Bad Boy for Life: Hip-Hop Music, Race, and Sports

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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  • 1 University of Delaware

P Diddy’s Bad Boy for Life video provides a strategic point of departure in the quest for values and community, sui generis, in SportsWorld. This study poses an interruption to the “ideological” articulations of discourse on the relationship between hip-hop music and sports by providing an examination of empirical and scientific data inside of SportsWorld. There is a carefully crafted narrative about the coexistence among Black American athletes, SportsWorld, and hip-hop music. From the beginning of Black athletes’ entry into the White spaces of the so-called level playing field of sports—from National Association of Stock Car Racing to the National Hockey Association to Major League Baseball to National Basketball Association—this integration upsets the norms of both civility and history; because for many in White America, the belief persists that these same athletes were not then and should not be today in those sacred spaces. From Jackie Robinson to the Williams Sisters to Jack Johnson to Tiger Woods to Althea Gibson to Fritz Pollard and, of course, Muhammad Ali—all of these pioneers suffered the indignities of racial discrimination. As Smith argues in his 2014 book Race, Sport and the American Dream, fast forward, deep inside the second aught of the 21st century, it is often assumed that the addition of hip-hop music to the pregame and half-time entertainment at ballparks, basketball arenas, stadiums, and ice hockey arenas signals a welcoming to the Black Athlete and their fans. Using a Marxian lens, this study argues that both these assumptions are no more than the ideology of beliefs that Marx describes as “fantasies and illusions” or more straightforward a “phantasmagoria.” These fantasies and illusions show up as a laterna magica projecting images on society and in SportsWorld, where these can be described as commodity fetishism. Through the authors' empirical analysis of data on segregation and integration in SportsWorld, they demonstrate that things are not always as they seem.

Men who, since childhood, have had their backs to the entrance of a cave, cannot see the outside world. On the wall inside the cave are projected the shadows of other men, and by linking the voices of these men to their shadows, the inhabitants of the cave conclude that the first derive from the second. One of the prisoners, however, manages to escape and perceives the true origin of the voices. Finally, he emerges from the cave and sees the light of day. At first the sun blinds him, but then he becomes accustomed to it and the vision he gains enables him to understand the falsehood in which he had been living. (Laclau, 1977)

Today—when Dr. Dre is an Apple executive, Jay-Z has partnered with Samsung on an album release, and Snoop Dogg has appeared in Chrysler commercials—the St. Ides campaign appears strange, a relic from a time when Hip Hop culture hadn’t yet earned wider Madison Avenue respect. (Coward, 2016)

Hip Hop is Dead. (Nas, 2006)

SportsWorld, a term coined by Smith, refers to the ways in which sports are embedded in every aspect of American culture as well as the social and political economy (Smith, 2014b). Colleges and universities, as well as cities and counties around the country, invest often scarce resources that could otherwise be used to improve conditions for students and citizens into sports. Colleges and universities close academic units while they funnel money into failing football programs. Cities and counties in need of new roads and public education build stadiums to keep or to lure professional sports teams, often with losing records and poor attendance records. High-profile athletes are worshipped like Gods and allowed to transgress even the most central of American values, easily forgiven, worship never wavering, unless, of course, these athletes critique racism and other core tenets of American society, as Colin Kaepernick did in 2016. SportsWorld is a big business. Owners, many of whom occupy the top 1% of all Americans, accrue tremendous profit off the backs of athlete’s whose labor they exploit, though this “simple” analysis of the exploitation of athlete labor calls for a more nuanced perspective when we consider that even benchwarmers on National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) teams earn many times more per year than the average family, and superstars earn more than the profits of many mid-size companies. Sports are part of an expanding capitalist market, locally, nationally, and globally. Specifically, this study utilizes the narrative of P Diddy’s music video, Bad Boy for Life, to interrogate the question of Black men’s ability to be fully integrated into the exclusive spaces reserved for the wealthiest of Whites who own the teams and record labels that exploit Black people’s talent. As we will demonstrate, no matter how many Whites listen to and purchase P Diddy’s music and no matter how many White people would hire P Diddy to perform at their Martha’s Vineyard Labor Day party, there is no invitation to move next door.

At the time of the final revisions to this study, yet another highly publicized relationship between hip-hop and SportsWorld was brokered. Roger Goddell, the commissioner of the NFL signed a deal with Jay-Z and his production company Roc Nation to provide exclusive musical entertainment at NFL games. Early indicators are that this relationship was brokered in an attempt to “tamp down” the antiracism protests by Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and Michael Bennet; protests that superstar tennis player Serena Williams had also endorsed. This arrangement not only serves as a mechanism to sanitize the NFL, but it also serves as yet another example of the central argument of this study; no matter how famous Jay-Z and the Queen Bey are and no matter how many White people purchase their music or attend their concerts, Jay-Z and Beyonce are still on the outside looking in the superclass world reserved for wealthy Whites.

