Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Heat Check: Curious Cases of Curt Flood and LeBron James

HBO's documentary, "The Curious Case of Curt Flood" shows that LeBron James was right when he said race played a part in reactions to "The Decision."

Curt Flood was a baseball player that brought a case to the US Supreme Court challenging the reserve clause in major league contracts that bound players to teams in perpetuity. Essentially, Flood wanted to be a free agent.

The HBO documentary shows Flood's journey from Oakland to baseball stardom to the Supreme Court case that cost him over a year of his career. The most interesting part of the journey for me, was the hate mail and death threats he received from fans after he sued Major League Baseball for the right to become a free agent.

Flood's case was interesting to me because LeBron received hate mail for exercising his right as a free agent, but when he said race played a factor in people's reactions he was widely criticized for it. When he retweeted an example of the bigoted comments he received he was criticized for that, too. Really?

People will tell you America was a different place 40 years ago and the bigotry that existed then doesn't exist now, but it's a lie. From Curt Flood to LeBron James, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Black athletes have been ridiculed and vilified for exercising independent thought and action for the last 40 years and yet the critics engaging in the ridiculing and vilification never get called bigots because they never admit their attacks are motivated by race. They hide behind false premises like:

  • "I respect his decision, I just didn't like the way he did it",
  • "He shouldn't have done that to Cleveland" or
  • "[My favorite non-threatening, benign black hall-of-famer] wouldn't have done that."
It's all nonsense. Those excuses would look flimsy 40 years ago and they should look flimsy now.

Flood gave up an entire season for his belief in free agency. LeBron gave up an MVP award for his. Has he paid his debt to the bigots in the press that control the award or will he have to give up multiple MVP awards for the hate to subside? 

Flood isn't in the baseball hall of fame even though many reporters and players claim he's responsible for free agency in professional sports. Is it even possible that this hatred for LeBron could prevent him from being a first-ballot hall-of-famer? That would be a curious case, indeed.

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