Hornets Hype

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The New Orleans Hornets are currently one of two teams (the Oklahoma Thunder being the other) that start each game with an Arena-wide, pre-game prayer.  This strange occurrence is a hybrid of religious zeal and moneymaking, as the Hornets sell this slot of proselytizing to the highest bidder.   While I’ve been told that anyone can pay for the privilege of delivering this prayer, and, indeed, we’ve heard Jewish Rabbis come forward multiple times, nine times out of ten it’s a Christian prayer. In contrast, I have yet to hear an atheist step on the hardwood and dedicate a few moments to reason and logic, wish the players well, admit that each player’s health is a motley mix of conditioning and pure chance, and wish them the best. Instead, we are subjected to a game day prayer to Jesus (no, they rarely say his name, but they almost always say something similar to “In Your Name We Pray,” it’s not hard to read between the lines) to  ask the big guy in the sky to bestow good health to the players on both sides of the floor. What’s missed in the well wishes is the excessive entanglement with religion in a place where it is simply out of place.

The Hornets, as opposed to, say, LSU, or Benjamin Franklin High, are a private institution, not run by the state or any of its many subdivisions. This means, strictly speaking, many Constitutional provisions that would guarantee freedom, equality, and non-discrimination do not apply to the Hornets; that is, unless the team determines that such values correspond to its corporate mission. Private institutions, otherwise, are, in part, free to espouse whatever values they want. For example, you’ve no doubt seen Chick-Fil-A around town. They have an expressly Christian value-system built into their corporate ethos, and have even been known to fund anti-gay causes. The New Orleans City Council can’t do that, but Chick-Fil-A is free to hate whomever they want.

The rub is that the Fourteenth Amendment allows Congress to prescribe prophylactic remedies, such as Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) laws, and these statutes can touch even private institutions. The basic gist is that employees cannot be discriminated in the workplace because of race, religion, sex, nationality, etc. There is a “religious organization” exception, i.e., if the organization’s purpose and affiliation is overtly religious, such as a church, or if the company’s or charity’s articles of incorporation state a religious purpose. The NBA is not one of these groups. As such, its non-discrimination policy reads:

Equal employment opportunity is a fundamental principle at the NBA. Accordingly, the NBA’s EEO Policy provides that all employment decisions will be based on merit and valid job qualifications and will be made without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, alienage or citizenship status, ancestry, marital status, creed, genetic predisposition or carrier status, sexual orientation, veteran status, familial status, or any or status or characteristic protected by applicable federal, state or local law.

I added the emphasis to the above quote.  So how is this relevant to the Hornets? Because the NBA owns the Hornets. Therefore, every single Hornets employee is an NBA employee.  Hornets’ blogger, Joe Gerrity, was recently brave enough to question the Hornets’ pre-game prayer. Although the poll Hornets247 ran concomitantly with that article is gone, approximately 65% of people were in favor of the pre-game prayer, about 25% were against it, and the remainder didn’t care. But that is precisely the point of anti-discrimination statutes: to preclude a majority of people from discriminating against the minority.

For Christians whose beliefs are in-line with the pre-game prayer, it is an innocuous blessing. For those of opposing beliefs, it may be less so. And for those that believe in no higher power, but instead rely upon science, logic, ethics, and reasoning to guide their lives, the entire thing is a travesty. The point is not which side is “right.” The point is, if it is opposed by as many as a quarter of the people who care, it should be done away with, regardless of NBA rules.  Why stir such strong sentiments when they are ultimately irrelevant to the product produced by the NBA?

Regardless, the NBA’s own anti-discrimination policy forbids the pre-game prayer. Similarly, if my private, non-religious employer decided to start the work day with a prayer, there is no doubt that it would violate the tenets of the EEO Act. It is harassment. Plain and simple. If you’re a Christian, it probably is not. If you’re a non-Christian it is. End of story. This is the part that is difficult for the dominant, Christian majority to get: some people are offended by your religion.

Think about this: if we were talking about basketball at a public school, like either of the aforementioned LSU or Benjamin Franklin High, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that an opening prayer would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion”), which is applied to the states and their subdivisions by the Fourteenth Amendment. There are a number of similarly decided lawsuits related to high school football games that are squarely on point.  This is because governments and their many subdivisions are precluded from favoring any religion over any other religion, or even favoring believing in any religion over believing in none at all.

