So by now there have probably already been a million bad jokes made about the Pacer bench's big gundown. Cries that these thugs belong in prison, not in professional sports. And concerns over how this affects an organization still working through the Brawl's sordid legacy. I'm also hoping that I'm not the only person who has looked at the situation and thought "punched in the mouth, hit with a car. . .not a bad time to fire off some warning shots." Not saying we should applaud Stephen Jackson's well-documented restraint, or that a skyward round is a particularly responsible idea. What should emerge, though, is that this episode, and Jackson's actions especially, might be the best-case scenario for armed athletes.
As hood-to-death as S-Jax is, he's hardly the only NBA'er (or football player, obviously) known to pack heat. I can't say I was surprised that Mal Mal or 'Quis keeps a piece on tuck, given what I know about them. But over the last few years, we've seen such seemingly innocuous dudes as Arenas and Jason Richardson disciplined for catching gun charges. Like it or not, it seems like an unspoken rule of the Association that, like puffing on the sticky, for many a gun comes with the territory.
Now, I am no pro-gun maniac. I can, however, see how and why athletes feel the need to carry around the ultimate token nod to self-preservation. Only a few regularly roll with security, and, as is the case with rappers, there are always going to be any number of fooled-out individuals looking to get their attention or prove something. Granted one could, as Henry Abbott does, ask why they continue to put themselves in situation where they'll run into this kind of trouble. I think, though, that asking someone to change their friends and lifestyle because they've got a certain job is, well, unconstitutional. Athletes certainly aren't blameless human beings, and I'm sure that they insitigate and escalate a lot of these incidents. Still, asking them to entirely avoid certain settings does at least suggest that they need to learn to live the right way.
What this really points to, however, is just how much of a problem a lot of America has accepting that its athletes are quite often young African-Americans with gritty backgrounds. It's almost a slippery slope; how much would, say, Stephen Jackson have to do to convince certain fans that he was rehabilitated? Why is it that the mention of Richardson surprises us so, as if he weren't that kind of player? And finally, how is it so simple to excuse the mess of civil and criminal complaints filed against NFL'ers each year, with rarely anyone suggesting that these men find new places to hang out or consider a grown-ass makeover?
I really that this might sound like I'm equating being black with wanting a gun, or ignoring the fact that one could in fact take the high road in all cases. The point is, though, that many American feign outrage at basketball players repping a certain demographic as if it were simply another commodity for them. Anyone who knows a fucking things about weapons on city streets can tell you that the problem isn't agency gone berserk. Rather, it's an environment--and yes, to some degree a culture--that has made the gun into a psychological and a practical necessity. The complications arise when you realize how difficult it sometimes is to separate this aspect of some people's environment from whatever they draw strength and meaning from.
Given what we know about last night's alteraction, what would've been the smart thing for Stephen Jackson to do? Take the beating? Run? Pull out a pistol for the sheer brandishment of it? Any of these might've been less dangerous, but if Jackson thought that way, he wouldn't had something in his waist in the first place, or been somewhere where this might've been acceptable. And while I won't go so far as to blame that on society, calling Stephen Jackson a moron or a fuck-up dodges a far more tricky discussion of race in this country. Ultimately, it means accepting that, for many African-American men, identity is indeed a mixed blessing--and understanding that this is as much the fault of America's larger structure as those dark teens thinking up crazy trends on ghetto corners.
This was written fast as hell watching over my shoulder, so sorry if I tip off a major controversy here. I have absolutely no idea how Arenas fits into this, and don't really think we can say that the NBA made him hard.