Hip-Hop1 in SportsWorld

P Diddy’s Bad Boy for Life video (2001) provides a strategic point of departure (Durkheim, 1895/1982; Smith, 2014b) in this study in the quest for understanding the relationship between hip-hop and SportsWorld. P Diddy’s rap video entitled “Bad Boy for Life,” which first aired on July 10, 2001, is a unique summary of housing and neighborhood segregation and the place of Black athletes and entertainers who move into White space—even though they can afford it—and are then scrutinized by White neighbors. Featured prominently in this police role are White actors Ben Stiller and television host Pat O’Brien. Black actors and athletes known to the viewing public who appear are rappers Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. Athletes who appear are boxer Mike Tyson and basketball players Shaquille O’Neal and Baron Davis. The video opens in Perfecttown, USA. A White man in a bathrobe is picking up his paper on the curb when dark clouds begin to block the sun. He looks up and along with the black clouds are a series of black town cars and a black tour bus rolling slowly down his street. Other White neighbors out in their yards look up as the entourage enters the community. The bus door opens in front of a house with a for sale sign in the yard and Black people, dressed in hip-hop swag, NFL and NBA gear stream off the bus. A White woman faints. P Diddy begins rapping “Bad Boy” from the roof of the house, installed with speakers in the windows. The party spills into the garage and the yard and soon young Black men dressed in NBA jerseys are riding scooters down the middle of the otherwise quiet street—popping wheelies. Slowly, White neighbors are seen enjoying the music. Pat O’Brien is seen leaning over the fence, grooving to the music but also his eyes on the Black women moving to the music themselves. A White neighbor emerges with goggles from under the water in a hot tub full of Black women, as if he has been ogling their scantily clad bodies. Repetition of the lyrics “we aint, going no where, we can’t be stopped cause we’re bad boy for life” plays on. Soon, high-profile athletes arrive, including Mike Tyson and Shaquille O’Neil (Shaq) for pick-up games in the driveway—the fusion of hip-hop and SportsWorld illustrated clearly. The video concludes with a young Black man plugging in an extension cord, the neighborhood goes dark as all of the electricity is channeled to a concert stage in his front yard where P Diddy and his entourage perform to a packed audience. In the final scene, P Diddy goes out in his robe to get his paper off the curb and he looks left and notices young White punk rockers moving in next door, “Damn, there goes the neighborhood.”

In this study, then, we pose an interruption to the “ideological” articulations of discourse on the relationship of hip-hop music and sports by providing an examination of empirical, scientific examinations of SportsWorld phenomenon. Is the SportsWorld, hip-hop, NBA, NFL, MLB relationship one of harmony, goodwill existing in a postracial America or a harbinger of something else (Francis, 2017)? As Francis (2017) writes:

Hip-hop music fills the arenas of NBA teams across the nation. At any moment on ESPN you can catch images of LeBron James flying through the air for a monstrous dunk as your favorite hip-hop artists provide the soundtrack. It only makes sense that the fastest growing sport internationally would be scored by the rapidly growing musical voice of the youth. Yet, as simple as this all sounds, hip-hop and the NBA have come a long way to the healthy coexistence they now enjoy.

For sure. But, still, there is anxiety in the relationship. Much of this anxiety has to do with race (Duru, 2010). SportsWorld is racialized; it is, for the most part, Black and White. Sport sociologist Leonard (2017, p. 12) put it thus:

. . . a sporting world that remains “black” and “white.” “Blacks remain ‘raced,’ primarily as athletes, and whites prevail ‘unmarked as racial subjects’ in the role of spectators, the media and administrators.”

There is a carefully crafted narrative about the coexistence among Black American athletes, SportsWorld, and hip-hop music (Bukowski, 2008; Dyson, 2016). From the beginning of Black athletes’ entry into the White spaces of the so-called level playing fields—from National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) to National Hockey Association (NHL) to Major League Baseball (MLB) to National Basketball Association (NBA)—this integration upsets the norms of both civility and history because for many in White America; the belief persists that these same athletes were not then and should not today be in those sacred spaces (Anderson, 2015). President Trump’s “sons of bitches” commentary coming after Colin Kaepernick led the “take a knee” movement is an exemplar of this perspective (McNeil, 2017). From Jackie Robinson to the Williams Sisters to Jack Johnson to Tiger Woods to Althea Gibson to Fritz Pollard and, of course, Muhammad Ali—all of these pioneering “ballers” suffered the indignities of racial discrimination (Harrison & Burkstein, 2014; Shropshire, 1996). These racial indignities continue today (Leonard, 2017; Smith, 2014b).

It is often the case that people assume that the presence of something or someone indicates significantly more social change than is reality. On that incredible night in November of 2008 when Barack Obama was elected as President, many people more so Whites than Blacks argued or at least speculated that this moment indicated that the United States had become a “postracial” society. The unparalleled success of Tiger Woods suggested that perhaps the racial barriers that had long stood in country club sports like golf and tennis were beginning to crack. Some might argue that the infusion of hip-hop into NBA arenas and NFL and MLB stadiums signals a leveling of the playing field in SportsWorld (Sims, 2016). We disagree. Though our perspective may be unpopular, our argument is based on an analysis of empirical data and carefully selected case studies analyzed through the narrative lens provided by P Diddy’s Bad Boy for Life video. In short, we argue that the presence of hip-hop in SportsWorld is simply cultural appropriation as well as the fetishized commodification of Black bodies without representation (Kelley, 2005; Kitwa, 2006).

