“Just shut up and play ball.”
“It’s a disgrace they won’t stand for the National Anthem.”
“Those ungrateful niggers, monkeys, spooks…”
“Sports is no place to protest and talk about social issues.”
These are just some of the things said about our sons and daughters playing professional sports after the love is gone. The time, money, and effort dedicated to hone athletic skills just gone down the tubes.
Pro Sports: The Way Out of No Way
Professional sports are seen as a “way out” of poverty for many poor people, especially Black families. At one time, it was a blessing and considered a great privilege to be able to make it to the pros. It’s a real long shot too! There are more or less about 138,000 athletic scholarships awarded at Division I and II colleges and universities in America, which are dictated by the NCAA. Somewhere around 20,000 of those scholarships are dedicated to football athletes. The competition is fierce. Heck, there are some counties in America with over a million students in a school district.
How good do you have to be to secure one of these scholarships coveted awards. The kid has to be pretty damn good!
Additionally, there are only 256 slots and 32 teams for athletes working to be selected in an NFL draft, and only 60 draft slots for athletes hoping to be selected in an NBA draft. There are similar league slotting limitations for other sports (i.e. baseball), but the bottom line is that it’s a long shot and families should have a Plan B and C for just in case.
Many parents have planted seeds of becoming well-paid professional athletes inside of their children’s heads.
Parents contribute to their kids’ dreams by paying for camps, driving to lots of practices; let’s not forget all of those fundraisers; lots of Gatorade and the extra groceries for the growing baby; athletic equipment; rec leagues; all the middle and high school sporting competitions and games; in addition to balancing education with all the game prepping to ensure the child can make it into a Division I or II college via scholarship, student aid, or self-pay to compete at the next level amateur sports. In the very least, it will keep kids out trouble which is always a good thing.
The student makes it by hook or by crook, then the next phases of parenting/coaching begin which entails entrusting their precious cargo with “sports head” coaches and athletic directors. Serious (and lucky) young adults play college sports, hopefully get a college education (most times anyway), try to keep their noses clean, and work hard to be noticed by professional scouts. All that hard work finally pays off.
The big draft, once a dream, is now an entire family’s reality.
And then they make it. The child’s name is called in the draft. All that hard work, sacrifice, and preparation have paid off. You are now a professional athlete. A professional game player. Some team is going to pay this athlete to play a game they apparently love dearly. Their lives will be changed forever.
Oh, happy day!
The family’s ready to move on up like George and Weezy from the Jeffersons.
The formerly impoverished young man or woman now wants to give back in ways meaningful and specific to the needs they have identified. These young people not only remember where they came from, they want to go back to help those they left behind. They feel the need to speak out about issues impacting their minority group.
But the new employer says he or she can’t. It may be a verbal affirmation or may it’s in a contract somewhere in small print. It may even be unspoken. Whatever the case may be, now the athlete can’t speak about how bad things are back home. He or she can’t speak on social issues or issues that impact certain segments of society or their community. They must keep quiet about the personal experiences that shaped them.
They decide to buck the system, they speak out and protest anyway. They start out being the only one. One is a lonely number.
The athlete gets chastised. “Just shut the hell up and play,” the employer says.
The employer pays the athlete a handsome wage, and because the employers are billionaires, they believe they have the power and permission to infringe upon their civil and political rights. It’s seen to them as unacceptable. Their walks, their values, and their views are different.
The employer has silenced the athlete. Like many people around the world, the athlete keeps his/her mouth shut to keep their pay check coming. They have secret meetings with others who feel the same way they do about how miserable they are. One day the professional athlete decides to take a risk, to stand for the less fortunate suffering in silence. The pro decides to use their platform and finances to fight injustice.
His career is officially over, at least for a season anyway. You end up Kaepernick’d (Colin Kaepernick) or Ali’d (Muhammad Ali). You get my drift.
The next thing you know, colleagues are avoiding you like the plague. Your employer is pissed at the negative publicity, and your “ungratefulness.” They took a chance on you. They paid you. The employer decides the employee doesn’t represent the type of person they desire to be associated with.
As soon as the employer has the chance, they sever ties. Not only does the rich, privileged employer sever ties (which is his/her right), they gather and taint his/her potential prospects. The young adult who has worked hard all his/her life to make it to the top suddenly find themselves unemployable.
They are black-balled. But the employer hasn’t just tainted the views of prospects within their chosen career-field, but the privileged employer and his (because most of them are men) privileged peers have made such a fuss that your livelihood is now in jeopardy.
Even after the former employee is long gone, the privileged still possess the ability to determine whether the young adult eats, maintains a roof over his/her head, or ever work again.
