Wednesday morning, I tumbled out of bed and into Twitter thorns. My “Nobody really cares about stadium workers” post had prompted much immediate (tweeted) outrage–or at least more anger than I’m used to consuming before sun up. So, I would like to use this space as a means for a) addressing that sentiment and b) better conveying some points that stoked such sentiment.
To briefly summarize the post, it is my belief that lockout-impacted stadium workers are often trotted out as symbols, and that the widely echoed sympathy for their plight is mostly feigned. I believe that what animates the “empathy” is a selfish desire on our part as fans and writers to end this lockout, to get basketball back in our lives. If we hold up workers as lockout victims, we can use them as a cudgel against the rich people who keep next season at arm’s length. In the post, I also wondered if hoops writers are venting their own employment frustrations while wearing stadium worker masks.
But, perhaps you as a reader or blogger do feel genuine sadness for these security guards and concession operators. Perhaps you write or comment purely out of solidarity with the less fortunate. If you are that person, then I wrote this sentence for you:
“To those who really do feel deep sympathy for stadium workers, I apologize. It’s not that I think you, personally, are lying–I just don’t believe you in the aggregate.”
To be fair, this sentence was not a marvel of concision or clarity. That certainly could have factored into why I received so much feedback from people who felt personally assaulted by my argument. So, in different words: I believe the overall “poor stadium workers!” trope exists for mostly selfish reasons, but that it is also possible for the selfless to use it. If you feel confident in your motivations, there is little reason to convince me of them. You can literally choose whether or not I’m insulting you…you possible bastard. With that in mind, why would you want to doth protest too much?
Now, for a paragraph that many fixed on (referenced above):
“Though many writers are waxing aggrieved about the thousands of lockout-pinched blue collars, I see no movement to reimburse the impacted. Where is the charity, the fund, hell, the Facebook group? If such a groundswell of actual deep feeling existed, then so too would a response. For all the concern regarding “actual” lockout victims, fingers are only lifted in the wringing of hands.”
I think some interpreted this as, “It is hypocritical to shed light on those suffering unless you’re in the trenches combating the problem.” I personally do not agree with that sentiment and I can understand why a few of you struck out against it. But I’m not making that argument. My point: The dearth of real action to combat a supposedly heart-wrenching problem is illustrative of how little readers and writers actually care. I’m not stating that you need to be working the soup kitchen in order to talk about homelessness–I’m saying that, if no such soup kitchens existed, it would say a lot about the absence of public worry on that issue. And if no such kitchens existed–but I kept reading screeds and comments that blamed homelessness on a select group of villains–I’d wonder after the veracity of all the righteous outrage.
I don’t believe that the absence of work for stadium employees is some moral crime. To those impacted, it can be a personal tragedy. But on a macro scale, there is data to suggest that an NBA season causes a net negative economic impact on cities. Can you feel badly for those economically hurt by a lockout? Sure, just know that a lockout may help more people than it hurts.
Also, NBA teams are often once removed from all these stadium workers they’re supposedly responsible for. The Warriors get such services through SMG “Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Venue Management,” a large corporation that is headquartered in West Conshoshocken, Pennsylvania. Can you feel badly for SMG employees who might lack for cash opportunities this NBA season? Sure, just know that their company is free to run more events a short Bart ride away at the San Francisco Convention Center.
When you rip squabbling players/owners for slightly lessening SMG profits, you hurtle down a slope more slippery than K2 + WD40. By this logic, I’m hurting families by not buying up various fried foods whenever I walk into Oracle. Extending this logic, any striking employee or locking employer should be castigated, based solely on the negative Butterfly Effect consequences of a work stoppage. As in, autoworkers should never strike because they might deprive order takers at fast food drive-thru windows.
Perhaps it speaks to how withered the social safety net is that we’re looking towards basketball for economic salvation of the working poor. It’s the NBA, not the WPA, and last I checked: David Stern is no Franklin Roosevelt.
But back to the original piece, the defensive criticism of it, and my defensive criticism in response. To those whom I framed as disingenuous, to those I accused of not actually feeling for stadium workers: It’s okay to not feel their hurt on a meaningful level. It wouldn’t make you a bad person–at least I hope it wouldn’t define you as awful, because I’m certainly among the callous. I don’t necessarily feel deep sadness at the mention of another’s economic pain. The world is replete with suffering, and one would be crazy to empathize with every thinly broadcasted iteration of it.
It isn’t that I lack for any context. Though luckier than so many, I once found myself out of work for a nasty stretch. A particular memory still haunts: It’s past midnight in the vacant Safeway parking lot and I’m staring at my ATM receipt. It’s heavy in the negative, and the ugly numbers can’t even convey how bad the situation really is. There’s no job to show up for the next day, no purpose, no future, and no reason to wake. My head hits my hands, and I sob simply because it breaks up the numbing throb of shame-steeped desperation.
So yes, I get why people might feel terribly for those fired by fate. I just don’t believe such feelings are fueling the flawed message of: CBA talkers should wrap this up quickly on behalf of the wounded.