In addition, we suggest that the inclusion of hip-hop in SportsWorld is as much about market expansion and that it in no way foreshadows the abdication of the throne to Blacks, who play sports and music, but still face significant barriers to managing or owning teams or record labels (Smith, 2014b). Finally, we argue that the relationship between hip-hop and SportsWorld is complex and requires a more nuanced analysis; “Ballin” is now leisure, a fun activity with music (Kelley, 1998).

Our inquiry in this study brings together two theoretical paradigms not usually employed together, critical race theory (CRT), which, along with a Marxist lens is merged to provide a framework for interrogating race and hip-hop in SportsWorld. Many scholars credit Kimberle Crenshaw as the founder of CRT (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995), but CRT certainly does not begin and end with her work. Many other scholars, including Collins (2016), have built on and extended her work. CRT provides a point of departure for our analysis of racism as it unfolds and remains in SportsWorld (Collins, 2006; Hylton, 2008).

Critical Race Theory

For all of the scholars (e.g., Crenshaw, Collins, Delgado) whose work we employ herein to understand race and its place in hip-hop and SportsWorld, we make it clear that CRT for us is about interrogating racial power! One way to think about the system of racism that exists and persists in the United States is as a machine. The machine of racism has deep roots, it is embedded in our constitution, laws, and practices, so deeply that even when we attempt to revise those policies or practices, all we are really doing is tweaking a piece of the machine rather than dismantling the machine entirely and replacing it with something new and better. Let’s say, for example, that the machine of racial domination is like a car. When the car was first built it ran on coal, but as the economy shifted and coal was more costly, and as our beliefs about coal changed—it became a “dirty” fuel—car manufacturers tinkered with the car so that it could be powered by gasoline rather than coal. The car itself did not change. It still continued to drive down the road moving people from place to place. The only thing that changed was the type of fuel used to power it.

And, so it is with the music played during the pregame rituals, as teams warm-up on the field or course, or the artists chosen to entertain expectant crowds during halftime, especially at big events like the Superbowl, a venue that is now under the supervision and direction of legendary hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. The music may have changed to reflect the tastes of the fans or to appeal to future fans, but the balance of power has not shifted. Not one inch.

We employ CRT as a tool for interrogating the presence of hip-hop music in NBA (and other) stadiums, because it centers the discussion on race and racial inequalities from the perspective of non-White people. CRT is also useful, because it is attentive to the social, economic, and political conditions in which a particular phenomenon takes place (Billings, 2009). For example, considering only the racial demographic of NBA players, wherein Blacks make up a dominant majority of the players in the NBA (77–81%), it is understandable that one could easily come to the conclusion that the NBA must be inclusive of Black voices and Black leadership. Certainly, an analysis devoid of a CRT perspective could easily come to this conclusion. However, when a CRT lens is applied, the element of power is illuminated. Blacks may make up the vast majority of the players, but as we document here and elsewhere (Smith, 2014b), Black men (and we chose the gendered term to denote the fact that Black women are nowhere to be found outside of the traditional roles of mother, wife, cheerleaders, baby mamas or hookups, or half-time entertainers, even Beyonce) have absolutely no power in the NBA; they are not NBA presidents of basketball operations or general managers, and they are certainly not owners.

Being an owner or a manager means that you hold the power not only to hire and fire your employees, in this case the athletes and coaches, but owners also have the power to dictate players’ behavior and they often do so in ways that run counter to the norms of inclusion. For example, some leaders in professional sports, coaches and owners, police the dress of athletes, especially Black athletes, in ways that contradict the narrative of embracing hip-hop. In addition, owners and managers also have the power to make decisions about where their teams play and when. The decision by the owners or managers to incorporate hip-hop at sporting events also implies, wrongly, that Blacks are the primary consumers of hip-hop. In fact, White young men account for a significant portion of sales of hip-hop music (Kitwa, 2006). Thus, this more nuanced interpretation might suggest that the incorporating of hip-hop into SportsWorld may be read as a nod to young White men (mostly) as the next generation of consumers (Coward, 2016) rather than necessarily a welcoming beacon for Black athletes and their fans.