If a pre-game prayer at a public school is viewed as religious coercion, excessive entanglement with religion, a message sent to a minority that they are outsiders, or an establishment of a “normative” religious belief (all language used by the U.S. Supreme Court), why, just because the Hornets are a private organization, would the team want to do something so blatantly discriminatory, when it doesn’t need to go there at all? Basketball should be inclusive, not decisive; sport is about bringing together people of all sorts to witness elite competition, to see others striving for physical perfection: not an opportunity for ecumenical proselytizing to a captive audience.

Arguably, sport is the antithesis of religion. It involves physical contact, facts, strategies, cause and effect. Religion involves intangibles, faith, and suspension of disbelief. Players cannot afford to trust in god they won’t get hurt; they have to stretch and condition. Players can’t just pray they make their shots; they practice, practice, and then practice more. Nor do coaches read the Bible in search of parables in lieu of drawing up X and O plays.  The prodigal son doesn’t know how to defeat a zone.  

Many players and coaches are religious, and that is fine. That is their personal belief. But in opposition to religion; where people are supposed to merely trust that their traditions, priests, and God have their best interests in mind and are subsumed by acquiescence to belief in a omnipotent benevolence, no questions asked; NBA players and coaches cannot afford to simply do what has always been done: they must evolve,they must innovate.  To be elite in the NBA, players and coaches have to watch game film, strategize, and think through each game plan and opponent: reasoning their way to success, practicing and honing those strategies on a daily basis, and executing them all at the highest level to achieve victory.  Thus, unlike religion, basketball is palpable, responsive, and falsifiable.

So even were the NBA not the Hornets’ owner, it is clear that religion has no place in the NBA. But seeing as the NBA is the Hornets’ owner, and all the team’s employees are Hornets employees, exposing them to religious prayer before every game is a form of religious intolerance; because, as the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, religious discrimination is not just favoring one religion over any other, but favoring belief in religion over non-belief.  Twenty eight teams in the NBA get it right.  Two do not.  One, the New Orleans Hornets, is owned by an organization professing non-discriminatory principles. Yet, the Hornets’ pre-game prayer violates those principles every home game.

Forty-one times a year, the Hornets and the NBA offend me and many others.  Maybe more this year if the team makes the Playoffs.  It needs to change.

Media for Dummies

By on July 3, 2010

There’s a lot of buzz as free agency begins about this trade or that signing or this or that rumor.  There’s also a lot of criticism of jumping-the-gun-scoops foiled by second-thinking, changes of heart, misinformation, and, well, just flat-out wrong reports.  So here at the Hype, we’re going to help y’all wade through it.  Writers, by their nature, are good with words.  Readers, by nature, read too fast and, as a result, often miss certain nuances.  Also, for those of you with too little time, sometimes scanning the headlines is the way you roll.  One problem with that is the editor often writes the headline, not the author; in either case, the by-line can be confusing.  Seeing as how we’re a Hornets blog, let’s use some New Orleans examples.

July 2, 2010, headline on page D-1 of the Times Picayune: “I Want to Win Now.”  Subtitle: “Once again, Chris Paul reiterates his desire for the Hornets to step up their efforts to build a contender in New Orleans.”  Implication: improve now or trade me.  In fact, the connecting headline on D-4 is: “Trade rumors continue to swirl.”  Lesson #1: context.  When did CP3 say these things?  What were the questions?  In this instance, the key comment comes on the 3rd paragraph of column 2 on D-4, “I love everything about the city, but at the end of the day, I want to win.  I don’t want to win years from now.  I want to win many, many championships here, but I just want to make sure we are committed to winning.”  Funny how the headline “CP3 Wants to Win Many Championships in Nola” wasn’t used.  Simple.  That’s not the story this reporter/editor/news outlet wanted to sell you.  The problem by crafting a story is that it gets carried to other outlets, and like a game of telephone, suddenly, it’s all about CP wanting to get traded, which, if you didn’t know better, you would never know is nothing remotely connected to reality.

