Essay: Saving Sports From the “Urban” Scourge of Jay-Z

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When will this man get off Phil Mushnick's lawn?

Our latest media racial brouhaha comes from the sports pages of the New York Post, and concerns the shocking (?) decision to change the colors of an NBA team.

The background: The basketball team formerly known as the New Jersey Nets is moving across two rivers and starting next fall will be known as the Brooklyn Nets. Rap superstar and Brooklyn native Jay-Z, who holds a small minority ownership stake in the team but is a frequent presence at games, designed the team’s new logo.

According to the team’s official announcement, the logo

“Incorporates a timeless black and white color palette of the old New York subway signage system, including its clean “RollSign” typeface. The treatment celebrates the history and heritage of the city by drawing upon the familiar signage from when Brooklyn last had its own major professional team in 1957.”

Phil Mushnick, the sports media columnist for the New York Post, saw it a little bit differently. He wrote Friday: 

As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?

Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!

Oh, where to start with this nonsense?  As with most occasions in which an old white man with a reactionary disposition turns to analyzing hip-hop culture, hilarity very much does not ensue.

For writing this, the writer has been attacked as racist, with Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs likening the column to Mushnick “shaking his cane at the scary negroes.” Even if he’s not motivated by pure racial prejudice, what Mushnick wrote shows that he’s out of touch with the culture to a laughable degree, and therefore doesn’t have any business writing about the topic.

Mushnick is a familiar type- the newspaper columnist whose job it is is to analyze the sports world, when it’s clear that he hates sports and everything about them and has since some time during the Carter Administration. There’s a guy like him in just about every city.

But Mushnick has long approached this stuff with a particular bile and nastiness; his ideal conception of the sports world seems frozen in about 1962. Andrea Peyser, in the same paper, brings a similarly angry and clueless approach to culture war issues, to frequent unintentional hilarity.

Mushnick’s writing is frequently embarrassing, but this is a new low. I mean, leave aside that there’s nothing especially threatening or controversial about the colors black and white. Or that the team statement doesn’t use the word “urban,” although what if it did? The Nets are moving to a city, after spending most of the past three decades in suburban New Jersey. Or that Mushnick writes about sports in New York, where a Jay-Z song, “Empire State of Mind,” was the unofficial theme song of the Yankees’ championship run in 2009. 

The problem is the cultural illiteracy. If Jay-Z isn’t the most important figure in popular music right now, he’s at least in the discussion. In addition to his music, his Nets ownership and his marriage to Beyonce, he’s been known as a producer, label boss, businessman and all-purpose icon. He built himself from absolutely nothing- growing up not far away from where the Nets will play- into one of the titans of popular culture.

You could probably comb Jay-Z’s lyrics for violent and sexual stuff, but that’s not the primary thing with which his music is associated. His days as any kind of controversial figure are long in the past. And besides, it’s not like the association of hip-hop culture and the NBA is any kind of new development.

That all Mushnick can see in Jay-Z is a common thug says a whole lot more about Mushnick than it does about Jay. His editors really should have stepped in and not allowed this to be published.

Mushnick dug deeper with an official statement that notably omitted the word “sorry”:

Such obvious, wishful and ignorant mischaracterizations of what I write are common. I don’t call black men the N-word; I don’t regard young women as bitches and whores; I don’t glorify the use of assault weapons and drugs. Jay-Z, on the other hand…..Is he the only NBA owner allowed to call black men N—ers?”

Jay-Z profits from the worst and most sustaining self-enslaving stereotypes of black-American culture and I’M the racist? Some truths, I guess, are just hard to read, let alone think about.

In other words, stop what you’re doing, black America, and take heed to your new leader, Phil Mushnick. From now on, sports teams should never even think about getting into business with any African-American artist without clearing it with Phil Mushnick first.

In the meantime, Mushnick has not been suspended or fired, showing once again that – whether ethical, financial or journalistic- the rules that apply to every other corner of American media don’t at the New York Post.

There are film critics who obviously stopped enjoyed movies 20-25 years ago- Rex Reed comes to mind- yet still keep right on reviewing movies each week anyway, inflicting their suffering on the rest of us. Mushnick is much the same, and his embarrassing Jay-Z screed is the best evidence yet that he needs shunting towards the door.  As a man who’s about Mushnick’s age, Bob Dylan, once sang, “don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”

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