The NBA basketball season is already in full swing, and along with it, the fantasy basketball teams. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that 32 million people ages 12 and above had fantasy teams in 2010. That number increases annually. The sports industry grosses about 3-4 billion dollars from this hobby and 22 percent of adult males ages 18-49 invest in a fantasy sports team in North America every year.
There is something cathartic about “watching the game” and talking about players and vying for the win of a favorite team. But there is also something that should cause suspicion – something unsettling and something that needs to be addressed.
When I watch basketball and listen to the announcers, I’m surprised at the language they use to describe the game. It’s reminiscent of the way that men traditionally talk about women or the military. They say things like, “That was a lovely shot,” or “That was a beautiful play.” Innuendos like “penetrating the paint,” and “putting it in” are repeated for hours.
The bodies of the players are described in very objectifying terms. Their finesse, their bone structure, their height and weight, tattoos and hairdos, their recent injuries are described as assets or liabilities, tasteful or displeasing. They are given nicknames that dehumanize, animalize and racialize them. “Black Chocolate,” “Black Mamba” and “Durantula” are a few examples.
This kind of commentary, rich with fetishization, is juxtaposed with discussions of their talents and abilities to dominate. When certain players come on to the court, announcers will say things like, “bringing out the big guns.” Words like “slaughtering,” “killing” and “butchering” are blasted into living rooms all over the country as fans reach with ease for their favorite beer.
Over 83 percent of NBA players are black. The fetishizing language used to describe basketball is not as prevalent with games like baseball and golf, sports that consist more of white players. The participation in fantasy sports is much higher in sports leagues that feature more black players.
Each weekend millions of men sit with their buddies, organizing their sports teams, making bets on individuals, heckling over them and predicting their performance. These players, most of whom are black, can be traded, bought and sold with the simple click of a mouse. One mechanism of white supremacist ideology still infecting our culture is the inability for a minority to succeed without something being in it for the white community. When companies or institutions can brag about their diversity for the sake of political correctness, or get tax breaks for adhering to affirmative action quotas, they are reaping the benefits of a minority presence. They are institutionalizing the need for the benefit to be there in the first place.
Fantasy sports are no exception. It’s not enough to watch gigantic black men compete with each other and describe their bouts with the vocabulary we use to talk about black on black crime. Now, the average fan can personally and monetarily benefit in ways they have never been able to before.
People think NBA players make too much money but it takes a lot of money to convince someone to voluntarily sacrifice the amount these athletes do. Professional athletes are always nursing injuries. They are always in some kind of pain. Professional athletes have a shorter lifespan than the general population. In their later years, the concussions these players suffered lead to extreme migranes, and the injuries to terrible bouts of arthritis. There are a growing number of suicides among professional athletes.
There’s not an amount of money that can sufficiently compensate for the loss of 15-25 years of life.
People shame these players for various scandals they get accused of, but remain shameless about the environments and conditions that engender said scandals. Recruiting someone right out of high school makes higher education almost impossible to attain. They travel to a different state every couple of days during the season and have to pick up their families and move them constantly depending on where they get traded. The writing in the contracts is so binding, one is not only committing to games and practices, but appearances at charity events, press conferences, and sponsor commercials. Functional relationships with spouses and children are especially difficult, and hard won in this lifestyle. Physical pain, emotional strain and lack of education are all elements that lead to poor decision-making.
I love sports. But it is hard not to notice the mechanisms of white supremacy at work every time I watch a game. Last year I was at Deron Williams’ final game with Jazz. The Jazz benefited greatly from the talents of this franchise player, and you could see the frustration on his face as they played against the Chicago Bulls and he competed against his former teammates. Sitting courtside, you heard the intensity of the yelling and aggression, and I knew that Williams was angry, frustrated and done. And, he was. The next day he was gone, traded to a no name team without a second thought. I know this is part of the game, part of the contract and part of the “fun,” but gladiator spectatorship shouldn’t be contracted, and actually, isn’t fun for me at all.
By Felicia Joy
Assistant Opinions Editor