“All-American” Basketball League? All White?

Last week a former wrestling promoter named Don “Moose” Lewis announced his intention to start up a new basketball league called the “All-American Basketball Alliance,” or AABA. In this league only U.S. born players of Caucasian parents would be allowed to play and coach. The proposal was for teams in 12 cities across the southeast, with its headquarters in Atlanta (See here and here )
News of this proposal first appeared last week in the Augusta Chronicle in which Lewis was interviewed. Since then the story has received little attention from news outlets, especially “major” outlets like CNN. Of those who have covered the story, many say that people like Lewis are ridiculous and/or silly, even to the point where one has assumed it must be a hoax? Perhaps it was, but if so, why would Lewis choose this topic? Is he trying to spark a conversation on the issue?

During his interview with the Chronicle, Lewis made the following comment as to whether he thought such a league would be racist:

There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing. I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.

This comment underscores the point that even when racists engage in overtly racist acts, they refuse to call it racist (Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists). However, I’m interested not so much in Lewis’ comments or the league itself (which probably won’t see the light of day) but the response to the issues Lewis has raised, especially by white Americans. I have yet to see a more developed critique of this line of thinking, such as that from Charles Barkley (from here):

It’s just blatantly racist if you look at the code words used. I don’t take it seriously, but it just lets you know there’s blatant racism out there. It lets you know, as a black man, there are people out there who don’t like you.

Barkley’s reference to “code words” is right on point. The title of the proposed league is a good place to start, and something that one still hears every now and again; i.e., that “American” is synonymous with “white.” Second, Lewis talks about starting such a league because people yearn for “fundamentals” basketball and an alternative to “street” ball, which he argues has taken over the NBA. The notion that black players don’t play with “fundamentals,” while insinuating that white players do, is rooted in the white racial frame that whites are inherently rational and blacks are incapable of “civilized” activity. This frame of thinking continues with the proposed league limiting the amount of tattoos players have. Considering that tattoos have become almost blasé in today’s society, only those worn by African Americans get criticized. Finally, Lewis made reference to unique examples like the recent incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon bringing guns into the team locker room as emblematic of why he feels a need for a new league. This is a classic ecological fallacy in which an exception is used to categorize the entire group.

My concern is our inability to acknowledge just how much support there is out there for Lewis’ opinions, if not for such a league. Perhaps if this was indeed a hoax, the dialogue could be revealing. The white racial frame places a filter over our eyes that affects the way we see things. For example, it is common to hear comments of how a black player is naturally gifted while focusing on the “fundamentals” of a good white player, and how he’s intelligent. Meanwhile, this frame affects our discourse, such as using animal imagery when describing players’ performances, including phrases like “beast on the boards” or calling linemen’s hands “paws” when they knock down balls at the line of scrimmage…do you hear such terminology used for white players?

A Harris Interactive poll taken last year found that pro basketball has declined considerably in popularity . Is this due to white racism? The percentage of black players has actually remained steady over the years (though the NBA has increased its number of international players significantly), so is it something more specific than color of the players on the court?