Marxism and Labor Exploitation

Moving deep inside the second aught of the 21st century, it is often presumed that by adding hip-hop music to the pregame tracks and the half-time extravaganza shows at ballparks, basketball arenas, stadiums, and ice hockey arenas is a welcome mat being laid out for the Black athlete and their fans (Smith, 2014b). Using a Marxian lens (Harcourt, 2012), especially Marx’s (1952) critique of commodity fetishism, this study argues that both these assumptions are no more than the ideology of beliefs that Marx describes as “fantasies and illusions” or “phantasmagoria.” These fantasies and illusions show up as a laterna magica projecting images on society and in SportsWorld where these can be described as commodity fetishism (Laclau, 1977). As Marx explains it (Tucker, 1978) under capitalism the object—sports played by Black athletes—emerges in this epoch as a commodity to be sold on the world market; there is, to be sure, a monetary value for exchange. It then becomes fetishized. For this study, this means sport fans come to believe that the object has intrinsic value in and of itself. As hip-hop music has evolved nationally and internationally from the iconic ghettos embedded deep inside of Black American Civil Society, to a much more broadly consumed commodity, it has been expropriated from its original owners—in similar ways that Marx discusses in “Theft of the Wood” (Linebaugh, 1976); an expropriation that has now become normalized as a routine activity inside the hip-hop and SportsWorld relationship (Bukowski, 2008).

The exploitation of the Black athlete has been examined thoroughly (Edwards, 1969). There is extant literature on hip-hop and sports (Francis, 2017), but there needs to be more, especially a theoretically sophisticated examination of the intersection of hip-hop and sports that exposes that both are tools of capitalism designed to exploit labor and extract profit. As we have argued extensively elsewhere (Smith, 2014b), integral to SportsWorld in the 21st century is global expansion. Here, we use the term to suggest both expansion outside of the United States and expansion into previously untapped or undertapped markets, including the Black community. From the NBA to NASCAR, sports franchises are eagerly looking to expand their brand in the United States and abroad. For example, NASCAR had enlisted the hip-hop/rap artist for 50 cents to bring more African American fans to the races (Gluck, 2013). Internationally, MLB, NBA, and NFL have all expanded their regular season games and special contests to places around the globe such as London, Mexico, and Latin America (Vargas, 2000); similarly, as Smith argues with regards to the global expansion of hip-hop “Hip-Hop’s influence is, at last, a true and not merely an ancillary currency” (Smith, 2014a).

Cultural Appropriation

Despite hip-hop’s roots deep in the iconic Black ghetto (Anderson, 2015), a music form that is revolutionary and begets social movements in the post-Civil Rights era, today, hip-hop is consumed by people of all races, including young White men. Many of whom “act Black” as part of their consumption of the music, see especially Clift’s (2010) documentary “Blacking Up: Hip Hop’s Remix of Race and Identity.” Further evidence for the importance of White audiences in the sales of hip-hop comes from a study published in Forbes in 2017, when, for the first time in history, hip-hop surpassed rock as the highest-selling music genre (McIntyre, 2017). According to the Media Behavior and Influence Study, though Blacks are disproportionately represented among hip-hop listeners, 40% of all those who listen to hip-hop identify as White, and more Whites than Blacks report consuming hip-hop (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

—Race and age make-up of hip hop listeners compared to the US population. Source. Media Behavior and Influence Study.

Citation: Sociology of Sport Journal 37, 3; 10.1123/ssj.2018-0134

Hip-hop’s mainstream appeal is important, because it suggests that the decisions by game day managers to play hip-hop during pregame and half-time shows may have much less to do with signaling Black inclusion and may have everything to do with appealing to young White men and women (Clift, 2010) fans that both the NBA and NFL desperately want to hold on to and sports like NASCAR want to continue to cultivate.

The data on fan attendance and racial–ethnic representation of the team have been researched (Harrison, Moore, & Evans, 2006) and the results demonstrate that fans do pay attention to the racial makeup of the teams they support (Nadeau, Pegoraro, Jones, & O’Reilly, 2011). The data on who watches and attends football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and NASCAR events informs us that overall these fans are overwhelmingly White (Nadeau et al., 2011); 92% of the fan base of the NHL is White, they are bested by NASCAR which reports that 94% of their fan base being White. Racial tensions often arise between the athletes who are mostly Black and the audience or fans who are mostly White, as it did in 2017 when Kevi Durant returned to Oklahoma City to play against his former team (Snyder, 2017). There is one singular exception, the fan base for the NBA, which is about 45% Black, is the least White, but still predominantly White.

Analyzing these data points through the lens of CRT illuminates the ways in which Whiteness and power operate in practice, enabling Whites with the discursive resources and racial power to culturally appropriate hip-hop, intentionally or unintentionally, for their own purposes, essentially demanding that the music be played at stadiums, ballparks, and today at NASCAR race tracks.

What Do the Data Tell Us?

Despite all of the gains made by Blacks who play revenue-generating sports like football and basketball, the needle has moved very little when it comes to sites of power managing or owning a team. The legal scholar Shropshire (1996, pp. 456–457) put it this way:

In the harshest of terms, the sports industry resembles a black-bottomed pyramid: large numbers of African American athlete-participants, but few African-Americans in non-playing positions at the highest levels.

In the NBA, a league of 30 teams, that is nearly 75% Black in terms of its players, Black men coach only 23% of the NBA teams. The NBA has just seven African American coaches out of 30 teams.

Black coaches in the NBA as of August, 2019

  • Lloyd Pierce—Atlanta Hawks

  • Nate McMillan—Pacers

  • Dwane Casey—Detroit Pistons

  • Alvin Gentry—New Orleans Pelicans

  • Doc’ Rivers—Los Angeles Clippers.