Readers also need to beware ellipses and brackets.  This allows an author to omit or ostensibly change words to provide clarification.  It can also allow the author to push their own agenda by selectively picking and choosing what to include in their article.  Check out how the above quote from CP3 could have been printed: “At the end of the day, I want to win…are [we] committed to winning”?  Now, I stretched the bracket a bit, but this makes a point.  Is he worried that New Orleans is committed to winning, or wanting to win many championships here?”  Depends upon how you quote him.  Also, watch out for really short quotes.  Movie ads like to do this.  “Fantastic” says so and so.  Well, what if the full quote was “fantastic special effects, but horrible acting, and no plot whatsoever.”  Did that critic really mean the movie was “fantastic”?  Hardly.

Consider this video from WDSU’s @FletcherMackel over at http://www.wdsu.com/video/24122619/index.html.  Is the first question asked live or dubbed back in?  It’s unclear.  As for many of Chris’ other answers, you can’t hear the questions, or they are edited out.  By the way, the part about CP3 welcoming any of the League’s talented free agents to New Orleans with open arms?  That quote didn’t make the Times Pic (although several of these other quotes did, so its reporters were obviously there at the same time as Mackel).  Instead, the Times Pic ends with a quote from CP’s dad about his son just wanting to win.  My point is that if you don’t know the question, how can you contextualize the answer?  Theoretically, if Mackel could have asked CP3 the following question: “If a small asteroid hit New Orleans and totally wiped it out, would you demand a trade?”  CP laughs, and answers: “Yes.”  Next day’s headline: “CP considers demanding trade.”  A lie?  No.  Misleading?  Yes.  The context wasn’t made clear.  And no media-folks, if the asteroid question is buried in the second last sentence of the article, on the back page, you don’t win any kudos.  You’re still trying to fool people and your integrity is suspect.

Now, back to the Times Pic, and considering all the above, the second Hornets’ article on D-1 is entitled: “Paul, N.O. still not on same page is alarming.”  Wow.  So Chris wants to win.  Stop the presses.  But did I miss the article where the Hornets’ management said they didn’t want to win?  (Actually the other article on D-1 cited Shinn’s statement that Nola is “committed to building a winner around Paul, but, of course, as continued on page D-4.)  Listen folks, there is this thing called the salary cap, all right?  New Orleans, like many talented teams, cannot bring in a max contract player, or even close (they can’t offer more than the mid-level exception, about $5.6 mil).  But this doesn’t mean that the brass aren’t looking to see who is available once the big names ink, or that they’re not thinking of trades to be made.  But, listen, these trades aren’t going to happen until the free agency mess happens, okay?  And of all people, Bower is not about to give away what’s in his head.  Any way, back to the article.  This piece of shit was written by notorious curmudgeon John Deshazier, and opens by saying that Paul’s comments reiterated his claim last week that he was “open to a trade” if the Hornets couldn’t move into the ranks of the NBA’s elite teams.  Where to start?  Nothing in any article or video that I have seen from CP’s golf tournament (where these interviews were conducted) referenced an interest in being traded.  To the contrary, CP said he wanted to win here.  Fact check, Deshazier.  I guess this is a good time to start discussing language use.  Line return.

