I hadn't given much thought to the new NBA player dress code until I got a call the other day from an ESPN producer asking me if I would consider debating Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube on the issue.
After a brief phone interview, he concluded that I was just the black conservative they were looking for to take on the rappers. Indeed, I would have been glad to do it. But, alas, I live in Southern California and making the next-day taping in New York was impossible.
The conversation, however, piqued my interest to investigate further.
After doing a little Google research, I felt comfortable with my initial reaction that NBA Commissioner David Stern's new dress guidelines, mandating "business casual" for players appearing in league-related events, is a good idea. However, I suspect that my interest and motives are different from Stern's.
Stern is running a business, and I assume that his sharp pencil is telling him that players sporting do-rags and chains potentially hurt the business. To the extent that his assumption is right, every player should support the call. Their multimillion-dollar salaries come out of the billions the league generates every year.
It appears that a good number of the players have accepted the decision. However, others are protesting, some calling the decision racist. It's tempting to buy the racist line because, indeed, the attire that has been banned characteristically reflects the black rap/hip-hop scene.
However, again, we're talking about business. Professional basketball is a business in which black people entertain white people. Seventy-eight percent of NBA players are black and 85 percent of their paying customers are white. This reality has got to play some significant part in Stern's calculations.
To take a line from the rappers, Stern is just being "real." No moral pretensions here, just cold business. The more the NBA becomes branded as hip-hop and "in your face," the greater the risk that the mainstream white audience paying the bills will get turned off.
As for me, I confess I don't much care about the NBA, or any other professional sport, for that matter. However, I do care about black children and I do care about the future of black America.
Regarding attire prohibited in the new dress code, Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce captured the sentiments of the players protesting, saying, "When I saw the part about the chains, hip-hop and throwback jerseys, I think that's part of our culture. ... The NBA is young black males."
Of course, he is right. However, NBA players represent a fraction of a percent of young black males in the country. Most of our young black males have little in common with these NBA players other than the do-rags and chains. They are, in appallingly high numbers, poor, unemployed, uneducated, fathers of children they barely know, and with little promise for any kind of future.
The hip-hop culture Pierce and others feel such warmth and sentimentality toward expresses values and attitudes that are destroying a good portion of their people. This is what they should be thinking about.
A handful of gifted black entertainers and athletes can afford to "express themselves." However, for the majority of all people, black or white, lack of adherence to personal discipline and traditional values is a formula for social and economic oblivion.
Sadly, the white customers who pay to attend NBA games have more significant differences with the cool inner-city hip-hop dudes than how they dress. More importantly, they are different in that most are married, educated and working.
Are we also going to say that dropping out of school, not marrying and not working is "part of our culture"?
Hip-hop culture is a statement against authority. It touches an injured part of the black psyche that percolates from a history defined by being forced to obey. A few talented black rappers are getting rich playing to these feelings.
But this is a culture of destruction. Growing up means understanding our choice is not whether to accept authority, but what authority we accept.
Snoop Dogg and company are happy because they are now rich. But they're playing a tune leading a generation of young black men into public rebellion, irresponsibility and lawlessness.
Although it may be for different reasons, I'm on the same page as Stern. Get rid of the hip-hop and opt for civility.
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