Mr. Greene, my 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, posted a message on the blackboard on the first day of classes:
If you don’t know the answer to a question, bluff by speaking the word, “economics.” More often than not, you’ll be right.
Heady stuff to tell a bunch of 12-14-year-old kids who had little idea how the world works. I mention Mr. Greene’s message because it was written in the context of the first unit that year: The Civil War, and the major causes of it. Slavery, the major cause of the War that began 150 years ago this year, is certainly a cultural issue. At its core, however, it is — and was — an economic issue.
The slavery analogy has been made to describe the economic, racial and cultural divide in professional sports since the late 19th Century and the immediate aftermath of Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson. Adrian Peterson’s use of the word, uttered in an interview to Yahoo! Sports, is news because, as Dave Zirin wrote, “he went there.” A black athlete making a slavery analogy, in a sport with white owners, is drawing heavy criticism from mostly white media media members. We’re still having this discussion? The cast is different but the colors are the same? The NFLPA, led by a dynamic black man in DeMaurice Smith, has hinted at exactly what Peterson said. He just didn’t use the word.
The three lead plaintiffs in the class-action suit against the NFL — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — may agree with the slavery analogy, but by virtue of their pigmentation, couldn’t dare use it. What level of criticism would they receive?
In my Sport Sociology studies in college, racism, along with gender equity, were the two most frequent issues discussed. The seminar my senior year was devoted to the topic, specifically in the sport of boxing.
I’m not of the mindset that someone making millions of dollars has no right to use the term “slave.” I am of the mindset that the rampant criticism for his word choice is undeserved. Peterson, like Brady, Brees and Manning is one of the most visible players in the NFL. Maybe not necessarily in that order, Peterson, Brady, Brees and Manning are the top four picks in most Fantasy drafts. Why shouldn’t he present his viewpoint?
Zirin’s full article can be found here. If you’re interested in sport history and culture, it’s a good read. His mentions of Curt Flood, whose struggles against the Reserve Clause were profiled by Alex Belth profiled in a 2006 biography, Stepping Up, are poignant and insightful.
As for the discussion of slavery, it still exists in this country; just not in the form that it once did. Context rules. Do you believe Peterson’s comment was taken out of context? Is the comment more socioeconomic or sociocultural?
One thing is certain: the debate is not going to end any time soon.
[Photo Credit: Zimbio.com]