Chris Paul “open to being traded.”  Open to?  Does he “want” to be traded?  Is he “looking” to be traded?  “Demanding” a trade?  No, no, and no.  Look, any contextual analysis will tell you that Chris was asked if Nola was not a winner, and wasn’t looking like a winner in the next two years, would he be open to a trade?  His answer: yes.  So every reporter blows up the things with the boxes and wires and electricity connected and puts in the binary codes to spit to the world: “CP Open to Trade.”  All of this ignores the fact that this quote was prefaced by Chris saying: “My first choice is to be in New Orleans.”  Why wasn’t that the headline?  No.  Instead, for days, ESPN headlines were in the sidebar, speaking of a “frustrated” CP3.  But again, has he asked for out, or just asked for help?  Big difference.  And would even Nola fans want him to be content with losing or missing the Playoffs?  Of course not.  But instead of being cast as one of the Paul Pierce or Kobe Bryant types, who will build their teams into champions, the implication is that he’ll be a Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter type, and just pout and “want to win” while not really meaning it.  Why?  Because media types get the subliminal jealousy most people have of those that are more successful than them, and are always looking to tear others down.  But the media only gets half the rib for that; too many readers live for it.  The worst is when anyone with a pen who falls into the latter category claims to be someone in the former.  Case in point.
Some sites, like Fanhouse, have gone so far as to report: “Chris Paul Trade Rumors Could Be the Next Talk of the Town.” Excepts: “team on the decline…bleak organizational outlook…'[Paul’s frustration] is very real, very real’ said a source close to Paul.”  Okay.  First of all, they put their own spin on his “frustration” by prefacing the quote by saying the team is headed downhill with no future.  First of all, it’s called health.  People forget how many games our starters have missed over the last two years.  No NBA team with CP3-West-Peja healthy will miss the playoffs.  Take that to the bank.  Second, note how “Paul’s frustration” is in brackets.  Was “frustration” the thing being discussed explicitly, or was it inferred by the author?  Was it even Paul’s “frustration” or someone in his crew talking about him?  We’ll never know. Third, “said a source close to Paul.”  Fuck the media and their sources, man.  Seriously.  I get it, kind of.  But what does that mean?  His girlfriend, his trainer, his chef, the team waterboy?  It could be any of them.  Just watch how such “sources” are described; it’s telling.  No doubt, some are legit, but, really, take it with a grain of salt.  Then, continuing the article’s theme of gloom and doom, the piece continues: “and his general Manager (Jeff Bower) is now reportedly hoping for an exit of his own to New Jersey.”  This assertion is linked to a Nola.com article.  Go ahead and read it.  The exact phrase from the cited piece is: “Bower, who is under consideration for the New Jersey Nets’ general manager job, was out of town Friday.”  That’s it.  How the hell did Fanhouse get to Bower is “hoping for an exit” from that?  Because it has a pre-written story, an agenda, that it wants to sell.  Moreover, look closely at the next words: “an exit of his own.”  The final words again imply that Bower’s escape is in addition to CP hoping for an escape.  Ridiculous, and unsubstantiated.

Listen, these CP3 rumors started because teams told reporters they were calling Bower about Chris Paul trades.  Really?  Duh.  BREAKING NEWS: every team wants CP3.  Give me a break.  And then, Bower, always playing his cards close to his vest, simply said he was “having a dialogue with other teams concerning ‘all of our players.'”  Wow.  So your job, as GM, is to make and take these calls, and you in fact did you job, which probably involved telling teams like New Jersey that if they gave up Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, and four first round picks, you’d think about it, and then (unsurprisingly) not getting a call back.  Of course Bower makes and takes those calls.  That’s his job.  So why are surprised that he “had a dialogue” with other teams about Chris Paul?  What does having a dialogue mean?  It could have meant, “hey, we’ll swap Harris for Paul.”  [Pause]  “Fuck off.”  [Click]  You know?

So, please, people, watch the words.  Anything like “might”, “probably”, “considering”, “talked about”, mean just about nothing.  Nothing.  Writers hide behind these words.  Writers craft their own stories around these words, rather than writing about the story there is.  But in today’s quasi-celebrity world where just being yourself, just having your job, isn’t good enough; no, everyone needs to be famous.  Like certain owners.  Like certain refs.  People that can’t just keep the spotlight where it belongs: on the game and the players that bring it to us. The media, more and more, is guilty of this.  They are no longer content to report the news.  They want to be the news.  They want to see their name under the big, juicy headline: “Chris Paul Demands Trade.”  But Chris isn’t saying that, and they can’t stretch things that far.  Which is why the national media frenzied over this story last week before free agency begin and, now, only the Nola media is running with the new quotes.  They were just bored, so they invented a story.  Readers, beware.  They’re trying to sell you on their story.  Their answers.

Find your own truths.

I thought I had pretty much poured out my soul this week on the topic of female NBA fans. And then someone pointed me in the direction of the “Body Shots” contest the Memphis Grizzlies official site was running this week in advance of the NBA Dance Bracket. I’m really glad they did. Let me tell you what this “contest” is. It’s this: