Bill Long 11/23/04
When the Palace Becomes the Pig Sty
By now there is no sentient human being in America who is unaware of the rumble that broke out in the last minute of last Friday evening's NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons at the Palace at Auburn Hills (outside of Detroit). The Pistons were Pissedoffs when "gentle" Ron Artest fouled Piston big man Ben Wallace hard with 40 seconds left in the game, probably in retaliation for a foul that Wallace had dealt out earlier, which was probably in retaliation for something else that was probably in retaliation for some slight 10 or 15 years ago and on and on.
In any case, Wallace responded with a hard push, Artest relaxed by resting on the scorer's table, a fan threw something that hit Artest on the head, Artest (along with Pacer Stephen Jackson) jumped into the stands and began pummeling fans. A few other Pacers got into the act too. Mild-mannered Freddy Jones and Austin Croshere waded into the stands to look around and try to break things up. Jermaine O'Neal, whom we now know can deliver an all star punch as well as an all-star slam dunk, had the misfortune of being caught on tape levelling a person half his size with a haymaker. Rookie reserve Center David Harrison was caught off-camera dishing out his own brand of retaliation. Quite a night.
The Larger Context of the Brawl
America doesn't like it when Black men fight on TV, except if they are in a ring with gloves. We don't mind gap-toothed White guys slugging it out, especially if it is on the hockey rink, and we even don't fully mind the idea of hockey players wading into the stand to beat the crap out of unruly fans. But black men are different in our culture. I think the white establishment was so spooked by the appearance of the Black Panther Party in the mid-1960s in Oakland, CA and their unabashed embrace of a violent style of life (because they said they were in a war), that they decided that black men had to be controlled or else really ugly consequences would follow. No one is really afraid of getting high sticked by a hockey player in a suburban mall, but enormous fear is out there regarding large black athletes. Though many people say that racism is declining in our culture, I think that beneath the surface of growing acceptance and numbers of African-Americans in a number of professional capacities resides a recurrent fear and even terror.
The fear arises because of cultural difference. Despite the smiling faces of congenial African-American players on the tube, Caucasian America knows that the cultures are different, values are different and the experience of being Black in America is fundamentally different than being White. The difference is interpreted by the White racist (and even by many more urbane Whites) as a deficiency that will probably seek legal redress through a variety of statutes, but primarily the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But terror also is there. White racists and even more urbane Whites fear that the anger of African-Americans (unjustified for the racist, justified for the urbane White) may not be able to be tamped down and therefore must be discouraged, controlled and severely punished. With respect to the NBA, the greatest fear is that seeing African-American men pounding on other people, regardless of the race, will lead to declines in revenues and the end of "Showtime." Magic and Larry Bird in the 1980s, followed by Michael Jordan in the 1990s were simply too good to be true.
So, what is going to happen? Oh, we all know that suspensions have been dished out, but that is really not the issue. The larger issue is to what extent this incident will drive White America, which pays most of the bills, away from NBA Basketball. My thesis is that the growth of NASCAR in the last five years is directly proportional to the inability of the NBA to have a congenial star anymore for the American public. People who used to name their cats Michael Jordan will now begin to name them Dale Earnhardt. NASCAR is White-America's rebellion against the growing realization that American popular sports are being dominated by non-White (African-American and Latino) guys.
But notice how this reaction works. The allegation against White guys is, as we all know, that they can't jump. This means, of course, that they don't either have the drive or the physical capabilities to "match" African-American and Latino athletes in the high-revenue sports. So, what do the White guys do? Promote a sport where the White guys are in control (NASCAR) but one in which they are not using their own power but the power of an accelerator. In other words, Whites are striking back in NASCAR by fulfilling the cultural stereotype that Blacks (and some urbane Whites) have of Whites: they simply can't generate power on their own.
So, where does that leave us? Awash in nothing but stereotypes. It must be a nightmare for diversity trainers and all those who just want to sit around the fire holding hands and singing "Kum Ba Ya." It is the worst of times. It is the best of times. Life happens in the midst of the two.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long