This semester, I’m taking a communication course titled “Sports and Social Change.” No, it’s not an “easy A.” People are always wrongly mislabeling the communication major as the token student-athlete major, which in itself is pretty unfair.
As the spring semester has continued, this class exposed me to concepts within the realm of society and sports that I had never previously considered. It has reaffirmed my belief that the impact of sports stretches immensely beyond the field of play.
One recent event in the world of sports has particularly driven me to observe things through the scope of this course.
Last Wednesday, former New York Knicks player Charles Oakley shoved security guards, who then used force to escort him from Madison Square Garden. Oakley, who purchased a ticket to the Knicks game that night, claims that he was in the arena for a total of 4 1/2 minutes before a security official told him that there were orders for his removal from the venue. The shoving from Oakley soon followed when the guards attempted to grab him.
Following the incident, Oakley was arrested and put into law enforcement custody in New York. He has since been released and has been very vocal about the altercation.
Rumors have since arisen that hyper-controversial Knicks owner James Dolan was behind the orders to have Oakley removed from the arena.
Just two days after the incident, Dolan fired the arena’s security chief. No statement from the organization has clarified the reason for the firing.
The team did, however, release a statement on the incident Wednesday night. The Knicks said that Oakley’s telling of the incident was “pure fiction,” and they concluded their open letter with “he was a great Knick and we hope he gets help soon.”
Before and after Wednesday night’s incident, Oakley is still one of the most popular figures in Knicks basketball lore. Oakley played 10 of his 19 NBA seasons for the Knicks; he earned All-Star honors in 1994. He was also selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 1994.
A majority of Knicks loyalists and NBA fans have embraced Oakley since the scuffle at the Garden took place, despite conflicting reports about what actually got him booted from the game. It should’ve been expected that many would side with Oakley over Dolan, considering that Dolan has a pretty brutal track record as an owner and human being overall.
Remember the time that Dolan responded to a lifelong fan’s email by calling him “a sad person?” He also told that fan, “I’ll bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess.”
Shortly following the incident, popular comedian and Knicks superfan Michael Rapaport made an appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. He said something really specific that piqued my interest, and I felt it really tied things back to the notion of sports and social change. He noted that Oakley, a gritty player with a heavy work ethic, “embodies what New Yorkers are.”
Here, my friends, is a prime example of the “us versus them” mentality which the working class has adopted for years. It’s the working fans in the nosebleeds of major sporting arenas battling the suits and team management who watch games from the luxury boxes just 20 feet above their heads.
This social structure of “the people” (working-class fans) sticking it to “the man” (higher-ups in sports) has been embodied throughout sports history.
Remember those “Where is Roger?” chants in Foxborough just a few weeks ago at the AFC Championship Game? That night the fans in Foxborough’s chants against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were emblematic of the battle between the common man and the elites who are believed to be corrupt in their governing.
I’ll never forget being a young kid at my first Dodgers game at Chavez Ravine several years ago. On a Wednesday afternoon game between the Dodgers and Marlins, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig made an appearance on the jumbotron at the stadium. What followed were chants of “You suck! You’re trash!”
While some high-ranking individuals in sports are considered endearing figures by fans, the tendency for working-class individuals is to be very critical of those in the major sports leadership roles.
When that surefire top prospect is selected with a team’s top draft pick, and they don’t pan out successfully, it’s almost guaranteed that the fans of a franchise are calling for the head of the owner.
As the owner of a major sports franchise, Dolan isn’t necessarily the most relatable individual for the general Knicks fan base. He should have considered what he was getting himself into when he decided to spark a battle with Oakley, a figure who “embodies” the New York Knicks’ fanbase.
Angel Viscarra is a sophomore studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, Viscarra’s Vice, runs on Tuesdays.