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$40 million dollar slaves


LeBron James

During the holidays, sports — particularly football — have a way of taking center stage. The traditional Lions game is on Thanksgiving Day. Currently, Michigan State football fans are excited about a trip to the Big Ten Championship. College basketball has begun. With sports in the air it makes sense to talk about the exploitation of Black athletes.

Sports is a $500 billion industry — by some estimates — but few of these dollars come to the Black community. We have some sense of the cultural and economic impact Black sports legends such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and LeBron James have made. Yet, most Black athletes remain on the periphery of real power or control of their careers.  Additionally, many former athletes end up broke and suffering health crisis.

Exploitation of Black athletes has a billion-dollar impact on Black America.

How do the dollars generated by a multi-billion dollar entertainment sports complex get to communities where the athletes come from, like Detroit?

We are encouraged by an athlete’s movement to retain management and agent work in the Black community. Hip hop artists Jay Z recently announced he will create a sports representation agency. LeBron James’ childhood friend manages his successful career. Jay Z is clearly a threat to the establishment if this headline from Forbes is any indication: “Jay Z Showing His Amateur Stripes As A Sports Agent.” If Black agents and managers can become the norm, this is a huge step forward and a powerful statement.

But this is only the beginning.

Undoubtedly, more radical and subversive techniques will need to be employed.  Author of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete” William Rhoden believes top Black athletes should band together and turn around the fortunes of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Refusing to attend University of Michigan to instead invigorate HBCU sports programs that would funnel millions of dollars to institutions that directly impact the outcomes of Black youth.

Rhoden argues, without consciousness, Black athletes “evolution” is basically “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.”

As Everett Glenn points out in the front page story, the large universities will make about $24.6 million a year — per school — on college games, while Black conferences combined gross is about $16 million.

Additionally, although Black athletes generate most of the money, white coaches and institutions disproportionately benefit — the same could realistically be argued for professional sports.

This is unequal, unjust and a complicated network to unravel. Blacks cannot continue to be the muscle behind an industry with little or no ownership or overarching financial benefit. Wealth-building in sports has to become about more for Black people than playing ball.


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