Guest Article BY: SimmonsCallsMe
I was surfing through ESPN earlier this week when I saw an article that most people seemed to miss. The article, written by ESPN columnist Stephen A. Smith, discusses the Pistons’ alleged protest over the weekend, and introduces an interesting racial and socioeconomic argument to the implications of the protest (I encourage you to read the full article here: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/columns/story?columnist=smith_stephen&page=PistonsProtest-110227). S.A.S also argues that it is actions like those of the Pistons that will hurt players’ bargaining power when negotiating a new CBA. I can somewhat understand where S.A.S. is coming from on the players angle, but frankly disagree that the players’ actions cast athletes, and more specifically black athletes, in a bad light.
First, let’s discuss the implications to the CBA. In a time when both sides, the players and owners, will be looking for an edge, S.A.S. does make a good point that holdouts and protests give owners added ammunition to cut players’ salaries and demand a greater portion of revenue. However, I believe this is a unique situation in that some of the players had legitimate excuses that prevented them from making it to their shoot-around. Let’s not forget that follow-up (cover-up?) reports stated that there was no protest and it happened to be a situation where players just missed practice.
But, to make it interesting, let’s pretend that we know for sure the Pistons players staged a protest. If you look at the players that were skipping practice, you will notice that these are all guys that have never really been a problem in the locker room. Players such as Tracy McGrady, Rip Hamilton, and Ben Wallace, at least for their tenure with the Pistons, have largely gone about their business as professionals.
I believe the Pistons revolting is largely attributable to the fact their coach is an awful leader and is killing the chemistry of the team. I believe it really is a case where given all of the perceived injustices done to them by their coach, the players reached a breaking point. They likely felt no one in a position of authority truly cared about their situation, evidenced and supported by Kuester remaining the coach and Dumars backing his coach publicly after the incident, and they exercised one of the only powers they truly had in the hope of drawing more attention to the real problems at hand. I believe when the players and owners sit down at the bargaining table come this summer, this incident will be discussed, but it won’t serve to tilt the balance of power in favor of the owners.
Now to the racial and socioeconomic discussion. S.A.S. basically argues that given the high concentration of African Americans in the league, it is events like the Pistons’ protest that fosters the perception that there is a lack of discipline in the league:
“What the public cares about most was the image of proverbial inmates running the asylum…Players dictating matters to owners — instead of it being the other way around — and having the temerity to exhibit a prowess usually displayed by the older, white gentlemen who customarily cut the checks provoked feelings of discomfort among the public at large.”
I don’t believe any of us are so blind as to believe racism no longer exists, but I do believe the general public does not view athletes as merely highly-priced slaves. Certainly there is a bias against stars that leave their team, but I believe that has more to do with the fans feeling the loss of something great rather than some subconscious racial prejudice that makes them uncomfortable that players do have power.
Furthermore, before you can pass judgment on whether this incident revealed a lack of discipline you have to once again look at the players involved. These guys do not have a history of causing problems or being head-cases, and there is no reason to believe they are changing now.
In the final analysis, the Pistons’ protest was truly a situation where a group of people were pushed to the brink of tolerance, and reacted in one the few ways they knew how. Their passive-aggressive protest was an attempt to draw attention to the failed leadership tactics of Kuester and the burnt bridges between the coach and his players, and not an attempt by the players to seize power.