Last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told TMZ Sports that the NBA has “moved away” from the word “owner” because of its connotations with slavery.
“I don’t want to overreact to the term because, as I said earlier, people end up twisting themselves into knots avoiding the use of the word owner,” Silver said. “But we moved away from that term years ago in the league.”
“We call our team owners ‘governor of the team’ and ‘alternate governor,’” he continued.
Since the comments, many people have come out to mock them — including sports personality Stephen A. Smith, who said on his national radio show Monday that the concern over the word means that the NBA must be “smoking crack”:
The idiocy in this politically correct world that we’re living in, where we’ve got to literally have a discussion to the point where it becomes a media storyline. “Oh my god. An owner says he owns his team. That’s offensive to people.” Y’all smoking crack. Something is wrong with you people. What the hell has this world come to?
Now, I’m not sure about crack specifically, but I am sure that Stephen A. Smith is right to think that this is unbelievably stupid. In fact, what struck me the most about the controversy was that I remembered that I had actually used the concept of people becoming offended at the word “owner” as a joke in an NRO column I wrote two years ago.
The column was about how a college, Rice University, had decided to stop using the word “master” to describe the heads of its residential colleges because the word is associated with slavery. As a way of arguing against this decision, I stated in a tongue-in-cheek way that having a problem with the word “master” for this reason would be like having a problem with the word “owner:”
There are also so many words other than “master” that could be considered offensive based on this standard. For example, people with slaves were also called “slave owners,” which, if you notice, has the word “owner” in it. The exact same logic that’s leading Rice and other colleges to get rid of the word “master” would also demand that words and phrases such as “homeowner,” “pet owner,” and “girl, own it!” be changed — and, sorry, but I really don’t think I’ll ever refer to myself as “a possessor of a pet.”
Let me be clear: I thought, at the time, that my example was perfect for showing just how ridiculous and nonsensical the “master” controversy was. Little did I know that, according to Silver, there already was a group (the NBA) that, in all seriousness, had an actual problem with “owner.”
It’s mind-blowing, but it’s true: We have now entered an era of political correctness when parody has become almost impossible. I always wondered when a joke I’d made in my column about oversensitivity would turn out to come true — and it seems that the day has finally (unfortunately) come.
Yes — people owned slaves, and yes, that is an unspeakable horror. But the thing is, people have owned, and continue to own, lots of things. For example, I (not to brag) own a toothbrush. Is it offensive to say I’m a toothbrush owner? If I own a home someday, can I call myself a “homeowner”? Or do I have to call it something else? I guess I could say “person who has a home,” but I don’t know if even that would work. Other than it being stupidly wordy, wouldn’t the word “has” be offensive too, according to the NBA logic about the word “owner”? After all, there can be all sorts of horrific things that a person “has” — like cancer, for example. If “owner” is offensive because there have been people who owned slaves, wouldn’t “has” be offensive because there have been people who “have had” (and continue to “have”) things like cancer? Words can mean different things to different people at different times, and as long as you’re not using them in an offensive way, you shouldn’t have any problem using them.
In any case, I am truly terrified to see how stupid this could get. After all, just when I think it couldn’t possibly get any more stupid, I’m usually proven wrong. All I can do is hope that no one reads my parody-like example about the word “has” and decides that this word actually is offensive. But, after what happened with my 2017 example of using the word “owner,” it wouldn’t be the first time that what I thought was parody turned out to be reality.
Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online. @KatTimpf
National Review Online · by Katherine Timpf · July 11, 2019