Jesse Jackson—and why I agree with him

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As a kid in the 99%-white town, I loved Jesse Jackson. The man was passionate. And different. He ran for president with style and zest, and even when he derided New York City as “Hymietown,” my youthful naivete caused me to stick by him. To me, Jackson was THE black voice in America; a man who represented the struggle of millions in a way few ever had.

Then, something about Jackson changed to me. He morphed into the world’s greatest self-promoter. If an African-American tripped and fell, or was bit by a dog, or walked out of a screening of Teen Wolf, there Jackson would bem leading a protest, screaming “Racism!” appearing on every possible television show. Literally, every possible one. He gradually expanded his spectrum, taking under his wing women, and Hispanics, and Asians, and every slighted minority. I still tried to love him for this, because the message was often righteous. But, come day’s end, I couldn’t shed my overriding feeling—that Jackson’s actions were 99% about ego, 1% about doing the right thing. When Barack Obama burst into the spotlight, Jackson actually seemed to feel slighted; as if, “How can anyone but myself speak for America’s people of color?” It was a sad, pathetic decline. Plus, he cheated on his wife—a pretty big no-no for a reverend.*

What I’m trying to say is that, as the years passed, I lost my faith in Jesse Jackson. He became a buffoon to me. A sub-buffoon. Hence, what I’m about to write has nothing to do with me being a Jesse Jackson lover, or even a liberal. It has everything to do with righteousness. And truth.

When I read Jackson’s take on the post-LeBron statement by Dan Gilbert, Cleveland’s owner, I thought: Finally! Finally, someone has the guts and vision to say this. Because Jackson’s thought, that Gilbert sees James as a “runaway slave” and that “he speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers” is so … so … so … so … dead-on and perfect, I don’t think it could have been stated any better. “His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality,” Jackson said. “He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship—between business partners—and LeBron honored his contract.”

I understand the backlash to this—how can Jackson compare James, a man earning millions upon millions of dollars, to a slave? But if we look closer at the NBA, and at college and professional sports in general, there is an undeniable, unmistakable ownership mentality of athletes; almost always rich white men “owning” (initially) poor black kids. The owners control everything. If they say jump, the athletes jump. If they say crawl, the athletes crawl. They tell the athletes where to go, what to do, who to talk to and who not to talk to. If you sign a contract with, say, Miami for six years, you are under complete and total control of the owner of that organization. He is not merely a boss, because a boss generally has 9-to-5 jurisdiction, then you can do whatever the hell you want. In sports, owners are omnipotent. If someone like, say, Al Davis, wants to ruin the life of a Marcus Allen or Tim Brown for lack of loyalty, he can do so. Because they are his. His property. His chess pieces.

Now, not all owners act in such a way, obviously, and many athletes defy the system. They won’t be whipped or tortured, but they can be sold. Literally, their contract can be peddled elsewhere, and they have little choice but to go. It’s truly weird; truly off-putting; truly disconcerting. My editor at SI can’t trade me like a piece of cattle to ESPN. Your boss at [FILL IN THE BLANK] can’t force you to move to Wisconsin. Life doesn’t work that way.

If you read Gilbert’s words, then read them again, Jackson is undeniably correct. His thoughts don’t read as an angry man whose employee has taken a different job. They read as an owner who believes his property (in this case, players) damn well better not disobey. The language is eerily similar to that used of slave owners back in the day who were stung by defections to the north. “I treat my boys well. How dare they flee for elsewhere.

“How dare they.”

* Side note: Years and years ago, when I was still in Nashville, someone who had dealt with Jackson told me one of his advisors said to him: “Before you speak with the reverend, let’s make one thing clear and off the record: Jesse likes to fuck. So don’t ask him about it, and don’t bring it up. It’s who he is.”

16 thoughts on “Jesse Jackson—and why I agree with him”

  1. I can’t stand it to hear young, black athletes refer to their bosses as “owners”. It obviously calls to mind some pretty terrible things. But aside from having to use that unfortunate title, these athletes are FAR from slaves. Come on. These guys are making millions of dollars and can work for some pretty harsh bosses. But they are paid well, famous, and can always choose to leave.
    Gilbert’s letter to me sounded like something someone would write to a departing wife or girlfriend, not to a runaway slave! He was hurt and he realized the damage done to his town, his team and his own brand. And he was probably hurt personally that LeBron deserted him and his team. To equate that reaction to that of a slave owner is misguided at best and race baiting at worst. But then again, that’s something that Jesse does well.

  2. because a lot of slaves get 100+ mill and their boys get free run of the organization

    comments like this are why no white person and any black with a brain respects this race baiting buffoon

  3. As the first Marty, I would like to agree but differentiate myself from the last Marty. I will now be Marty B. Whitlock nailed this one. Jeff, on the other hand…I think you’re off on this.

  4. Bosses in any job can force u to move to wisconsin or whatever. bosses in every job feel like they own you. how many people stay late at work against their will

  5. Bryan’s right. Gilbert is a boss, and worse than that he’s a boss who made the ultimate stupid move, he became buddies with his star employee.

    Gilbert’s ranting isn’t one of a slavery master angry that his slave left the plantation for Canada. It’s more of a lament.

    Gilbert broke the first rule of owning a team, don’t become friends with the players. If Gilbert was behaving like a real slave owner, he’d have round up a posse, gone to Miami and dragged LeBron back to Cleveland.

    To compare this letter to what a real plantation owner would do to a slave trivializes the whole concept of slavery and what blacks went through prior to the Civil War.

    Jackson is a buffoon.

  6. Jessie is a racist.
    Jessie is a preacher without a congragation.
    Jessie is a “businessman” who doesn’t own a business.
    Jessie is a politician who never held office.
    The guy is a fraud.

  7. If everything happened exactly as it did EXCEPT LeBron was a Blond Christian of Swedish descent would you say the same thing?
    I’m sure Gilbert would.

  8. Gilbert is a billionaire who is used to getting his way. so when he doesnt get what he wants he throws a temper tantrum. its a rich person thing more then a race thing.

  9. Jeff, I don’t disagree with you often, but in this case…in the case of agreeing with Jesse Jackson…I just can’t do it.

    “Literally, their contract can be peddled elsewhere, and they have little choice but to go…Your boss at [FILL IN THE BLANK] can’t force you to move to Wisconsin.”

    Athletes have more than “little choice.” They can choose to retire from their sport and *gasp* get a job with more personal freedoms. They can, and have, hold out until their terms are met.

    Jesse Jackson is a buffoon. He is. mark’s comments above perfectly state Jackson’s whole legacy.

    He snuck in the backdoor when MLK was shot and never looked back.

    Like LeBron, Jackson took the opportunity to get his name back in the news…and like with LeBron, the move backfired.

    LeBron failed to win a championship. He was the league MVP. His team was the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They failed. He failed.

    He thought his circus on ESPN would turn out better than it did. He must have forgotten how passionate Cleveland fans–and most sports fans–can be.

    It’s a perfect marriage, though, Jackson and James…and they have a lot in common, including the tidbit you shared at the end of your blog post.

  10. Jeff,

    I completely and whole-heartedly disagree with you. You are making LeBron seem like a “victim”. Gilbert shouldn’t have written what he did, and it was classless. BUT, how does Jesse Jackson have anything to do with this? This is a guy that makes it his goal in life to steal the spotlight. Its not about race. Its about basketball and money. Lets not read into things.

  11. I shouldn’t have to say this, but Jason Whitlock will shuck and jive if need be. Some of us often likens himself to Aaron McGruder’s Uncle Ruckus.

    With that said, I agree with Jesse Jackson’s assessment here. Too bad his assessment about people with less of a “star” scale but more on a “society” scale (read: Oscar Grant) don’t get this sort of press.

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