  • David Sean Fizdale—New York Knicks

  • Monte Williams—Phoenix Suns

The same is true when it comes to the NFL. In a league of 32 teams, which is close to 70% Black in terms of its players, there are just two Black head coaches which translated into 6% of the teams in the NFL having Black head coaches.

NFL Black coaches (August, 2019)

  • Anthony Ray Lynn—Los Angeles Chargers

  • Mike Tomlin—Pittsburgh Steelers

When it comes to ownership, which is where the real money is, when taken together, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NASCAR, there is only one Black outright owner, the legendary basketball player Michael Jordan. This point can be rather contentious; critics of this claim will often cite the fact that Magic Johnson owns the Los Angeles Lakers or Derek Jeter owns the Florida Marlins. In fact, just like with horse racing, an analogy not lost on the authors, other than the case of Michael Jordan, Black ownership of sports teams is an investment that comes with no more power than we have as investors in our 401K plan or any other organization. Both Johnson and Jeter are part owners, they are investors. So, to be clear, despite decades of integration, Black men remain members of the proletariat class when it comes to sports. This is a well-compensated proletariat, but proletariat nevertheless.

Analytical Approach

P Diddy’s Bad Boys for Life video (2001) provides the contextual or frame analysis pioneered in the work of sociologist Goffman whose work focused on interactions in everyday life (1986). Frame analysis allows us to epistemologically assess the question that we examine in this study, the degree to which a seeming embrace of hip-hop by SportsWorld, as evidenced by the incorporation of hip-hop in pregame and halftime shows, signals an embrace of Black people, both athletes and fans, into the White community. In addition, we ponder the question of power, as explicated in CRT: does membership in an organization, players on an NBA team, or rappers who move into predominantly White neighborhoods indicate that the structures of power have opened up, ever so slightly for Blacks with social class standing? Our analysis reveals evidence for a cultural rupture, just as P Diddy’s Bad Boy for Life video narrates; Black people have been welcomed as athletes (and entertainers) but their entrance into hip-hop and SportsWorld requires that they play the role of the minstrel; please the audience and stay in your lane. We highlight at a series of events that have racially rocked SportsWorld, thus offering counter evidence to the argument that Blacks and their music are indeed welcome in SportsWorld (Duru, 2010).

To assess the degree to which Black athletes and fans are welcome in the kinds of stadiums and arenas that regularly pipe hip-hop through the speakers and even invite hip-hop artists to perform at half-time shows, we consider several incidents or “mini cases,” including those involving Donald Sterling, Danny Ferry, and the NFL owners’ response to the “take a knee” protest that Colin Kaepernick is often credited with starting. There are many examples that we could choose from. We chose these specific cases, because they demonstrate both the timeliness and timelessness of these tensions, spanning the entirety of SportsWorld in the 21st century. Altogether, these case studies allow us to carefully interrogate the deep meanings of the actions embedded within the events themselves.

Donald Sterling: Donald Sterling, past owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, found himself embroiled in controversy after a series of disagreements between him and his then-girlfriend Vivian Stiviano found their way into social media. We provide a short excerpt of the exchange here (Associated Press in San Francisco, 2014).

Stiviano

I saw someone I admire. I admire Magic Johnson.

Stiviano

And I took a picture with someone I admire. He happens to be black, and I’m sorry.

Sterling

I think that fact that you admire him—I’ve known him well, and he should be admired. And I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately, and during YOUR ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE, your whole life, admire him, bring him here, feed him, fuck him, I don’t care. You can do anything. But don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games. OK?

Some stood to defend Sterling, others called him a racist. In the end, under intense pressure on social media, Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from ownership in the NBA and his wife (at the time they were engaged in a contentious divorce that was never completed) Shelley, and they were forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers. The athletes who played for the Clippers during Sterling’s ownership were very quiet about his racism. One player who did voice concern was Baron Davis who played for 3 years under Sterling. He had this to say:

Playing on the Clippers, that was the first time I really felt like I was like on an island by myself. I was the only one saying that “Yo, this is going on.”

Like nobody’s paying attention? This is going on. This man is racist.

Clearly.

Davis went on to say in the interview that he was not the only member of the team who had these feelings. According to him, other members of the team had confided in him that they also believed Sterling was a racist. Davis says he struggled with speaking out, because he feared that he would be traded to another team.
Our concern is that at no time, unless we missed it, did the team as a whole make a public protest. Doc Rivers came aboard as head coach in 2013, a year before Sterling was barred from the NBA; Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, both of whom played for the Clippers during the controversy, were deafening. Coaches and players are to stay in their lane. There is no room for accusations or protest of racial tensions on the team or in the larger community if one wants to continue working. Owners own, coaches coach, players play. The lines of demarcation are clearly and reinforced. Blake Griffin recalls that as a rookie Sterling would invite him to his parties. He said he was unable to escape Sterling’s grasp (Fox Sports, 2014):

Donald Sterling had me by the hand. You know that thing elderly women do where they grab the top of your hand with just their fingers and lead you around? That’s what he was doing . . . . I was hoping to escape down the stairs, find one of my teammates and blend in with the rest of the crowd. I tried to pull my hand away. Nope.

But the silence of players like Griffin and coaches like Rivers was nothing new. In 2009, basketball legend, Elgin Baylor filed a wrongful termination lawsuit after he was fired from his position as Clippers general manager by Donald Sterling. Included in the lawsuit is a revealing statement Baylor says was made by Sterling (Manfred, 2014):

[Sterling] said, “Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.” And I was shocked. And he looked at me and said, “Do you think that’s a racist statement?” I said, “Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.”

The Donald Sterling “crisis” comes to an end in May of 2014 when Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, purchased the Los Angeles Clippers for an estimated price tag of $2 billion, one of the highest prices ever paid for a sport franchise.
Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry: Atlanta Hawks coowner Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry were themselves embroiled in controversy in much the same ways as Donald Sterling, when controversial e-mails made their way to social media for all of us to see. On August 25, 2012, Levenson sent an offensive, racist e-mail to general manager Danny Ferry. Controversy does not end there for Ferry, who got into trouble several years later, in 2015 when he made statements many considered racist about Atlanta Hawk’s player Luol Deng. According to the media reports (King, 2014).

On the call, which occurred June 6, 2014, Ferry characterized Luol Deng as a player who “has a little African in him,” and added, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Ferry was subsequently let go by the organization. But, it is Bruce Levenson’s e-mail that we analyze here. In that e-mail, Levenson vented about the Black fans of the franchise. He was unglued over several things including, according to him, that Blacks did not stand for the National Anthem; they did not arrive at the arena on time; they did not buy food from the vendors and the following (Vivlamore, 2014): Levenson then goes on to offer his “theory” of why things were as he saw them (Vivlamore, 2014):

My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base. Please don’t get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.

These views expressed led to the downfall of Levenson and soon thereafter he sold his majority share ownership in the team.
  • it’s 70 pct black

  • the cheerleaders are black

  • the music is hip-hop

  • at the bars it’s 90 pct black.

Dan Gilbert: Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, found himself embroiled in controversy in the old-fashioned way, when he penned an open letter to LeBron James when James left for Miami in 2010 to join the Heat. James said the letter was disloyal and it had racial overtones (Zucker, 2017). Certainly, we can have a debate about James’ decision to “take his talents to South Beach,” but a Marxist analysis would suggest that any member of the proletariat has the right to seek the best labor deal they can find. A CRT framework centers race and power in the discussion. Not so many years removed from slavery, the analysis made by sports writer Rhoden (2007) in his 2007 book 40 Million Dollar Slaves, a White man, Gilbert, feels that he has the right to tell a Black man where and when he can work.

Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight; As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment. (Gilbert, 2010)

Jerry Jones: Jerry Jones is certainly no stranger to controversy. But, in 2017 he became one of the most visible and vocal NFL owners opposing the “take a knee” protest waged by a visible but tiny fraction of NFL players. Prior to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling, Jerry Jones, owner of the NFL franchise Dallas Cowboys, could be seen, on any given Sunday, standing arm-in-arm with players on his team as they took the field. Many on the outside may have predicted that Jerry Jones would take the side of protesting players whose bodies and talents he had been exploiting for decades. And, initially he did. On September 25, 2017, Jerry Jones, head coach Jason Garrett, and Cowboys players, took a knee, arm-in-arm. Though they took the knee after the National Anthem, the photo was printed on the front page of the New York Times, and many interpreted it as support for and in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. Others expressed surprise given Jerry Jones’ close relationship with and vocal support for President Donald Trump. Not long after, Trump expressed extreme discontent for the fact that players were kneeling in protest, even calling out to NFL owners during his rallies: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”

Not long after Jones and the Cowboys appeared on the cover of the New York Times, Jones went to 345 Park Ave, New York, the headquarters of the NFL to conspire with other owners and NFL administrators to draft policy against the player protests (Associated Press, 2017). It has also been suggested that Jerry Jones was listening when President Donald Trump called for just this type of response from the NFL owners. Even Jerry Jones, a thought leader in the world of the NFL succumbed to the pressure.

David Stern: David Stern, who was the commissioner of the NBA from 1984 to 2014 (30 years) is also no stranger to controversy, but he found himself on the other end of criticism in 2005. Under Stern’s leadership just before the 2005–2006 season, the NBA announced a new dress code policy, which banned players from wearing headphones, chains, shorts, sleeveless shirts, indoor sunglasses, T-shirts, jerseys, and headgear such as baseball caps during NBA-related public appearances.

One player, Allen Iverson criticized the policy saying: “They’re targeting guys who dress like me, guys who dress Hip Hop . . . I think they went way overboard” (Anonymous, 2005).

Reilly, a then Sports Illustrated writer (2001) exposes a much deeper rift between Allen Iverson, David Stern, and the NBA. Rick Reilly argues that Stern’s dress code policy goes back to 2001 when Allen Iverson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated shirtless and tattooed (April 22, 2001). He had on “bling.” The readers, mostly White, of the most popular sports magazine at that time were vocal about their assessment of Allen Iverson on the cover of the beloved Sports Illustrated:

“The cover with Allen Iverson made me sick to my stomach.” “Those preening idiots barely belong to the human race.”; “ . . . stare, tattoos and pants to the waist showing his jockstrap sum up the reason I have not watched an NBA game in years.”; “The picture of Allen Iverson is revolting” and “I object to this grotesque and irreverent picture.” Reilly ends saying what the fans objected to most was how comfortable Iverson was: “hip-hop to his heart.” (Reilly, 2001)

If the coveted NBA were serious about “diversity and inclusion” (Lee, 2016) why would Stern and his leadership team go this far to tell grown men how to dress (Lorenz & Murray, 2013)? Stern wanted “respectability.” He saw it manifested in suits and ties, shoes (not sneakers), and manners. He wanted to fill the stadium seats with primarily White fans who came out to see respectable Black guys playing basketball. His role models for doing this had to be, from our perspective, Branch Rickey and ‘Bear’ Bryant.
People love a “feel good” story like Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball or Paul “Bear” Bryant’s opening the doors of the storied Alabama football team to Black players much earlier than other southern schools. But the truth is that neither Branch Rickey nor Bear Bryant were acting on moral grounds. They were, instead, prudent businessmen deeply embedded in capitalism. Ricky knew that if he allowed Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball that Whites as well as Blacks would line up to buy a ticket to watch him play (Newman & Rosen, 2016). And, after Alabama’s thumping by the University of Southern California, a game in which Sam “Bam” Cunningham put up 135 yards and scored two touchdowns, it is believed that Bear Bryant said that they better get some “N’s” if they wanted to stay competitive (Smith, 2014b). Let us be clear here. Integration takes place under only two circumstances, law and the confluence of interests (Bell, 1980, p. 523). Legal scholar Derrick Bell put it thus:

This principle of “interest convergence”: provides the interest of blacks in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of whites.

What Branch Rickey and Bear Bryant did to integrate sports is an example of the latter. We argue the same is true of hip-hop and the NBA.

Discussion

As is the case for cultural production generally, the politics of rap music involves the contestation over public space, expressive meaning, interpretation, and cultural capital. In short, it is not just what one says, it is where one can say it, how others react to what one says, and whether one has the means with which to command public space. Cultural politics is not simply poetic politics, it is the struggle over context, meaning, and public space. (Rose, 1991, pp. 276–277)

P’ Diddy’s Bad Boy for Life video (2001) provides insight into the appropriation of Black culture as Professor Rose explains it (1991). We note here that just because P’ Diddy moves into a White neighborhood, it is clear to us based on housing data in the post-2000 era (Jan, 2018), which does not mean other Blacks can do so (Korver-Glenn, 2018). If neighborhoods were truly open for racial integration, then it would not be the case that two decades into the 21st century, affluent Black families are living in deeply concentrated poor communities and neighborhoods while similarly situated Whites live in communities and neighborhoods that are more socioeconomically mixed (Eligon and Gebeloff, 2016).

Ben Stiller: “Hey. How you doing. Puffy or P’ Diddy or Pop or papa Diddy Pop—I am sorry but I don’t know what your calling yourself these days. But aah Mr. Daddy. Listen glad you’re here in the neighborhood. Welcome. But this. [Holds up a black golf ball: note golf is never played with a black ball, golf balls are always white, or less often, yellow, the image a clear message] Golf balls thru the window. Not gonna fly. That happens once but it does not happen again. Understand what I am saying. Sorry dog, Ok. Just want to clear that up. Because, uh, I am a big fan. Love your music. Enjoy the whole . . . uh you know I love that thing. Good. Uh and listen man uh having one of those crazy house party things. Shout me a holler dog.” (3:03) https://musicvideo.fandom.com/wiki/Bad_Boy_for_Life

Social segregation continues to exist, even though Ben Stiller who cannot remember P’ Diddy’s name but wants an invite to the next “homie” party to ogle the young Black girls and women in attendance. This critique extends also to the television host Pat O’Brien peeking across the back yard fence, also ogling the young Black women. The irony of the video, which is exactly why we chose its narrative to examine the status of Blacks in SportsWorld, is the carefully woven narrative that a little money, fame, and hip-hop personality will grant entry for Blacks into mainstream White America. Not so (Duru, 2010). If anything, the video and our analysis here show a careful policing of Black bodies (Hattery & Smith, 2018).

In an undercited study of urbanization by Sides (2004) entitled “Straight into Compton: American Dreams, Urban Nightmares, and the Metamorphosis of a Black Suburb” we learn that the slogan “Keep the Negroes North of 130th Street” was widely accepted even though waves of thousands of Blacks flooded to Los Angeles. For all of the White people who bought the music of NWA and Compton’s Most Wanted and DJ Quick or tickets to the feature film Straight Outta Compton, fame did not save the neighborhood; today, Compton is 41% Black (Compton California Population and Demographics Resources, n.d.)