All the hard work, all the time invested in honing an athlete…is gone down the drain. #ColinKaepernick
America’s History of Black-Balling the Famous
In America, standing up for civil rights and being black-balled in Hollywood go hand in hand. It has simply evolved. America has a way of punishing those who don’t conform to the privileged, patriotic way. Anyone famous or wealthy choosing to speak out against injustice can be seen as a “sympathizer” and black-balled by their respective industries.
The Hypocrisy of Professional Sports
Players in the professional leagues can wear pink and fundraise for Breast Cancer research and awareness, a medical issue. Play can celebrate our U.S. Armed Forces via paid commercials, anthems, and fly overs. Players can celebrate holidays, even when others don’t observe the same holidays. Players can advocate for sick children by visiting hospitals and conduct all kinds of charitable works. Professional players can aid in all sorts of natural disaster relief at home and abroad.
Players can even speak out against domestic violence, the kind between a man and a woman of course.
But players, Black players, cannot speak out or protest police brutality, a criminal unjustice system, or any other issues they care about in a public manner which is their right without some sort of long-term punitive retribution, to include being black balled.
Perhaps it’s time for poor Black folks to redirect their children’s pathways to wealth from roads that lead to professional sports to another direction.
The Case for Forging New Paths to Wealth Without Sports
Some professional sports, primarily those with a large percentage of African American players, are no longer covertly political. Politics is front and center of the NBA and NFL. Not only is it more political, the biases and values are on full display for the world to see. There is no guessing about how your potential boss or employer thinks. Raising your children to work for people who don’t value your family, their plights and lots in life, or your basic civil rights and liberties could be a problem.
Kids are busting their assess to be the best in their age groups/sports while parents spend thousands of dollars sending their children to specialized camps, group and individual training, special equipment, relocating to go to pipeline to pro sport high schools, prepping kids for standardized tests to meet college entrance requirements, and monitoring their golden eggs like mama ducks.
All of this work and money invested in a dream of making it to the pros to play a game in a sport in a nation that only respects what you can give it or what it can take from you (including your dignity), respects a flag without acknowledging the flag did not always represent Black and Brown skins, and respects a type of privilege that you and your Black or Brown kids will never get the benefit of fully experiencing because of the color of your skin.
It’s time for Black people who think professional sports is the goldmine to identify and implement new methods and routes to prosperity and wealth which don’t include traveling through professional sports. Some sports have notably excluded Blacks, and when a few are good enough to slip through the cracks…sports fans let them know very quickly they are in the wrong sport, and they aren’t welcome. Not welcomed simply because of the color of their skin.
The bottom line is the core of the supporters of professional owners don’t resemble the people who work for (or play for) those owners. Birds of a feather flock together, and the higher up in the food chain they are, the less likely they are to have the same views (and social or financial problems) of the people who work for them.
Colin Kaepernick’s 2018 experience of having his livelihood taken away from him because his employer terminated his contracted and had him black-balled should be a wakeup call for all parents grooming their kids to work for these types of employers. Your child may reach new levels, but they’ll have bigger devils to contend with.
I have no right to tell a parent not to send their kid into professional sports, nor am I discouraging it. All I’m saying is that parents and kids need to take inventory of this political and social climate and plan your futures accordingly.
No longer can professional sports be viewed as “the golden egg,” the way out of no way, or the end of poverty. If you are raising your kid to be a professional anything, you need to understand you are likely raising your kid to rely on someone else to feed them unless you are also teaching your child is going to be doubly majored to have a cushion to fall back onto in the event the day comes when that sports dream doesn’t work out.
Remember America’s History
Parents need to prepare their children for real life. A life in a post capitalism America. They need to prepare their kids for life that may entail the types of racial discrimination from the Jim Crow Era. Kids need to understand that the prospects of playing professional sports could dry up for Black kids based upon the actions of those who’ve come before them. Parents need to be prepared for the possibility of Brown vs. the Board of Education being overturned, and Affirmative Action being overturned. Black Parents should be preparing their children for a day where Black athletes aren’t considered for scholarships and slots on college sports teams because of their color of their skin.
It’s finally time to prepare Black children for a life without playing games for people who don’t respect their basic civil liberties granted as an American by the laws of this land. The colonial-era reign was appearing to near an end in this nation, but it’s resurging with a vengeance over the past few years.
I don’t expect Pandora to be put back into the box quickly. Therefore, families should prepare new routes to wealth and prosperity accordingly. The game keeps changing, and it will the responsibility of parents to follow trends to evolve with the game changes. History repeats itself when we don’t familiarize ourselves with it.
Lest we not forget.
We may be down, but we’re never all the way out.
Marley K., 2018