe if you’re white you think slavery is something that happened 150 years ago and is now in the past. But if we listen, we learn that its remnants are still here, felt every day by black people. Until “we” get that, things will never be right in America.

  39. You are doing a huge injustice and disservice to those who were forcibly ripped from their families and their homeland, beaten, whipped, shackled, raped, thrown overboard, forced into generations of servitude. Professional sports players of all races are idolized and paid millions of dollars to play a game. They play the sport voluntarily and can choose to step aside anytime they want to. They are not slaves.

  40. Most of the headline free agents are represented by nontraditional agents, all of whom grew up dirt poor in poor and violent black neighborhoods and now are outspoken about black power. Rich Paul represents LeBron and Anthony Davis. Kawhi Leonard is represented by his uncle. And Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are represented by Jay Z. The teaming up of superstars was widely perceived as an unusual exercise of player power. And these non-traditional agents were there every step of the way.

  41. Apparently the author doesn’t think being the member of a union is any different than being a slave.

  42. Slaves? Owners? Nonsense. The owners own an entertainment business and the players are employees of the business. Just like the owners of a professional hockey team are the owners and the players, almost all of whom are Caucasian, are the employees.

  43. I'm a big fan of Dr King. "Don't judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." It's too bad that the NYTs is not a fan of Dr. King's statement and just looks at color.

  44. Most of the fans in the stands are white! Not sure what that means

  45. This piece brings me back to the point that Social justice is great, but Wokeness is its pale, superficial, self-important (and quintessentially American) reflection. Yeah, sure — language matters. Of course it does. But if that’s the essence of your campaign and you can’t tell the difference between equity and platitudes, I’m out. Sport — and college in particular; don’t get me started!!!! — is run through and through with the common afflictions of race. But the word owner is a red flag — and so is the desperate attempt to read something explicitly racial into Jackson’s use of the word posse. Come off it.

  46. The modern NBA, with its ultra-selfish players (no matter the skin color), isn't the hill you should be dying on here. Honestly, this is insane. I mean, if you really want to apply all the modern Left's arguments about racial inequality, then why don't we begin talking about the over-representation of black players in the NBA?! (SARCASM!) Enough already. Let's focus upon serious issues that genuinely need attention, not the ridiculous posturing of multimillionaire athletes.

  47. Just like air Jordan, I agreed, all the black player should band together and pool the billions they earn to buy all the teams from the owner so the NBA will become a black-owned business or plantation). Otherwise, all the talks here are empty and meaningless.

  48. Curt Flood, blackballed by selfish, many racist owners; contributing factor shortening pioneer’s life (substance abuse, Cancer) not only belonging in Baseball Hall of Fame but each player should tithe a portion of their immense salary to his next of kin.

  49. A lot of these comments making note that the word owner clearly means owning the business, not the workers remind me of a scene in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H*. Trapper John is operating on a North Korean soldier, and Major Houlihan scolds him, saying, "Doctor, that man is a prisoner of war." Trapper John, replies, "So are you. You just don't know it."

  50. This is a ridiculous column. Black NBA players are the freest people on earth. Analogizing their experience with slavery stretches credulity to the breaking point. If they want to buy an NBA team, put a group of partners together and do it. No one will stop them. Maybe they'll find out that running a multi-million dollar business is not as easy as it looks. Forgive me if I'm less than sympathetic to these men who are insinuating that they are "victims." It's preposterous.

  51. Ironic to see the most privleged and pampered on earth actually believe they are oppressed and aggreived. Comical in fact. Tweeting about 'oppression' from a Beverly hills mansion. Collective eye roll.

  52. Go raise the capital and buy a team. Please enough looking for handouts and enough about the slavery analogy. Someone making $30 Million dollars is not a slave.

  53. in the NFL, where players are signed to non-guaranteed contracts, used, abused, concussed and then cut when they are of no further utility to the team, this idea of slavery may be more appropriate. in the NFL, they can't even voice political views without fear of reprisal. NBA players are coddled, overpaid, and shielded by a powerful players union. wrong sport to be making this exhortation of (semantic) equality. (also, isn't Vivek Ranadivé a man of color? Joseph Tsai?)

  54. It is inevitable, but still disappointing, that players making tens of millions of dollars a year, the top 1% of the 1%, would compare themselves to slaves. Like those in other circles who compare anyone who disagrees with them to the Nazis, it shows a disgraceful lack of respect for the suffering of true victims. Worse, it shows a disgraceful lack of respect for suffering, period: a penniless, disabled, aged homeless white man is nonetheless treated as having "white privilege" through bizarre and cruel verbal circumlocution that makes a mockery of the word. Privileged to do what? To die on the streets? The claims black America has to additional improvements in their march to full equality are great, but these are claims to additional improvements, not to manumission, and no one need sympathize with the minor or imagined slights of someone who has a hundred million dollars in the bank. The obvious response is "OK, friend; let's trade places! To be in your shoes, I'll take the indignities that so irk you, in a heartbeat." As has been said about baseball, these are fights between (multi-)millionaires and billionaires. There are not between slaves and their owners, and anyone who says they are is a confused, a fool, a cheat, or all three. Yuck!

  55. It is only natural that we would see much more African American coaches on NBA courts considering the rate of African American players. More African Americans, Hispanics and Asians should have chances to be coaches or managers of NBA , MLB and other professional sports.

  56. “On one level, it’s about money.” It’s astounding that, as a part of a piece of journalism, this angle merits only six words.

  57. Nice article--but pro football is certainly a more blatant case of white owners controlling black athletes. Colin Kaepernick still doesn't have a position with an NFL team after the league settled a lawsuit for blackballing him.

  58. What of this idea that players—or anyone it today's world—are being oppressed if they look at a person or people and fail to "see their own reflections"? Is this really the goal of "diversity" now—homogeneity of race between any two related groups? Will Native-American students be unable to learn from Chinese-American professors? Are white voters not properly represented if they have African-American elected officials ? Do Latino basketball fans need Latino players to enjoy the game? Why, instead of celebrating difference, have we been reduced to demanding sameness?

  59. If being paid millions for my work, for which I may choose to quit at any time makes me slave, sign me up.

  60. The average NBA salary is $5,012,892. Yeah … that's a real slave-wage, huh?

  61. Maybe if players learned how to be responsible with their earnings they'd be able to save/invest enough to become owners. But as it is, they tend to blow it all on flashy cars/houses/jewelry. Why isn't the author advocating for financial literacy instead of this reparations-esque whining?

  62. I think that the NBA owners should sell ther franchises to a new ownership and ok Abel it the BNBA. That would wipe clean all of this inane rhetoric about slavery, white masters etc. In doing so, the new league could stand on its own without "white" involvement and ride their glory into the sunset. No recrimination, atonement, breath beating and regurgitation. Who knows, maybe upsetting the system would put an end to this endless litany of distorted oppression once and for all.