The Double Standard in American Sports
By Todd A. Smith
It is the dream of almost every child in this great nation. It is the dream of seeing one’s name in bright lights. It is the dream of being on center stage with the whole world watching, in awe of your magnificent talent. It is the dream of being on top of one’s profession and enjoying wealth and prosperity beyond their wildest imagination.
For many African Americans, athletic competition is a means of escape from the grim desperation of reality. Many young Black children who lace up those sneakers or cleats see athletic competition as a platform to a better life for themselves and their family. With millions of dollars and financial stability in the palm of their hands, many athletes of all ethnic backgrounds have bypassed college and amateur sports for the riches and fame that come with their instant celebrity status.
Athletes that run the gamut from the National Basketball Association’s LeBron James, to the National Hockey League’s Sidney Crosby and golf’s Michelle Wie have all foregone higher education to pursue their goals on the highest plateau of their respective professions.
While Wie and Crosby were lauded for their decision, African American athletes like LeBron James and Dwight Howard were dissuaded from making the jump from the preps to the pros.
Criticism of teenage athletes encouraged the NBA to enact an age minimum that would bar any more athletes from making that jump for the foreseeable future. This action makes one wonder if there is a double standard when it comes to young African Americans earning millions of dollars to perform on center stage as opposed to non-Blacks.
At the onset of the 20th century, society labeled African Americans as inferior to their White counterparts in every avenue of the human experience. From athletics to academics, Whites were viewed by themselves as being innately superior to anyone with a darker complexion. The weakest White could defeat the strongest Black in any form of competition that he so desired.
This belief of racial superiority/inferiority was so engrained into the American psyche that a color barrier was erected in most sports. However, athletes such as Jack Johnson, Fritz Pollard and Jackie Robinson excelled in their respective sports and became role models for many young African Americans aspiring to follow their example.
From the early 1900s to the present, African Americans have excelled to the point that they have become lucrative commodities, influencing not only athletics, but popular culture as well. From Michael Jordan to Venus and Serena Williams, Black athletes have turned professional sports into an American institution and a billion dollar business.
Despite the success of Black athletes and their influence in the world of endorsements and marketing, many of them endure ridicule for their success. It is as if the more successful and wealthy they have become, the more they are seen as the enemy.
The low point came during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and the 2006 FIBA World Championships where Americans saw the predominately-Black men’s basketball team as an opponent on their native soil. It was perplexing that at a time of war, in which America is regarded as an enemy to many nations, our own fellow citizens would root for their defeat, simply because of color.
When Bob Johnson purchased the Charlotte Bobcats, becoming the first Black majority owner of a sports franchise, many non-minorities were speaking of boycotting the NBA. It has become evident that Black success is very threatening to those who want to hold on to false hopes of a superior race.
Although I am against the new age minimum in the National Basketball Association, I understand its need. There are many more DeShawn Stevenson’s and Korleone Young’s than there are Kobe Bryant’s and Kevin Garnett’s in the world. However, the new NBA Development League, which will serve as a minor league farm system, is all that is necessary to keep unprepared teens out of the league until they are fully mature and ready to succeed on the highest level.
It is funny when high school baseball players make the jump from the preps to the pros it never causes a stir. Nevertheless, when the sport consists of predominately African Americans an uproar ensues.
Since 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, African Americans have succeeded on the field, on the bench, and in the front office. However, in 2006 it seems as if the Black athlete is being punished for the same success they said we would never achieve.
Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.