The power black athletes have today is as limited as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight. The primary difference is, today’s shackles are often the athletes’ own making.
In 1967, some of the nation’s top black athletes came to Cleveland to support Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam: Front row: Bill Russell, Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor). Back row: Mayor Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and John Wooten. (http://fritzpollard.org/organizatonbios/john-wooten/)
“From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says New York Timescolumnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built.
Provocative and controversial, Rhoden’s $40 Million Slaves weaves a compelling narrative of black athletes in the United States, from the plantation to their beginnings in nineteenth-century boxing rings to the history-making accomplishments of notable figures such as Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Willie Mays. Rhoden reveals that black athletes’ “evolution” has merely been a journey from literal plantations—where sports were introduced as diversions to quell revolutionary stirrings—to today’s figurative ones, in the form of collegiate and professional sports programs. He details the “conveyor belt” that brings kids from inner cities and small towns to big-time programs, where they’re cut off from their roots and exploited by team owners, sports agents, and the media. He also sets his sights on athletes like Michael Jordan, who he says have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason.
The power black athletes have today is as limited as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight. The primary difference is, today’s shackles are often the athletes’ own making.”
“Slavery is both spiritual and power-based. Spiritual because too many African American athletes, Rhoden charges, are so busy micromanaging their careers that they have no sense of the broader context, of African American history (one star athlete was shocked with disbelief when he discovered that blacks were once banned from Major League Baseball). Power-based because too many blacks are relegated to “black” roles and forget the larger mission of making more opportunities for blacks in positions of privilege.” “Rhoden also details the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues and the tragedy of Arthur “Rube” Foster, who sacrificed everything in the 1930s to organize Black ownership of baseball teams and to give due respect to black baseball players who were unable to play in the major leagues. Ironically, integration saw the end of the Negro Leagues when prime players such as Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige went to the majors. Rhoden goes on to chronicle the early days of football and basketball. He recounts pioneers in both fields, including Paul Robeson of Rutgers and Raymond Chester of Morgan State and then the Oakland Raiders. It was not until the early 1970s that Southern colleges began recruiting Black football players; at one time the NBA was almost all-white.
Rhoden contends that our young Black athletes, high school, college and professional, lack knowledge of their history in general, and the history of African Americans in sports, in particular. He cites this disconnect for not only the negative, destructive behavior that many of them indulge in but the apathy and lack of political noninvolvement and racial pride. Where are the young Muhammad Alis? But it is the Benjamins that are the prize at the end of the day.
Poor inner-city or southern rural Black kids who show exceptional athletic talent become a victim of the “Conveyor Belt.” A system, by which they are prepped, coddled and many times exploited at early ages on into high school and college with the main goal to snag the million dollar contracts and lucrative endorsement deals. Who would not want this? But at what cost? Even with all the money Black athletes command, there is still a lacking in coaching, those in top management and almost nil in Black team ownership with the exception of Robert Johnson of the Charlotte Bobcats. Also notable are the few African American sports journalists working to shape and control our image and the lack of exposure to Black agents, attorneys and other specialists to these new multimillionaires.
Kellen Winslow Sr., now an attorney, was a former college football star and played pro for several years and is now in the Hall of Fame. Because he went through the Conveyor Belt, he was able to advocate for his son, Kellen Jr. when the college scouts came courting. He speaks candidly about how college scouts will try to divide the child and parents. He refused to let this happen, often butting heads with his son over where he would go to college. Winslow maintains though that most Black kids do not have a parent, most specifically a father, who will run interference in these matters.
One of the most profound chapters is “The River Jordan: The Dilemma of Neutrality.” Rhoden shows disappointment, hurt, an almost aversion to the beloved Michael Jordan. Jordan’s apathy towards Black causes and his neutral stance was a topic of debate when Marcus Book Club met to discuss this book. The members however, came to the agreement that to whom much is given, much is expected and cited Magic Johnson and Dikembe Mutombo as excellent examples of those giving back to their communities. This book is a must-read, especially for young people, both young men and young women and their parents. The history is invaluable and the subject is timely. “
“The “conveyor-belt” that I witness while working is lightly discussed in the book as well. I see a cycle of young African american boys who are talented yet misinformed and in some cases misguided. A “GOOD” father figure in the home is almost unheard of for many. A harder push in athletics rather than academics as it is seen by many as “the way out of the hood”. When they arrive to college, they are TAKEN under the wing of what is usual a white coach and staff who, to some degree, is the first adult male father figure they have ever had. This young man eventually gets auctioned, i mean drafted into the league and is so far removed from his upbringings and pride, that in essence, the positive aspects of African american culture he may have embraced are usually lost or dropped for acceptance. When one is 25yrs old without an identity, its much easier to mask it with a Bentley and gaudy jewelry.”