Leadership and Solidarity Matter in Sports Off the Field

Casper     There was a fascinating discussion recently about why professional basketball players in the National Basketball Association were able to speak freely and publicly about issues, including race and politics, while the manly men of the National Football League were constantly being cowed into silence.  The reporter for the New York Times spent a lot of time on the back and forth, pros and cons.

There are of course similarities between the two dominant professional leagues.  Both are owned by mostly conservative very rich people, so that doesn’t explain the difference.  Both have longstanding unions, so that isn’t the difference either.  Both leagues are composed of extraordinary athletes who are predominately African-American, so that doesn’t solve the puzzle either.

The reporter rested his case on the fact that the NBA had leaned more towards promoting the brand of individual players, while the NFL had focused more on teams citing the 40 million followers of LeBron James versus the 4 million followers of Tom Brady among other things.  That’s just not persuasive to me.  The NFL nationally and locally has made big whoops of the Brady’s, the Mannings, Drew Brees, and others as spokespeople for the league and the team.  It has done less for its African-American stars in my view.  The NFL has plainly been behind on race.  It isn’t a coincidence that all the players I just named are white quarterbacks.  It took decades before the NFL embraced African-Americans as quarterbacks, frequently seeing them and their style of play as unsuitable for their sport in implicit racism.

Coming off of our Local 100 leadership conference, it was hard not to see the real difference starting with leadership of the respective unions.  The reporter, John Branch, made the point that the head of the union for the NBA players was Chris Paul and that the executive board of the union looked like a future list for the Hall of Fame including James, Curry, Paul, Durant, Anthony, and others.  In the NFL, Drew Brees from the Saints has consistently been a union leader, but often its more common to see rank-and-file players in such roles and not the superstars.  This is a perfect example of a failure of leadership with the stars sending the message that they are more important that the rest of the players and that the contract and the union are something for the journeymen and not the big dogs.  The experience of leadership and understanding of the value of the union and its ability to protect them, allows them freer expressions individually where the weaker solidarity has isolated Colin Kaepernick in his NFL protests.

In team sports the value of the team itself is a constant refrain from the first time one plays ball throughout the professional ranks, but a team is about solidarity, just as a union is.  One NFL player after another in their short career speaks of their work as a business, rather than a team.  Michael Jordan during his NBA career set the same role model of me first, team whatever that dominates the NFL still.  The new leaders in the NBA have changed the culture of the sport, while the NFL has made a mockery of team proving that they need to learn something about solidarity from the basketball stars and their teams.  There’s a mountain of difference there.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bet on the Players Not the President

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

New Orleans   President Trump could have, and in fact should have, just declared victory over the cowering and hapless National Football League billionaire owners and called it a day, case closed.  He had proven that a poorer man could successfully bully a whole gaggle of richer men.  For once in his life, he should have just shut his pie hole.

But, no, he couldn’t of course, so now the players are going to have to teach him a lesson.  Sports betting is now legal.  Soon it will be available in your town, too.  Delaware jumped off the line first.  If you are betting, I’d bet on the players this time.

There might be a dozen or so of you out there who don’t know what I’m talking about, so here’s the brief context.  Some NFL players, led initially by Colin Kaepernick and then Eric Reid and others, began protesting police brutality and racial discrimination during the anthem before the beginning of football games.  Some owners were fine with it, some weren’t.  The NFL brass was respectful in the beginning.  Before the protests could run their course or lead to some reforms, President Trump jumped into the fracas and tried to claim the protests were unpatriotic.  Then it was on!  Jerry Jones, the bully-boy owner of the Dallas Cowboys, threatened his players, and away we go.  There were stutter steps towards a resolution.  Players like Kaepernick filed grievances over collusion to prevent them from being able to work.  Secret recordings of the owners’ meetings became public proving how spineless many were.  Jones was fined and forced to pay the league’s legal costs for his mischief.  Finally, in a ham-handed move the league announced that their players would have to stand or stay in the locker room:  no more protests.

Trump of course declared victory, reminiscent of George W. Bush on the aircraft carrier, he mistook one successful skirmish for a bigger battle in the war.  Whoops!  The owners, the league, and Trump forgot about the players when they threw in the towel.  Furthermore, the players have a union so the owners can’t simply announce a unilateral change without negotiations, so there’s a problem there as well.

Trump then tries to have the standard White House celebration for the Philadelphia Eagles victory in the Super Bowl and suddenly finds out that he can hardly pull a van load of players and Eagles staff to drive the short trip to Washington.  The Eagles players had never even protested during the anthem, but now they are in it to win it on this front as well.

We all know what’s coming unless someone puts a sock in Trump’s mouth and the owners grow a backbone.  There are going to be whole teams that simply do NOT come out for the anthem and stay in the locker rooms unless this rule is changed. Constitutional lawyers are starting to weigh in now that the new NFL rule is a breach of freedom of speech and illegal.  Steph Currey and LeBron James in the midst of the NBA finals have already declined a visit to the White House and others are expressing solidarity with the Eagles and the NFL players.

We all know football.  When there’s a mess this big and the ball is bouncing all over the field, count on the players to pick it up and run with it.  That’s my bet, and I’m sticking to it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail