In upcoming podcasts, I’m going to touch on sports and its impact on our dreams, our children, and our parenting. Dr. Boyce Watkins of Your Black World and Financial Juneteenth, breaks down exactly where I plan to go on the topic. (If you can’t see the video, click HERE).
Although many parents still claim, “grades before games” or “we just play to learn important life lessons”, my years as both an athlete, trainer of athletes, and kids who have played a combined 40 years (that is a lot of mileage racked up on my cars and body carrying folding chairs) tell me other wise. For many, when that child shows athletic skill that transcends the average, and whispers begin, “…they could even get a scholarship”, “scouts may be coming to the school to see them play…” and the goal changes.
As I’ve discussed before, the idea for us to homeschool our children came from one of my athletes. It was at that moment I learned that many athletes, like celebrities, get homeschooled to take advantage of personal training and coaching. For some reason, the “what about socialization” question goes out the door, and in comes the “you have to do what you have to do to get to the top!”
Now for parents of black athletes, they really must make a conscious effort to put each opportunity in perspective.
How much of our child’s life are you willing to give to the school?
Are you willing to let them do anything to your son or daughter, just because they promise them a chance to the professional level?
Is some coach promising to be “dad”, when YOU are the father?
What is your child focusing on right now, athletics or academics?
What will your child do with his or her life if they do not make it to the professional level?
So check out Boyce and his other projects as well, as I’ll be promoting more of his great work that continues to expand.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear any stories you have on athletes that you know that beat, or were beaten, by the system.
When I was in my early 20s, there was one non-professional athlete that impacted my worldview like none other. The man, Dr. Harry Edwards. I was always interested in sociology and of course I loved sports, and when I learned of this field created by Dr. Edwards called Sociology of Sport, it was love at first sight. While God by His sovereign grace has me where I am today, if I could do everything over, I’d head to a school with a Sociology of Sport program to earn the academic credentials and attack the profession like Mike Tyson in the ring during his prime. I remember telling my mentor that I wanted to become the next Harry Edwards when I first went to see her about transferring into sociology and out of sports medicine. However, she knew what I would later find out, yet she didn’t crush my enthusiasm, and that was the fact that I’d never be worthy to even tie up his shoe laces, let alone fill his shoes.
I wish I could meet Dr. Harry Edwards. Whenever I find out that he’s done and interview somewhere, I’m on the hunt and all ears because I know I’ll become wiser after listening to this man. Now I just wish that we could hear more from him in our digital era, as it would be so much easier to have access to his knowledge. But then again, I wouldn’t be as proud as I am to have three of his great books, Sociology of Sport, The Revolt Of The Black Athlete and The Struggle That Must Be.
While we are proud of the stand the athletes like Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Reggie Bush and others are taking as they protest African-American men being gunned down in the United States by the police as if they were being caught in a Sundown Town of the 1940s, the protests are now being compared to that organized by Dr. Edwards at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. The Black Power salute by John Carlos and Tommie Smith set the bar high, created a new path, and must be something our children (especially those that play sports) never forget. My kids do not, as they have the poster right above the computer in our living room. My two oldest boys were given the John Carlos Story as Christmas gifts right after it hit shelves and when I worked with young athletes as a strength and conditioning coach, I even encouraged them to not just carry a ball, but carry a message. When you carry a message, you carry yourself with more responsibility as well. It’s a responsibility to hold tightly to the opportunity that’s been afforded to you.
I could go on and on, but that’s what made me feel encouraged about the discussion at ESPN by Jemele Hill, Chris Broussard and Stephen A. Smith. The discussion was on Athletes and Activism.
First, just the fact that one black woman and two black men can sit on a major network and discuss and frame what the black athlete is doing is quite an accomplishment. Yes I’m aware, as Smith and Broussard know first hand, that if they go too far out, the dominant-society will take them out to the woodshed. But just to at least be able to talk and teach, that’s progress and that is the kind of talk we have in our homes and at family gatherings.
Why? Because in 1968, here was the response by Brent Musburger (yes, that one), as described by David Zirin (if you don’t listen to the Edge of Sports podcast, you should) in The Nation in 2012:
“In 1968 Musburger was a restless, ambitious young sports writer looking to make his name. He found his opportunity when Smith and Carlos made their stand. Musburger didn’t see a demonstration. He saw a target.
“One gets a little tired of having the United States run down by athletes who are enjoying themselves at the expense of their country,” he wrote. Musburger then infamously called Smith and Carlos “a pair of black-skinned stormtroopers.”
Second, the athletes of our past dawned the “Scarlet P” for protester, called trouble-makers, said to have had bad-attitudes or received labels like above and were considered uppity negroes. In the case of John Carlos, he lost relationships that money could never replace. Yet, I’m hopeful that some of today’s athletes understand their power, prestige and privilege. Their brand is the trunk of the tree, and now they can have multiple branches (i.e. revenue streams) to feed that tree. So they are no longer beholden as much to the league or owner that believes if he lets him go for not being a “good boy”, that another owner won’t break the code and pick him up.
That said, I hope that athletes of today protesting are doing more than just sporting t-shirts, but I hope they are writing checks as well. I understand that a grown person can spend their cash any way they would like, but money gets movement in our Land of Milk and Honey. So if athletes can show all the bling on Cribs, I’m hoping they can put some skin in the game as well with some dollars.
So we’ve come a long way and I’m happy to see my kids take a strong stance on civil right issues at the age of 25 down to the age of 8. They know whether they carry a ball or not, I expect them to carry a message, and it’s those messages that I know will out live me and provide hope for so many of my upcoming generations as I have a feeling that they will still need to put on their gloves and continue to fight for justice years from now.
I met with some clients a couple of weeks ago from South Korea. We talked a little baseball, and one of the gentlemen stated that one of the teams had no Korean players on the team, so he was going for the other. I laughed and told him these days, I’m struggling to find African-Americans on any baseball team either!
This years Fall Classic featuring the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals looks like nothing like your father’s baseball teams.
Thirty- years ago in 1983, here’s the opening day line-up I remember shuffling around. My boy Damon and I battled each other daily at the strike-box we made on the side of the building imitating the batting stances and characteristics of the following players:
Four of the nine were African-American, or perhaps we could say they were batting .444, which was very good!
What about the Red Sox?
One of the nine would at considered African-American, or perhaps we could say they were batting .111. Well, Boston was the last team to integrate in the MLB and it’s been said that African-American’s would rather cheer for the opposing team than for the home team (sounds like me actually).
St. Louis, doing well, Boston,…not so much. The Red Sox have always had problems with their racist past (passing on Willie Mays because of his color) but were trying to change things, at least they were 10 years ago according to this article in 2002 (click here).
So how much has actually changed?
The following is an article from the Boston Globe seems to indicate that perhaps the 1983 Red Sox were ahead of the “changing demographic” time. I’m glad that some are still calling attention to the fact that African-American’s are becoming extinct in the National Pastime. Why is that a problem? Because the train will not be returning to the station to pick up the passengers left back. As legendary Father of Sports Sociology Dr. Harry Edwards pointed out in a recent interview, without African-American ball players, baseball is experiencing record profits (check out why Forbes feels it’s more than about ticket sales here). So with the money rolling in, why should that be a primary area of focus for MLB? Bob Costas, appearing on Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports podcast (listen here), points out that the problem is beyond the changing demographics of teams, but the game itself could face overall irrelevance with future generations. As Costas duly noted, the NFL makes sure that its most important games can be seen by everyone. However, with MLB, the early rounds of the playoffs are nearly impossible to find (in some cases like Detroit vs. Oakland, the game was not on television at all in Detroit!) and the World Series comes on late and lasts long after the bedtimes of its future fans.
Therefore, beyond the extinction of African-American baseball players in the game. Baseball needs to be careful that its current prosperity isn’t the final rally before the Closer (i.e. NFL) comes in to put them away in the game.
Check out this article below from the Boston Globe by Gary Washburn.
Feel free to leave comments below!
