Tuesday, June 14, 2011

King Blame

LeBron James has my genuine sympathy. Not that he cares or notices. I'm one of the little people with problems he dismissed after the Heat's loss to Dallas in the NBA Finals. But facing the sports media's wrath is no doubt nauseating, regardless of bank balance. A chorus of assholes shitting contempt and envy on your every movement.

There are few things worse than watching middle-aged white men scold a Black athlete. With LeBron it's open season. His wealth and fame justify any attack, regardless of accuracy or importance. Comes with the turf we're told.

Indeed it does. No high school grad-turned-global media icon receives a free pass. And the twisted thing is, acclaim damages more than critique. When sports hosts refer to LeBron's former popularity, they speak of it as a golden age, something to cherish. But the media's hype helped forge what is now being trashed. The mind fuck as loving caress.

Yes, LeBron bought into it and to a degree brought this on himself. But what American kid with his talent wouldn't? During New York's 1977 blackout, James Baldwin explained to baffled pundits that looters were simply following the American Dream: grab what you can while you can. A lifetime of consumerist fantasies fed poor people's desire for material goods. Morality had nothing to do with it. If the rich can rob for profit, what's wrong with stealing a TV?

LeBron's had these fantasies pushed in his face since 7th grade. Difference was, his size and physical gifts guaranteed eventual realization. I'm amazed he handled it as well as he did.

That he succumbed to full branding spectacle by moving to Miami was a delayed inevitability. Seeking a bigger stage and a stronger team was seen as a character flaw. Humble LeBron in Cleveland was body snatched by South Beach vampires. He was now one of Them. Glitz and arrogance corrupted the kid. And after all the American sports media did for him.

Revulsion with PR overkill might make sense in a more equitable society. But in 21st century America, it's standard hypocrisy. Since when does the media, sports or otherwise, blanch at mega-wealth and propaganda? Shameless displays of personal gain? Boastful conduct? Such is the media's lifeblood. Appeals to humility are tinsel in the wind. No one of consequence takes it seriously. That's aimed at the rubes who believe that corporate sports offer a guide to life.

Of those bashing LeBron, easily nine of ten are white men. It's hard not to detect racist elements in white complaints, though no one will admit it. I've been around enough white male sports fans to pick up the signs, which usually begin with whines about "attitude" (tattoos a close second).

Gifted Black athletes should be grateful for their success -- success that most white fans would presumably kill for. Their job is to feed white fantasies about physical glory in non-threatening ways. Of course, if the average white fan achieved LeBron-level fame, he'd be a model of public decorum. You need only visit an NFL tailgate party to appreciate that.

LeBron's real crime is to break that covenant. The weaknesses in his game pale in comparison to his responsibility to white fan self-esteem. Based on his post-series press conference, LeBron has no intention of coddling his critics. Considering who many of them are, I can't blame him.