Despite what many African-Americans will deny to their graves, there are certain privileges to being born Black in America. The great scholar W.E.B. Du Bois touched upon one of these alluded to privileges when he wrote that to be Black in America is to be gifted with a second sight to view both the Black and the white world. Du Bois beautifully used the imagery of a veil that prevented the white world from seeing the true workings and manifestations of the Black world; yet, allowed African-Americans to view the white world and its operation without any obstruction whatsoever. Hence, when Michele Roberts was selected by the National Basketball Association Players Association to lead them forward as the executive director of the players union, I knew that trouble loomed on the horizon for twenty-nine of the owners of NBA franchises. I mused that there was only one who would not be blown out of the water when this sister went to work on the predominantly white old boy network, the only exception to this racial monolith is Michael Jordan, the only Black principal in any of the three major sports leagues (National Basketball Association, National Football League, and Major League Baseball). Despite America’s tendency to deny this indomitable truth, African-American women, when on top of their game, are unrivaled in intelligence, refinement, and professionalism by any group, regardless of race or gender, on the planet earth.
So I was not surprised when Michele Roberts made national news by notifying NBA owners that when the players opted out of the league’s collective bargaining agreement after the 2016-2017 season, she would be seeking to radically alter the entire landscape of how the overwhelmingly white owners dealt with the overwhelmingly Black players in regards to financial matters. Roberts queried, as if she were appalled by the prospect of owners and players sharing the $24 Billion TV deal that is to begin in 2016 at a 50/50 split. Roberts went on the offensive, a tactic that these wealthy white men, and Michael Jordan, have never experienced from anyone, let alone a Black woman, and questioned the importance of franchise ownership. The players’ union executive director seemingly mocked the thought that owners were even slightly important to the NBA’s popularity when she told ESPN The Magazine, “Why don’t we have the owners play half the games?” Driving her point that the money would disappear were it not for the players; from her vantage point, the players deserved much more than 50% of the revenue raised by the league. Put simply, Roberts believes that the owners do not matter, at least, not as much as they believe that they do.
Michele Roberts is posing a very interesting, nearly unprecedented, economic issue before the 99% white principal owners in this nation’s three major sports leagues. That being, how is it that you are able to simultaneously champion American Capitalism and a free-market that drives the costs of goods and services, while also placing limits upon how much money players are able to make via a salary-cap. It appears that unfettered Capitalism only works if it serves the interest of owners; when it does not serve their best interests they quickly assume a position that is in the words of Michele Roberts, un-American.
The most significant hurdle that Roberts will need to deal with as executive director will not be anything that occurs inside of the contentious negotiations that are bound to occur in corporate boardrooms; rather, it is the perception of an American public that has illogically sided with wealthy whites while they remain mired in generational poverty. The alluded to perception is expressed by those who state that they wish that someone would exploit them by paying them the type of money that the players receive. Such scatterbrained thinking allows many whites to issue what amounts to a sly insult onto Black players who they believe do not deserve the salaries that their extraordinary athletic feats demand in a free market economy. Never do such individuals take a moment and look at the other side of the equation and question what in the world has an “owner” who usually sits in a luxury suite looking at what William Rhoden termed his “Million Dollar Slaves” done to earn the millions of dollars that he will collect as a result of that night’s sporting event that he merely viewed from on high.
Although this battle between workers and owners is merely yet another installment in this nation’s longest running war, I am certain that Roberts will emerge victorious in permanently altering the economic landscape of American professional sports. The alluded to alteration will be one that the owners never saw coming, and they can blame Michael Jordan for their ignorance, because he, the lone Black owner across the three major sports, should know better than anyone else the power, ingenuity, and resilience of a strong Black woman. Or maybe, he has forgotten. Regardless, Michele Roberts is about to show this exclusive group of wealthy, overwhelmingly white, men why and how Black Girls Rock.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III