Some historians have dismissed the idea that this was ever a common practice, since only a truly sadistic business owner would risk his most valuable asset for pure entertainment.
But a quick look at America’s modern sports culture shows that remnants of Mandingo fighting are still alive and well in this nation’s DNA.
The plantation-style business models that run professional and college sports may be the most direct parallels to slave culture we have today, with the exception of private prisons. And although Black athletes are told to be happy and humble with their million dollar pay checks and adoring White fan bases, they are also told to ignore the fact that their pain and labor generates billions for owners whose value for their humanity is limited by a salary cap.
As Phil Jackson and George Karl demonstrated with their recent comments about LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, even non-owners are invested in this dynamic. Most media and fans also buy into the plantation dynamic without ever questioning their complicit place in it.
But while media members do their best to fan the flames of the seemingly estranged relationship between former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the same journalists rarely play instigator in feuds between players like James and Anthony and their senior White overseers. Many rushed to translate and White-splane Phil’s “posse” comments instead of giving true consideration to why it was inherently offensive.
Competitiveness is a natural part of sports, but we must be aware of the line between good-natured rivalry and plantation politics. Athletes like James, Anthony, Westbrook and Durant all deserve applause for resisting the bait owners, fans and media offer to promote Mandingo wars. Whether these fights were common or exaggerated, their symbolism cannot be overlooked.