When the NBA pulled its pants up

Leadoff hitter.

Why lie? The biggest grievance in my cushy life was last week’s shutdown of Grantland. Like every other writer on Twitter dot com, I too, am tempted to kill my word count #hottake-ing about the internet’s coolest corner. But since Morgan hustled so hard yesterday for all you subscribers, it’s cool. I won’t. Onward.

Last week, the Lesser ESPN Media Property known as "ESPN.com” dropped a puffy retrospective on the rise of NBA fashion as a response to the 2006 NBA Dress Code. It’s got one of those fresh interactive sliders that let you play around with before and after photos of current NBA stars (and Vince Carter) that were in the league before David Stern banned baggy jeans and jerseys after games. I had more fun than I'd like to admit messing around with the slider. 

On one hand, I’m happy to see that players have embraced the chance to express themselves in new ways. I won’t skewer the Worldwide Leader over a single click-bait, but I wish there was more than a passing allusion to the surrounding issues.

In 2005, the NBA had an image problem. They had a workforce of tall, burly men playing a very physical sport where trash talking and hard fouls were part of the game. (Wait: Did I just describe the NHL, a league where violence is so acceptable, their video games let you simulate fights for a performance boosts?) But the NBA’s aesthetic issues were rooted in its large, aggressive, and occasionally angry men also being predominantly black. When the nationally-televised Malice in the Palace—a brawl notably crescendoed by a white fan taunting All-Star forward Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) by pouring beer on his head—dominated the news networks, criticisms about the NBA’s “thug culture” reached a fever pitch.

I was 16 when the dress code began, living in a fairly conservative, religious home with fairly predictably conservative positions on gangsta rap. However, I was also a product of Queens, NY and hip hop. I didn’t wear du rags (but only because I was too tender-headed for cornrows) or Jordans, but some of my best friends did! And it was a culture that, even then, I loved without feeling too compelled to push drugs. When the league mandated business casual only, somehow, I retained just enough kindergarten-level moral lessons about it being “the inside that counts” to roll my eyes about XXL tees being anything close to a real issue with the league.

Kevin Durant taking a stand against thug pathology.

Kevin Durant taking a stand against thug pathology.

A decade later, I hope to have a more comprehensive perspective about the multi-faceted relationship between cultural pathologies and pop culture. My mild skepticism about the dress code has grown into deep mistrust about the motivations of the powers that be. We’re in a league where Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can model the league’s image-centric dress codes, while their boss can be involved in a housing and employment discrimination suit without a slap on the wrist. (I have no doubt that Sterling would continue to run the Clippers if his side-chick didn't leak his impolite and bigoted comments about blacks.) The Atlanta Hawks play in a famously chocolate city, yet their deposed former owner complained about the overwhelming blackness of the fan base shooing off wealthy, white customers. I now believe a significant factor for the league’s concern for “image” was less of a failure to act as professionals, but a latent racial bias predisposed to concerning about black male image in the first place. If you disagree, well, whatever because Jason Richardson agrees and that’s good enough for me.
Maybe you disagree. Or maybe you’re vibing with us, but think there’s much more Morgan and I could have said. That’s kind of the point. Foul and Fair exists to place consistent attention on these stories because we know sports are a valuable prism for understanding contemporary justice issues. Hashtag, #buryingthelede.

Anyway, you know where to find us. This email address. This Twitter account. Let’s go.

Delay of game.

Grantland was the one non-evil thing about ESPN says one guy besides Bradford. Pretty sure ESPN’s former ombudsman gave a pretty good raison d'être for Foul and Fair this week. “Sports is a stealth definer of social values,” wrote Robert Lipsyte for The Nation while taking his old employer to task for shutting down the Bill Simmons project. “How ESPN covers (or fails to cover) gay and transgender athletes, concussions, domestic abuse, gambling costumed as fantasy leagues, and e-sports, for example, will have an impact on how Americans regard the widening racial, economic, and class divides between them and the gladiatorial castes that perform for them.”

Houston, do we have a problem? Super Bowl L will stay in Houston, the NFL confirmed after the city repealed its LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance on Tuesday. The Final Four will also stay in America's fastest growing city for its 2016 tournament, but the NCAA told Buzzfeed the reversal could impact future decisions. Meanwhile, former Houston Astro Lance Berkman stands by his decision to campaign for HERO’S repeal: “First of all as a Christian I felt that I had an obligation to stand for what is right,” the Big Puma said on Wednesday. “I am about articulating my belief system and taking a stand for it when I have the opportunity.”
Please dispense with your WNBA jokes, jocks. The WNBA averaged 7,500 fans a game during its 2014 season and had 33 sellouts. It’s 50 years younger than its parent league So why can’t NBA commissioner Adam Silver call the league healthy? Follow the money. “Acknowledging the league's popularity can impose costs on the league owners,” writes David Berri at Vice Sports. “...To argue the league is doing quite well given its age might lead some to wonder why the WNBA players receive so little for their part in its success.”

By comparison, NFL has six black head coaches. With Dusty Baker becoming the Washington Nationals next manager, MLB’s 30 teams now have two managers of color among them. (Please God, Dave Roberts. We’re sorry Lloyd. Ron Washington <3 Ozzie Guillen do you still exist?) But why are more unlikely? “This problem isn’t caused by proactive machinations to exclude women and minorities from hiring,” writes Megan Rowley at Baseball Prospectus. “It’s not owners, presidents or GMs down there forfeiting wins to make some bigoted stance. The bulk of the problem is that, at some point, each hire seems to start with “Hey, these are the folks I know. And, boy, I know a lot of white men who went to Harvard or played baseball. Well, anyway!”

SURPRISE: football players got away with it. From the deck: How Four Football Players Beat the Rap and Changed Free Speech in Oregon. A not-for-the-faint-of-heart longform piece by Susan Elizabeth Shepard at SBNation. “Few people in Oregon or anywhere else know of the case, much less that it emerged from the worst time in Ducks football history from an incident that is a case study in the sordid intersection of collegiate athletics, entitlement and the legal system.”
Buy me some peanuts and Iraq attacks. If you felt like staging a preemptive attack to protect national interests this past Sunday, your patriotism may have been purchased by the Pentagon. The military spent $6.8 million in taxpayer money spent on marketing contracts with professional sports contracts, Adweek reports. ESPN Magazine's Howard Bryant connected the dots between an unhealthy culture of law enforcement and military reverence and these paid sponsorships. Either way, this gives this Queens native (Bradford) a whole new meaning to "Let's Go Jets."

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Morgan and Bradford