Did Bryant Gumbel Go Over the Line in Criticism of David Stern?

Comments made by host Bryant Gumbel in his editorial on HBO’s “Real Sports” have sparked reaction from the basketball world and beyond.

Commenting on the NBA labor dispute, Gumbel took strong exception to the actions of NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Here is what he said:

Finally tonight, if the NBA lockout is going to be resolved any time soon, it seems likely to be done in spite of David Stern, not because of him. I say that because the NBA’s infamously egocentric commissioner seems more hell-bent lately on demeaning the players than resolving his game’s labor impasse.”

How else to explain Stern’s rants in recent days? To any and everyone who’d listen, he has alternately knocked union leader Billy Hunter, said the players were getting inaccurate information, and started sounding chicken-little claims about what games might be lost if the players didn’t soon see things his way.”

Stern’s version of what’s been going on behind closed doors has, of course, been disputed.

But his efforts were typical of a commissioner, who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O. Like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials, his moves are intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”

Some will, of course, cringe at that characterization, but Stern’s disdain for the players is as palpable and pathetic as his motives are transparent. Yes, the NBA’s business model is broken, but to fix it, maybe the league’s commissioner should concern himself most with a solution, and stop being part of the problem.
Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s “Real Sports” October 18, 2011

Bryant Gumbel is a bright guy. He chose his words carefully. The words he used have power. He knew they were incendiary. He knew they would stir our emotions.

That’s why he used them.

Has Commissioner Stern been condescending at times?

Has he been dismissive?

One can make that argument.

But to use the language that Bryant Gumbel used, you have to believe that David Stern’s motivations go beyond reaching a new collective bargaining agreement favorable to the owners. That his rhetoric far exceeds the norm when it comes to labor disputes.

You have to believe that Commissioner Stern is saying and doing things he would not do if the NBA were predominantly a “white” league.

If Bryant Gumbel truly believes that to be the case, I accept that he has a right to that opinion. After all, race is viewed through the lens of personal experience.

If, however, he has used the inflammatory language simply to make a point and draw attention to his position, then shame on Bryant Gumbel.

Free speech is one thing. Irresponsible speech is another.

Too often in our culture today, we see language being used to inflame and divide.

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