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EST. 2011

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"It's a Business" and Other Mantras

Posted by paul on

One of the most interesting things about sports is observing the way group think  happens.  There always seems to be a highly influential class of opinion-shapers who more-or-less  corral and channel what people think.  Very quickly, usually with days of something happening, they have formed certain parameters, and they echoe these nearly unanimously, squeezing out alternative points of view.  There is always  a range of opinion, but it's sort of cultivated.

I keep going back to the Perkins trade, because that was a situation where what really went down was painfully obvious:  the Celtics made what everyone knew was an awful trade, and then made it worse by making a bunch of other trades at the same time, virtually setting their team's development back to training camp with just a month to go in the season, and the reasons given for it were patently false.  The real reasons, one had to speculate about, but seemed fairly obvious, especially in view of this summer's contract negotiations with all the players:  the owners and managers were dead set on 'putting the players in their place'.  They weren't going to have extended contract discussions with Perkins.  They were going to offer him a deal and then cut him loose if he didn't immediately accept it, EVEN IF IT COST THEM A CHAMPIONSHIP.

In other words, it was a power struggle.  But the opinion-shapers instantly rallied to support the deal, and pretty nearly all of them started writing about how we needed Green to defend against Lebron (as if it made sense for us to abandon our strengths in order to play Miami's game), how we needed spacing on offense (which we did, but we needed other things more, such as cohesion) and how Shaq was going to miraculously recover perfect health (which we now know to be pretty much a shameless lie).   Fairly quickly, public opinion, which was initially running pretty warmly in sympathy with Perkins, turned against him.  That word, "spacing", was repeated like a mantra.    It was almost frightening, in a way, how this word, and other mantras - eg. that Danny was just trying to make the team better and give us the best chance to win, even though it was patently obvious that that couldn't possibly be the real reason for The Trade - were stuffed, like rags, into every crack or cranny where a dissenting view seemed to be trying to whistle through.  Another mantra was that anyone who thought Perkins shouldn't have been traded was simply being "emotional".

And that pointed to the mantra that is trotted out to justify every bad decision:  "it's a business".   We've heard this mantra about ten thousand times in connection to the Rondo deal.  In fact, I'd almost say that it gets repeated virtually every time anyone who is an opinion shaper discusses the Rondo-for-Paul near trade.  "It's a business."  "It's a business".  I find this ritual so bizarre.    Of course there is an aspect to sports that is "business".  We see this aspect in all things.  One cannot simply ignore issues such as budget issues, balancing income with outgo, etc..  But that's only a part of what is going on, and in the area of sports, it's a very small part, in some ways.  Sports teams are more like public trusts than they are like normal businesses.  They are more similar to museums and zoos, for example, than they are to auto-parts stores and shopping malls.

This is just so obvious too.  How does something like the "it's a business" mantra become a chokingly dominant group think?   Every discussion of anything is settled by "it's a business".   Rondo's feelings, like Odom's feelings, are to be dismissed, we are told, because "it's a business", so they should shape up or ship out.  They don't really have a right to have any feelings about what is going on, or they can have feelings, but they need to keep any feelings to themselves, UNLESS IT IS TO SUPPORT THE BUSINESS.  

Thus, reporters praised Rondo for being emotional when he was talking to the press on Friday about the trade 'rumors', as long as he said all the right things and expressed the right emotions.  ISN'T THAT A TRIP?!!  Oh yes, you can have feelings, Rondo, as long as they are the 'right' ones.   You'll feel what we pay you to feel, Rondo!

Group Think.  Why would human beings give up their most precious birthright, the ability to think for themselves, just so that they can feel like they are part of the group?   I guess that is the big sociological question that one can never quite answer.  Why do people surrender their individuality in order to belong to a group?  Is it survival instinct?  Is it Peer Pressure?   Is it manipulation?    All of the above?

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