Gumbel’s Grumblings Reveal A Lot

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 26, 2011
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NBA commissioner David Stern, center, talks with reporters after leaving an NBA labor talks meeting Oct. 10 in New York. Stern cancelled the first two weeks of the season after players and owners were unable to reach a new labor deal to end the lockout. At left is deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Opening night was scheduled for Nov. 1. AP photo/David Karp

If Bryant Gumbel’s rant against NBA commissioner David Stern had come from some typical Hollywood nut job, the diatribe would have been quickly discarded. After all, ignorance abounds in a country of 308 million people. It’s simple math. Quite likely you’re sitting in the vicinity of some yahoo as you read this.

But Gumbel did say it. And he’s not just some gas bag. Then again, maybe he is.

Not only did he compare Stern to a plantation overseer, but Gumbel suggested the commissioner wants players to know he’s the one who lives up on the hill and their job is to satisfy his cravings. “Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has, of course, been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys,” said the former Today Show host.

The damning issue isn’t that Gumbel is calling Stern a racist which is, in itself, a hateful charge for which he offers no proof. What’s disturbing is that Gumbel, in his eagerness to disparage yet another sports league official, saddled his foe with a disgusting label that only the most truly ignorant and by this I mean stupid, not uneducated would dare to suggest. On which side of this we put Hank Williams Jr. is still unclear.

Let’s get this straight. Comparing pro athletes to enslaved Americans is ignorant and denigrates the tragedy that was American slavery, the memory of those held in bondage and the centuries of oppression the practice created. So whether it is Gumbel, William Rhoden, Adrian Peterson or Eric Cartman, knock it off!

This is not the first time Gumbel has found discrimination where none existed. In another example of oral manure he once said, “Try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like the GOP convention.”

No one argues that Stern can be egomaniacal. All power in the NBA rests in his hands, but arrogance is a long way from racism. Those who have covered Stern for years, and who have been the subject of his wrath, acknowledge he can be a very difficult man with whom to deal. The very same people also say it is ridiculous to suggest Stern has purposely played the role of “The Man.”

Under Stern, the NBA has provided more opportunities for minority owners, coaches and administrators than any other league. He embraced the individualism that made the league popular and embraced the hip-hop culture that became the soundtrack to the league. And no, inserting a dress code was not racist. Stern has even kept the WNBA afloat when many others would have let it die from disinterest years ago.

In the face of calls for his termination and the unwanted attention he brought to the network, Gumbel would be well advised to discuss the controversy and to clarify his remarks. But, so far, he has refused, cowering behind an HBO spokesman who released the ineffective statement that Gumbel “feels there isn’t anything to elaborate on.” That’s the coward’s way out.

In a previous commentary about the double standard in reporting on women’s athletics, Gumbel closed a show by saying “If the definition of true equality is treating folks honestly without regard for race or gender, then it is time we start critiquing women athletes the same way we do the men ... blind praise is meaningless with the absence of fair criticism.” Fair criticism also is meaningless without context or the courage to back up the charges.

Perhaps it isn’t the athletes who compete in sports with small black populations that pisses him off.

Maybe Negrodomis was wrong. Maybe white people don’t like Wayne Brady just because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.

And perhaps Gumbel’s just mad because after years of being one of the nation’s most watched and respected journalists, he’s been reduced to little more than a figurehead on a cable TV sports program that, while staffed with considerable talent, has very little reach except when its host decides to make himself the center of attention.

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