Friday, May 30, 2008

The Decline of the American-born Black Athlete????? (Sportsology Academic Break) Pt. 1

I am 15 days away from graduating from Drexel University. My emotions are mix of excitement and anxiety over the uncertainty of my future. That said, I’ll be finished with classes this time next week.

For my Sociology 380 Media Sociology class, I was given the assignment to come up with a piece of media and present it to class. Since I already had the blog, I figured I’d use it to come up with some food for thought. That food will be the decline of the American born-black athlete in American sports.

In four parts, I’ll look at this phenomenon from a historical standpoint and see how it’s affecting the three major sports leagues in the U.S.; the NBA, NFL, and MLB.

There are two inspirations for this work. One is this Jason Whitlock article, which I’ll discuss more in the NFL section, where he notes that many of the more successful teams in the NFL are the ones with mostly white players.

The other is one of my favorite books, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, written by the New York Times’ Bill Rhoden. If you haven’t read this book, please do so immediately.

It’s an excellent historical view of the rise and fall of the black athlete and some of the contributing factors.

The name of the book comes from a fan’s response to Larry Johnson referring to the Knicks as rebel slaves.

The book is centered on the situation of black athletes in America, which is still the same today. On one hand, many black athletes have dominated their sports. On the other hand, the success on the field hasn’t translated into success off the field. By this I mean blacks have no ownership in the sports they dominate, which puts them in a vulnerable position.

There is only one black owner in American professional sports, Bob Johnson, who is already under fire for some of his tactics with his Charlotte Bobcats, a franchise not even ten years old.

In his book, Rhoden showed how the vulnerability has often left black athletes in an exploitable position. Before, in sports like boxing, horse racing (most of the best jockey’s were black in the mid-1800s before racism excluded them from participating), cycling, etc., black’s lack of ownership put them in positions to be excluded from participation.

Now, their lack of ownership has them in a subservient position, where they are mostly confined to worker positions (playing and coaching) and have limited executive power. I’m not going to make this a book review, just go read the book.

Here’s how it relates to the situation of black athletes today. When blacks had their own leagues, like the Negro Leagues, and the best black athletes went to HBCU’s, they would protect each other.

Now, they are simply money making objects. In the MLB section, I’ll talk about how the absence of the Negro Leagues pretty much destroyed baseball in the black community (if I remember).

Back to the point, the lack of ownership and black executives in these leagues puts black athletes in a position where they can become extinct at any moment. Blacks have been replaced by Latin and now Japanese players in baseball; European and Asian players are becoming more prevalent in the NBA; white and African-born players are replacing the black American athlete in the NFL.

I use Whitlock’s article for balance, its not just the man’s fault. Black athletes were very eager to move on to the big money sports leagues in the mid-1900s. This was a very profitable relationship for black athletes and white owners at first. Now, with the baggage that comes with many black athletes and the behavior of the Pac Man Jones’ of the world, owners are starting to look elsewhere.

Maybe I’m looking into this too deeply. Maybe these leagues are becoming more diverse and are recruiting international talent to expand their fan base globally. I’ll do my best to present the facts during the next three days and give you something to think about. Enjoy.


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