World Series shows MLB’s dearth of black players
When Adron Chambers was left off the Cardinals’ World Series roster Wednesday to create a spot for the team’s RBI leader, Allen Craig, Red Sox utility outfielder Quintin Berry realized that he was the sole African-American representation on baseball’s grandest stage.
This exemplifies an issue Major League Baseball has been grappling with for the better part of two decades. The participation of African-Americans has been dwindling to the point where there is not one black starter or front-line player in this year’s Fall Classic.
Berry, 28, who was acquired by the Sox from the Royals in August for his speed, is unlikely to even get an at-bat in the Series. It’s a stirring testament to the decline of baseball’s popularity in the African-American community.
MLB records show that just 8.5 percent of players on Opening Day rosters were black. And now, just one of the 50 players participating in the World Series identifies himself as African-American.
Berry, whose father is black, said he is fully aware of the declining numbers and that many athletes of his generation chose to pursue basketball or football, more fast-paced and popular sports.
“Especially being from the neighborhood that I’m from, you don’t see a lot of guys playing this sport,” said Berry, who went to Morse High School in San Diego. “You see them playing football and choosing that alley.
“But I had to go where my body type and my ability was going to allow me to. It was weird, because nobody in my family knew much about baseball. My father was a football player.”
The problem is not a lack of effort by Major League Baseball. It has implemented RBI programs — for “Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities” — throughout the country to encourage young African-Americans to embrace the sport. But MLB in general has done a terrible job of promoting its sport, let alone to African-Americans who admire athletes such as LeBron James and Adrian Peterson.
Major League Baseball has long struggled with self-promotion, and the past 20 years have been a public-relations disaster considering the scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs. Seven-time MVP Barry Bonds was perhaps the most talented player of his generation, yet baseball wants nothing to do with him because of his association with PEDs.
While the NFL and NBA are busy ushering their all-time greats into the Hall of Fame, baseball wishes Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa would disappear.
Part of the issue is that baseball is a classical sport caught up in a hip-hop world. The games last well beyond three hours. The pace is slow. The commentators analyze the game as if they were detailing the government shutdown and not talking about a kid’s game. The sport takes itself much too seriously, and for the casual fan — which most kids are — that translates like organic chemistry.
With the sport considerably less appealing than basketball or football to the novice fan, there isn’t the eagerness for parents to register their kids for Little League. A generation ago, it seemed Little League was a staple of every community. Even if you didn’t like baseball, you played on the local park team. Now? Those kids are playing basketball, football, and soccer, or have become part of the X Games trend.
Former major league outfielder Chris Singleton, now a commentator for ESPN, believes the issue expands beyond the playing field.
“I’m looking at management positions in the game,” said Singleton, who is African-American. “I know we’ve had an issue with the declining number of African-American players on teams, whereas you had teams like Minnesota, which had one player, Aaron Hicks, and then when he got sent down, they didn’t have an African American player, which is kind of a first in a long time.
“You can even look at broadcasters if you want to and say there’s 30 teams and there’s one black full-time play-by-play announcer [Dave Sims in Seattle].”
There has been an influx of African-American talent such as Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward, David Price, Adam Jones (Berry’s high school buddy), and Andrew McCutchen, but many of those players would go unrecognized by the casual sports fan.
Also, one current African-American major leaguer said there’s a perception among African-American major leaguers that the game isn’t as welcoming to them as it is to others when their physical skills begin to decline.
A fundamental problem is that baseball didn’t have to emphasize its greatness, its beauty, and its allure to previous generations.
It was America’s Game. The national pastime. That is no longer the case.
Baseball has to restate its worthiness to a new generation, one that didn’t grow up breaking in new gloves with plenty of oil and a couple of nights under the bed post — for those who don’t remember Bo Jackson scaling an outfield wall or Dave Parker throwing out Brian Downing at third base on a bullet from right field.
Otherwise, the sport is simply selling itself on history and tradition, and as with many other genres, that isn’t good enough for the young folks.
“When I go home and tell my buddies what the game needs, they need guys with speed and athleticism and the role that I am doing,” Berry said, “hopefully that will help them or their kids down the line, maybe push them to try to get them into this sport.
“I am happy I am able to do this and hope people follow in these footsteps.”