Dr. Boyce: How Sports Teaches Black Men to Marginalize Themselves

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I was driving out of Atlanta the other day, speaking to my baby sister.  She listens to me ramble, and that’s why I love her.  Our topic for the day was black men and sports.  I mentioned how I turned on ESPN in my hotel room (all 10 million channels) and saw nothing but brothers on every channel. If there wasn’t a court full of black men dribbling a basketball, there were black men in pads banging each other up on the football field.

The presence of Americanized Apartheid was evident by noting that while the men doing the work were black, the men on the sidelines getting paid millions of dollars were white, as were the fans in the stands enjoying the entertainment.

I thought about all my years as a college professor and youth coach, and how the young men on the field had been groomed since birth to take their role in society.  It was their dream to be on television in front of thousands, showing the world that they were born to be athletic phenoms.  In fact, for some, being great athletes would be the epitome their existence, leading many of these men to trade in every ounce of their academic future in exchange for the chance to shine for 15 minutes on ESPN.

As I thought about how these men came to be and the systems that created them, I also thought about what happens after their athletic careers are done.  Only one or two of the 100 or so black men I saw on television that day would go on to play professional sports.  But sadly enough, many of them have chosen to play Russian Roulette with their lives.  Quite a few players would never graduate from the colleges for whom they were earning millions of dollars, and some of them will never even learn to read.  After their glory days of sports are said and done, you’ll find the same brother on the same corner hanging with the same dudes he used to run with in high school.

Even the athletes who are lucky enough to go pro have very short careers.  Most NFL players don’t last longer than 3 or 4 years, and the money runs out fast.   But while the money’s good, the athlete may form a few bad habits, pick up a few baby’s mamas, and end up with massive bills for car notes, child support and other expenses that he can barely maintain.  After his knees wear out and he has turned over every rock trying to find a team that will sign him, he’s stuck with an endless pile of financial commitments and no way to pay them.

Many of our men are sucked into a culture of sports that minimizes the value of education and overstates the desire to make irresponsible personal decisions.  The order of the day for many professional athletes is to spend all the money you can, keep yourself ignorant and sleep with as many women as possible, even though STDs are a serious threat to black public health.  If a man fully embraces this culture, he may find himself unemployable and virtually incapable of being anyone’s husband or father.   He has, to some extent, walked right into the trap of black male marginalization.

A man who has  been shoved out of society becomes both a menace and a threat.  Black men have historically been placed in this role and some of us even enjoy it.  When a man becomes a menace to the world in which he lives, there are two places that society wants to send him: to prison or to the morgue.

In order for African American males and black athletes to understand this system, they must be educated about it.  The culture that grabs our boys at an early age is one that is based on profuse amounts of mis-information, peer pressure, tradition and self-destruction.  A man can be an athlete and still be an intelligent, productive and capable member of the community in which he lives.  In fact, there is quite a bit of room for black male athletes to become part of our nation’s black leadership.  With all the intellect these men use to contribute to the NCAA sweatshop, I only pray that they are willing to use the same intellect to become captains of their own destiny.

As it stands, sports becomes the drug that makes us feel good and the bane that destroys us.  The NCAA and other institutions designed to encourage black men to pass up education in exchange for athletic pursuits serves to marginalize as many men as the prison system itself.  If black mothers, fathers and “the village” don’t take a stand to confront this culture and these institutions, they will continue to undermine the progress of our community.  We must raise our black boys differently.

This is an excerpt of the forthcoming book, “RAPP: Rising Above Psychological Poison.”  Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here

  • Les Montgomery

    Dear Dr. Boyce,
     
    I found this article a very interesting and thought provoking read.  It is a sad but true explanation of how Black Men are marketed from their birth to keep the football, baseball, and baseball industry going which keep the White Establishment going.
     
    Reading your article made me think how the entertainment industry weather its sports, music, or movies, Black People lives are being Pimped, but not on the street corned but right in the living rooms of every American home.
     
    A very few of the millions of Black People are making the money he or she should be making to compensated for what they bring to their ventures, but most  just glad to be there and glad to get what they can get which is far less that what they should be paid.
     
    Television is the bottle, the pill, drug that is being used to eject our brains with this the ideas of getting rich, winning the championship, getting the ring.
     
    Our American Society is broken, especially our Black Community.  We are so consumed with consuming we are blind to see beyond today and yesterday’s history and conditions are quickly that yesterday.
     
    Like the way the American Indian was conquered by the White Settlers of the wild west, the power structure is using chemicals to bring the backs of any thoughts of giving them a fight.  Alcohol was that chemical back then and still being used now along with cocaine, marijuana, meth, and drugs that makes you think you are going to get the best sex, the best orgasm you every had.
     
    I’m sad our leadership doesn’t have a louder voice.  It hurts to see the Black Press reduced to sales papers for department and grocery stores that feed into our spirit to have the up to date fashion, flagrance, and bling.
     