Although we quibble with Rhoden’s concept of the 40 million dollar slave, the CRT lens applied to the NBA and the NFL reveal that the players occupy the same role that Black people have since they were kidnapped and brought to the “new world.” They are here to make money for White people. And, though the work of the NBA or the NFL is much more interesting than the work of a slave, and the compensation is undeniably better, the NBA is a modern-day version of the same racial formations that have always existed. Black mens’ bodies are exploited for the entertainment and money making for White men. The same can be said for the NFL (Harrison & Bukstein, 2014). We also gender the language herein that although the White women as wives and daughters benefit from the capitalism that White men engage, just as the mistresses on the plantation did, women, like the players, have no power in the system (Crenshaw et al., 1995).

Conclusions

Smith (2014b) has argued that SportsWorld is a microcosm of society. Everything, which is present in the larger civil society, is present in SportsWorld, including, but not limited to racism, sexism, violence, homophobia, class wars, and the cultural appropriation of Black life. SportsWorld has no moral high ground. Much as Cashin (2017) argues in her analysis of antimiscegenation laws in the United States, under capitalism Whites have developed all kinds of contradictory laws, policies, and practices when it comes to race to ensure their racial and economic dominance (also see Desmond, 2019). As Cashin demonstrates (2017), during the same period that antimiscegenation laws were being written to prevent the unions of newly emancipated Blacks across color lines, “No US antimiscegenation laws ever barred whites from marrying Chicanos or other Hispanic groups . . . only a small number of states banned marriages between whites and indigenous people, as a ban would have interfered with white men’s ability to marry native women and thereby claim any attendant land. Yet again, miscegenation laws and the racial hierarchy they supported were designed to enable asset accumulation” (2017, p. 69).

Asset accumulation is important as all decisions in SportsWorld from college to the professional ranks are rooted in capitalism. As we conclude this study, we also note what Gillborn says (2015):

The title will displease many people. For some, it will be too provocative; any attempt to place race and racism on the agenda, let alone at the center of debate, is deeply unpopular. In the academy we are often told that we are being too crude and simplistic, that things are more complicated than that, that we’re being essentialist and missing the real problem.

This quote from Gillborn (2015) underscores our main points being made herein. It is a Leninist proposition of One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (Lenin, 1964) when it comes to the Black athlete in America.

The presence of Black people has never signaled equality. Never. Throughout the history of the United States, more Black people have lived in the south than in any other region of the country, and it is in the south that we had first the system of chattel slavery and later Jim Crow and other social structures meant to limit the movement and freedoms of Black people, while simultaneously continuing to make enormous profits of their labor (Hattery & Smith, 2018).

P’ Diddy may be welcome in the neighborhood, just as Obama was in the White House, hip-hop may be played in the biggest sports arenas, at the biggest events, but this in none of these discrete events signals a postracial United States. We chose P Diddy’s video Bad Boy for Life to illustrate the realities of racial segregation even for Black men in the top 1% of the income distribution. P Diddy may be able to afford the house, but that’s quite a different story than his ability to live there, or at least to live freely, black golf balls and all.

Rather, as we have argued throughout this study, hip-hop in SportsWorld is cultural appropriation, partly an effort to keep the players happy, and most of all a tool for recruiting the next generation of season ticket holders: young White men, consumers of hip-hop, sports, and budding capitalists. In their own rights, these consumers will 1 day grow up to watch the NBA and the NFL, but not stand with the issues that Colin Kaepernick protests. They will be content, rather, to continue to profit off the backs of Black laborers, be they professional athletes or the people who clean our houses, cook our food, and take care of our children and aging parents. We elucidate the “diversity and inclusion” mantra of SportsWorld here as not quite like it is portrayed in the news media, including how relatively weak is SportsWorld’s embrace of hip-hop music, without embracing the cultural apparatus in which it is embedded.

Note

1.

Hip-hop, a term often simplistically utilized as a synonym for rap music, is in fact a complex multifaceted phenomenon born in New York City during the late 1970s, which encompasses music, dance, art, style of dress, and perspective (Duru, 2010, p. 657).

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The authors are with the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA.

Address author correspondence to Angela J. Hattery at hatterya@gmail.com.
  • View in gallery

    —Race and age make-up of hip hop listeners compared to the US population. Source. Media Behavior and Influence Study.

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  • Durkheim, E. (1895/1982). Rules of sociological method. New York, NY: Free Press.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dyson, M. (2016). The courage of Colin Kaepernick. The Undefeated. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2u4nObR

  • Edwards, H. (1969). Revolt of the black athlete. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Company.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goffman, E. (1986). Frame analysis. Illinois, IL: Northeastern University Press.

  • Harcourt, B. (2012). Fantasies and illusions: On liberty, order and free markets (University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 378, 2012).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harrison, C.K., & Bukstein, S. (2014). NFL occupational mobility patterns (Volume III). A report for the NFL diversity and inclusion “Good Business” series.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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