Encouraging Black Athletes – Remembering the Mamas (and Papas)
By Meta J. Mereday
There was a time in professional sports, especially in football, when an athlete who had just scored a touchdown or made a significant play would always look into the camera and say, “Hi Mom” or “Thanks Pop.”
The parental involvement in the development of athletes, particularly Black athletes has taken a definite turn and it is not too positive.
Over-aggressive agents and single-minded coaches have often taken the place of the parents in the decision making of promising athletes with promises of houses, cars and wealth that surpasses the meager incomes that the parents were able to use all those years to bring up the rising star.
Unfortunately, the actions of a number of athletes who have been cheered on the gridiron and revered on the court has made it clear that parental controls – that mother wit and paternal presence – are needed to regain that balance between sportsmanship and citizenship.
The root of the problem begins when parents give up their roles in the lives and development of Black athletes in the misguided notion that the coaches, managers, and agents have their child’s best interests at heart.
While the athletic development does require involvement from qualified professionals, athletes also need to maintain the strong bonds with their parents and or guardians to keep the grounding and support they need to be able to conduct themselves off the fields and courts.
Parents are the first coaches and cheering squads for Black athletes and, as they continue to gain exposure as promising players, the interaction with players, coaches and athletes is crucial.
In the article, “Parental Involvement, Influence or Interference in Sports,” by Diane Schumacher and Peggy Kellers, the writers highlighted the parental influence on the development of the athlete.
They wrote, “It is refreshing to watch parents who are wonderful influences on their children whether their role is a coach, an official or behind the scenes. Notice the players with enthusiasm and a passion to play the sport. It often is a result of parents who have strong values and a healthy understanding about handling the highs and lows of competition. They are realistic about the opportunities sport may provide given their child’s athletic abilities. This helps their children maintain balance and perspective.”
However, the child does grow up and the sports prowess that they have developed starts to get the attention of those outside the home and local school ground. As the Black athlete progresses through high school and college and “gets the call” that introduces them to the pros, it is the beginning of a journey that can be financially lucrative and personally fulfilling or it can be the road to ruin.
While this scenario is not exclusive to only Black athletes, the devastating effects of negative, and sometimes criminal, behaviors are magnified when committed by them in comparison to others.
All athletes should take heed of those who went before them who took themselves too seriously and their hard road to the professional ranks too lightly.
Athletes should remember the hard working mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and guardians who were positive influences and stood by them during the rainy little league outings and the varsity games played in the dark on unlit fields.
Keep looking into those cameras waving proudly and remembering on whose shoulders you stand.
Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.