    I enjoyed your article, but it made me mad as hell.
     
    Les Montgomery,
    Stockbridge, GA

  • http://www.facebook.com/chevas.samuels Chevas Samuels

    Absolutley stimulating article. There should be more happening to protect these black athletes BEFORE someone hands them millions of dollars BEFORE they’re responsible enough.

  • Leslie

    Boyce,

    I agree with you comments. 
    In fact, a colleague, Herbert C. Smith, did his dissertation on researching
    the qualities of high achieving Black athletes at 44 predominately white academic
    institutions.  I was included in his
    cohort, but I used sports as a means not an end!  Leslie S. Block, Ph.D.

  • kevintj

    The problems and challenges spoken of in the above article could be mitigated if the black community made a real effort to educate and train its youth….

    The sports and entertainment industry would not be able to PIMP black folk if black folk weren’t ripe for PIMPING!

    We need to get over the blame whitey or anybody else but ourselves BS and start taking responsibility and be accountable for our own attitudes, behaviors, and character.

    peace

  • Jeff R. O.

    Your arguments are very well put but I disagree with your thesis. As a teenager, sports was one of the outlets that enabled myself and many others to understand todays culture and its affects on ethnic individuals. You only focus on whats broadcasted to you so conviently in your hotel, but, fail to realize the many others who led a professional career outside of sports. 

    Sports, football to be exact, has given me the crucial knowledge and leverage I need to advance in a world let alone a country that questions the interagty of my skin color. Intill this very day I use the ideology of such a complex game to become the captain of my own destiny

    -Jeff R. O.

    • jenkinsk

      Brother… You did not state why you disagree with my comments. 

      Anyway, I could not agree with you more. Sports and athletics teach invaluable skills that translate well to the corporate world. 

      Athletics and sports is not the problem. The problem is parents not enforcing discipline and motivating children to work hard…whether in the classroom or the ball field.

      Peace

    • jenkinsk

      Brother… You did not state why you disagree with my comments. 

      Anyway, I could not agree with you more. Sports and athletics teach invaluable skills that translate well to the corporate world. 

      Athletics and sports is not the problem. The problem is parents not enforcing discipline and motivating children to work hard…whether in the classroom or the ball field.

      Peace

  • Coacheaststlouis

    This issue is so huge it is difficult to comment.  First it is not the sport that produces the negative outcomes but the manner they are taught.  A constant theme now seems to be should college athletes be paid.  The ansewr is yes but the primary method of payment should be a solid education.  I know of several Black athletes I went to college with who were hungry in college but became contributing members of society including Dr. Harry Edwards, Dr. Tommie Smith, Lee Evans and many others.  Today we have a number of coaches with the wrong objectives and improper preparation working with our children.  I have seen pop warner coaches yelling at eight year olds to be men.  If you are a child you cannot be a man on the football filed or be the man of the house.  You may be the oldest male living in the house, you however are not the man of the house.  The house does not have a man living there.  It can have someone trying to fill that role but that is another topic.  

    The second issue is the clamor for more Black coaches, we do not have enough Black bricklayers, physical therapists, plumbers, librarians, etc, etc, etc.  The problem is the focus on athletics and entertainment without proper preparation and critical thinking skills.  When Dr. Tommie Smith injured himself in the Olympic semifinal race he knew enough physiology and psychology that he was able to compete and set a world record in the final one hour later.  Several minutes later he and John Carlos gave the world a silent gesture that most folks Black and white or any other color do not really comprehend.  If we did understand it our families and communities would not have allowed our children to continue to be exploited.

    Proper education is one of the keys because Superman, Batman, Catwoman are not coming to save our chhildren.  A proper education includes four components.  1.  A child willing and able to learn.  2.  A school willing an able to teach.  3.  Parents who are involved and supportive of both.  4.  A community supportive of all three.  Unfortunalely we sometimes have 0, 1, or maybe 2 of these factors present for students and student athletes.  Student athlete is a words that was made up several years ago because the people playing in the athletic arenas of many colleges were not students.  If you play a sport at a college or university you should be a student without question.  And yet we have 8 HBCU’s that are on probation from the NCAA because they are not providing the education/paycheck that the NCAA says is mandatrory.

  • http://www.sports4.org/ Charles Scott

    Really interesting articles. from this story I come to importance of sports in our life. Thanks for shearing such wonderful information with us.

  • http://www.xufe.com/Euro-2012/ Euro 2012

    Sports is the essential part of our life. I am agree with your views.You have shared really a great points with us.Its really an informative post.I would like to read your more updates.Keep in touch with us in future too.

  • http://www.xufe.com/Euro-2012/ Euro 2012

    Sports is the essential part of our life. I am agree with your views.You have shared really a great points with us.Its really an informative post.I would like to read your more updates.Keep in touch with us in future too.