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Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis, arguably Tennessee's only liberal Democrat, is taking a page from his more grandstanding colleagues in the House: If you want to get noticed, raise hell about something to do with sports. Cohen has written to NBA Commissioner David Stern expressing "deep concern"
over the league's minimum age requirement, which bars players under age 19 who aren't at least a year removed from high school. In the good congressman's words, "It's a vestige of slavery." He argues that the rule predominantly impedes black kids, while whiter sports like hockey and baseball allow kids to go pro at age 18.
It's a nice theory -- and smart politics for a man who represents a largely black district. But what he forgets is that the rule is part of a negotiated contract with a largely black union. And the union didn't agree to the deal because it was really into last vestiges of slavery. It did so for the greater good of the largely black athletes who play basketball.
Prior to the rule, NBA teams were loading up on raw, fresh-from-high-school talent that wasn't quite ready for prime time. Due to limited seating, that meant an older, more useful players -- possibly with wives, kids and mortgages -- were forced to discover the exciting field of real estate. So the union naturally agreed to safeguard older players who'd earned their bones.
After all, it's not like the young guys would suffer.
Their form of slavery: Spend a year in college, bask in the adoration of loving fans, have someone else take their tests, and receive no-show jobs and under-the-table Chevy Tahoes from boosters with sweater vests and alarming comb-overs. If this constituted slavery back in the old days, we're guessing there never would have been a civil war.