Lowell Cohn: Warriors' Draymond Green wrong about the word 'owner'

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I thought about calling this column Draymond Green Goes to Harvard. Because he went to Harvard last week and told students it’s wrong for owners of professional sports teams to call themselves owner or owners. They should call themselves chairman or chairmen or chairwomen.

I didn’t go to Harvard, although I once got a rejection from Harvard. I went to little Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where, thankfully, I took Introduction to Logic and learned about syllogisms. Please look at the following syllogism:

The Word Police are annoying.

Draymond Green is a sergeant in the Word Police.

Draymond Green is annoying.

It is annoying, not to mention rude, when the Word Police intrude on your life unasked, telling you what words you can and cannot use. Of course, you can’t use in public the N-word or any number of words for Blacks or Jews or slurs for gay people or Muslims and on and on. Civilized people — you and I — feel repulsed by these words and condemn people who say or write them. Most of us have commonly-agreed-upon standards and codes of behavior concerning these words.

But owner? Owner is a bad word?

When I say I own my house, I’m not being a racist or insensitive. I own my house, although I share that ownership with a bank. I own my laptop. I own my shoes and my toothbrush and my Toyota Prius. I most certainly do not own my wife. I don’t own people. I own things.

And that’s the issue. When Green hears the word “owner” applied to a team, he thinks of someone owning people as slaves were owned. But a team owner does not own people. He owns a corporation, which is an abstraction. A corporation is not a person.

And a team owner owns a business. Players come and go, but the team as a business continues to exist. Green, who has all the best intentions, hears “slave owner” when he hears the word “owner.” I never can understand the hurt he feels as a black man, but I can humbly and respectfully disagree with his lesson in linguistics, with how he’s stigmatizing a normal word.

Because he’s wrong. Dead wrong.

He told the Harvard audience, who apparently let him get away with it, that “When you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery.”

It most certainly does not.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition traces back the word “own” to Old English. Old English — think “Beowulf” — was the lingo of England from roughly 500 AD to 1100 AD. That’s a long time ago, a long time before slavery in our southern states. So Green’s facts are incorrect, although he easily could have looked up the word for himself in any standard dictionary. Nowhere in my dictionary does it say “own” or “owner” are rude or controversial words, like some words I mentioned earlier.

So, according to Green, team owners aren’t allowed to use a word that dates back before there were teams. That’s pretty strict, Draymond.

Green has no standing to demand a ban on the word “owner.” Has no background in the word’s history or evolution. He is propelled by sincere feelings, but those feelings do not qualify him for admission to the Word Police.

No one forced Draymond Green to play in the NBA. I checked his current contract. It runs five years for a total of $82 million. In 2019-2020, the contract’s fifth season, Green will earn $18.5 million. That’s one heck of a deal.

And he has all the freedom in the world. He could play out his contract or he could quit today. He could take up the violin or, better yet, he could buy a team and become an owner or a chairman.

Green feels confident to speak out because he’s intelligent. He once told me, “I have a high basketball IQ.” Green, like all professional athletes, is accustomed to people listening to him, taking his words seriously.

If he talks about grabbing a rebound, I gladly quote him. If he talks about words, I do my own research. Green suffers from the egoism of a great athlete, which leads him into areas he’s unfamiliar with.

And he feels confident to speak out because coach Steve Kerr talks about social issues and encourages his players to speak out, too. I applaud Kerr for his social conscience and know his heart’s in the right place. Maybe Green should have checked with him before he joined the Word Police. Because, really, it’s important to know what you’re talking about.

Draymond Green has no legitimate beef with the word “owner.” He has a righteous beef with the words “slave owner.” By omitting the adjective, he did the English language an injustice.

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