God Was on His Side: Accessing Mark Jackson

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Jim Jividen discusses the firing of Mark Jackson and the special kind of privilege that Jackson and other avowed Christians have.

God’s not real.

Sorry. That’s offensive.

SPOILER ALERT– god’s not real.

I was on the academic job market a couple of years ago; for those fortunate enough to be in another industry, it’s hard out here for an idea pimp; if you’ve gone to college in the last dozen years more of your instructors than you’d assume are living paycheck to paycheck. I haven’t been in a high school classroom since early in the century, but my resumes were sent far and wide, public schools, for profits, virtual schools, charter schools, “last chance schools”, schools that are designed to support athletes, schools focused on the arts, charter schools that are largely fronts for all manner of onerous ideologies and that maintain dubious educational practices.

But not religious schools. I’d be a bad fit. As you may have recently heard, god’s not real. (I once had a student object to my saying that the best evidence that the framers of the Constitution didn’t intend to privilege the Bible was that the Constitution didn’t privilege the Bible by saying that I was lied to in my secular education. I’m pretty sure that student got an A. Another thing you might not know about instructors is that squeaky wheels get plenty of grease. I haven’t had the juice to fend off a student complaint since ’98).

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Fortunately, I don’t have to work for an organization that mistakenly believes otherwise; where before work almost every member of our small work team is with the boss in chapel; or where half the team takes a company car to the church where the boss serves as a minister right before our biggest presentation of the year, or where the boss’s wife prays over an injury suffered by a member of the team, or where the boss consistently uses Biblical parables as motivation, or where after our team’s largest success in several years the boss limits a public explanation for our victory to “nothing but God”, or about our team, the boss said “Spiritually, this team is absolutely tied together. There’s a call on these guys’ lives.”

Because I’d be a bad fit at what sounds like some type of parochial institution. You know why.

That description, however, is of the Golden St. Warriors, the boss is the now former head coach Mark Jackson.

Jackson’s proselytizing was welcomed by some, probably even by most, members of the team. Draymond Green said Jackson “showed me the path to God.”

Others, like Andrew Bogut, didn’t take part in Jackson’s religious services. Bogut wasn’t really part of that tight Warriors circle. ESPN.com referred to him as “a bit of a loner in this setting.” Presumably, it’s coincidence that it was Bogut who drew Jackson’s bizarre midseason observation that a bone bruise in his left shoulder might have been received while “sleeping.”

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Jackson was apparently dismissed because of an estrangement with management; two assistant coaches were dismissed during the season; Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported that Jackson preferred the legendary Jerry West didn’t attend practice. The portrait of Jackson that is emerging is he coached from a bunker, looking to establish an “us against the world” environment with the team, with “the world” including Warriors management. Presumably it’s coincidence that Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in the NBA, is Warriors President and COO; the first openly gay NBA player, Jason Collins, came out in 2013, here were Jackson’s comments:

“We live in a country that allows you to be whoever you want to be. As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be who you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this time.”

There is a belief among some American Christians that they, despite holding the vast majority of the levers of power in the U.S, are under attack. Whether it’s an imaginary War on Christmas or Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend during the NFL Draft, you don’t have to look too hard to see conclusions, such as this drawn by a 2014 Barna Group study: “Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and about a third say “the gay and lesbian community is to blame.”

Presumably there is no relationship between Jackson’s drawing a tight circle of players, fostered by their shared religious views, and a distrust of outsiders who perhaps didn’t similarly embrace those views. Presumably, a player like Andrew Bogut, or a Jason Collins, or a Muslim or an atheist might feel completely welcome at work without having to acquiesce to the majoritarian religious viewpoint. Presumably, an atheist head coach, as clear minded and absolute in the non existence of God as Jackson is of the opposite, would be permitted not just to express that view but to have it pervade the entire culture of an NBA franchise. That’s essentially at the heart of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway that as long as a city government doesn’t “threaten damnation, or preach conversion” they can fill their town meetings with as much prayer as they’d like; if it just happens that every prayer winds up being about Jesus and few town council meetings begin the way I began this piece, presumably that’s just another one of those coincidences like Bogut and Welts.

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I misled earlier. I wouldn’t apply for a job in a religious school but that doesn’t mean I get to separate church from paycheck. I was in the final round at a job interview at a state university when I met a dean and was then told by the department head that the Dean was a man of extraordinarily high character, and then told that the Dean was a minister.

And then there was silence.

See, because while I can’t be asked about my religious preferences in a job interview, what everyone who isn’t part of that Mark Jackson circle understands is there’s an expected way to fill that silence.

And so I did.

“Well, that would explain it.”

The department head smiled. I passed that test.

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A year ago, Warriors beat writer Marcus Thompson uncritically wrote about the bonding Jackson had created among the Christians on his team “Many NBA players identify themselves as Christians. But the Warriors feature one of the more devout rosters, and it has fed into their chemistry”.

Upon Jackson’s firing, Thompson wrote more critically about race:

The fact is, you put up with more stuff from people in your circle. Their flaws doesn’t come off as so bad. You’re more willing to give them an opportunity. I’m sure there are people in Joe Lacob’s circle who know he’s a bit overbearing and just write that off as, “That’s Joe.” There is nothing wrong with that. But race is a factor because minorities are not in those circles. That’s about access.

Thompson’s right. It is about access. It is about who gets to be in the circle and who isn’t. It’s possible someone who looked more like me and less like Mark Jackson gets to come back to coach the Warriors next year. I find that an entirely plausible proposition. It’s probable someone who thinks more like I do and less like Jackson would never get the chance in the first place.

“Check your privilege” is, right now, at the height of its popularity as a shorthand to acknowledge that there are those (understandably most often used in reference to white men) who have an advantage hidden in plain sight. They have an access they insufficiently recognize. It’s access that gives a second round draft pick like Draymond Green trust from his boss that Andrew Bogut doesn’t receive; access that a basketball executive whose sexual orientation doesn’t counter the head coach’s “beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong” might possess; access that allows someone in Greece, NY who can recite a full throated Christian prayer to attend a town council meeting without fear of being ostracized, and access that allows someone who believes, despite the weight of the evidence, that Christianity=morality to grab at every opportunity in a job interview without fear of hypocrisy.

I’m aware both of my privilege and my lack of access. If I miss a rent payment, my landlord will quickly remind me. And if (Imaginary God Forbid) I’m ever on the academic job market again, I’m fully aware that this almost entirely disposable piece can and will be used against my candidacy for some positions.  I don’t know that Mark Jackson can say the same.

Photo–Flickr/Matthew Addie

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About Jim Jividen

Jim Jividen (@JimJividen) is a lawyer, a professionally produced playwright, a game show winner, and the owner of a 2009 Honda Accord on which he diligently makes payments. He can distinguish among dozens of different suplex variants and may be occasionally read at his two non-revenue producing blogs, Basically Gherkins and What if Steamboat Beat Hogan? Jim’s been a college instructor since the top of 2004 and is currently working in the mist as a Course Mentor for Western Governors University.

Comments

  1. Amen Bravo.

    • Drat. That “Amen” was meant to be crossed out; guess this site doesn’t recognise basic HTML in comments.

  2. Doug Zeigler says:

    I’ve discussed christian privilege with christians, and to a man (or woman), they have all said that they are the persecuted ones. Gawd I hate that word. They have no idea what true persecution is. I’ve asked them to do an experiment: For one whole day, wear an “I am an atheist” shirt and see what kind of response you get. Then the next day, wear an “I love Jesus” shirt and see what kind of reaction that provides. I guarantee the first one will get more ire.

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