Race In Sports





The odds that any high school athlete will play a sport on the professional level are about 10,000 to 1. Yet according to a recent survey conducted by Northeastern University\'s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, 66 percent of all African-American males between the ages of 13 and 18 believe they can earn a living playing professional sports. That is more than double the proportion of young white males who hold such beliefs. Black parents also are four times more likely than white parents to believe that their children are destined for careers in professional athletics.
As an industry, sports have also created a relatively small, elite class of black multimillionaires. But these black players and their outrageous salaries, together with the media and advertising endorsements, have created the impression among many lower-income blacks that there are unlimited opportunities on the playing field. The result, say experts, is an obsession with sports among many young African-American males often at the expense of the more traditional, if less glamorous, route to upward mobility: education. "There is an overemphasis on sports in the black community, and too many black students are putting all their eggs in one basket," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint. (www.usnews.com/usnews/Febissue/sports.htm)
In his controversial book, Darwin\'s Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race, "The whole problem here," writes author John Hoberman, "is that the black middle class is rendered essentially invisible by the parade of black athletes and criminals on television." That in turn fuels the perception that African-Americans excel in physical pursuits and Caucasians in intellectual endeavors.
As in most high schools, the real social champions at a nearly all-black public academy on Chicago\'s South Side are not the boys and girls who can think and problem solve but, rather, the kids who can dunk a basketball or run a quick 40-meter dash. "A lot of kids will tell you they want to be like Mike," says one student, referring to the most recognized black athlete, basketball star Michael Jordan. In this context, being like Mike does not mean becoming an entrepreneur, a corporate spokesman, or a college graduate. It means being a highflying, windmill slammer of a ballplayer.
(http://racerelations.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm)
Faced with the historic indignities of racism and segregation, blacks came to view sports as a source of inspiration. During the early part of the century, for instance, the boxing victories of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis served as tangible proof that black men could compete against whites and win. The same held true for Jackie Robinson\'s entry into Major League Baseball in 1947. Black baseball fans, no matter where they lived, became instant Brooklyn Dodger loyalists. The sports arena became a battleground against white supremacy.
Ironically, the victory also concerned the black middle class, which did not want sports to replace churches and schools as the major focuses of the black community. To some degree, this is what has happened since Jackie Robinson broke baseball\'s color line. Some of the numbers are striking. More than 40 percent of pro-baseball players are now black or Latino, a figure that has come to look low compared with the National Football League, which is 65 percent black, and the National Basketball Association, which is 80 percent black. This is such that Jason Williams, a rare white star, is nicknamed "White Chocolate." (http://racerelations.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm)
Whites have in some respects become sports\' second-class citizens. In a surreal inversion of Robinson\'s era, white athletes are frequently the ones now tagged by the stereotypes of skin color. White athletes, even when they play sports dominated by blacks, are still entering an industry not only controlled by whites in every phase of authority and operation but also largely sustained by white audiences. Although blacks dominate the most popular team sports, they still make up only 9 percent of all people in the United States who make a living or try to make a living as athletes, less than their percentage in the general population.
With five African Americans among their players, the Edmonton Oilers are leading infamously white-dominated professional hockey into a new era. The Oilers have the most African-American players on any professional hockey roster since the 1940s. "Any time you can have series of five players on one team