Professional Sports are NOT equivalent to SLAVERY
America is one of the most complex nations on earth and a melting pot of cultures. Race Relations can be a rocky and sensitive subject. A lot of wombs have yet to heal and this is a reality we must face. This year in Sports we see numerous fundamental differences with "Big Business" like athletes of the past. This has lead many into the idea that Professional Sports have a Slave element to it. Naturally, my thoughts are all over the place so bare with me as I proceed. Slave auctions were nothing like the NFL, NBA or MLB Drafts held annually in the United States. How do I know? Well, the invention of photography is truly a beautiful creation. See, I went back and viewed several pictures this evening in regard to Slavery as I started jotting a collection of thoughts down on paper. The very notion of anything being compared to Slavery is beyond frustrating in my personal opinion. We will revisit the “slave auction” narrative that I’ve read over the years in comparison to athletes at some point in this blog. I don’t know how long Slavery has existed on earth because history is constantly distorted, re-written, and adjusted to fit the comfort of the narrators. What I do know is Slavery is one of the most treacherous human acts ever in any society, especially ones of African descent. During the 18th and 19th Centuries here in America, Africans worked, entertained, and were forced to sexually please their “Masters” in whatever way ordered. In some cases, the “BIG SLAVE” men had to wrestle each other for “Sport”, which was pleasing to the Slave Owners and audiences. The degrading and dehumanization was at an all time high. There was no such thing as “options” in this regard. Survival was the number one objective for Africans, or African Americans, whatever label make sense to you.
When I think back a little further to ancient societies such as Roman, Egyptian and Chinese Dynasties, Slavery wasn’t just labor, there were other obligations demanded. As Russell Crowe stated in The Gladiator “Are You Not Entertained?" People have to be entertained and it has always been this way. Sports in The Colosseum were a matter of life and death, and to feed the excitement of hostile crowds. I remember seeing a painting by French artist Jean-Leon Gerome depicting a Gladiator battle and the “Thumbs Down” motion from the crowd. Spectators would determine if the defeated Gladiator would die at this moment. This example is just to put a few thousand years in perspective. If we fast forward back to Slavery in America, Africans at times were killed as well if they lost a wrestling match to another Slave in front of his “Master." I cringe writing the word Master, but I digress. At any rate, Roman Gladiators can be traced back to 3rd Century BC. Africans being killed for not entertaining Slave Owners in America can be traced back to more recent times. When I say recent times, I'm talking the 1860's, not 3rd Century BC. You see what I just did here? There was little difference in how Gladiators and African Slaves were treated. Both were despised, lived in harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and even segregated in death.
The institution of Slavery will never be minimized on my watch. We owe our ancestors better than that. When I think of various conditions in America, someone always goes back to “This is just like Slavery”, “That is just like Slavery”. No, No and No – Nothing is “Just Like Slavery”. There is not an athlete (I’m only addressing African American Athletes) breathing right now that lives in a condition of Slavery. There is not an athlete right now that doesn’t have a “choice". I remember reading The Forty Million Dollar Slave by William C. Rhoden years ago. His book sparked some interesting conversations relating to Black Athletes Historical Treatment in America, American Racism, and a few comparisons to Slavery along the way. One of Rhoden’s arguments, our black athletes don't control their own destiny regardless of the financial rewards. With all due respect to the brother and anyone reading this blog, it’s important that our kids and young people understand the reality of Slavery – The torture that was Slavery.
Now, let’s get back to the “Auction Block” versus Blacks in Professional Sports narrative. I’ve read over the years several writers (I will not name them) that spoke about the National Football League (NFL) camps, combines and team work-outs. They constantly went on about how the Team Representatives would have the Black Athletes damn near naked assessing their bodies. You know, like the Masters did during Slavery. Yes, they want to know how big, strong and fast the athletes are so that thinking is correct in terms of performance. There is a physical assessment put in place. Is it any deeper than that? Well, psychologically we’re still suffering from PTSD to a degree in regard to Slavery and American History, so I can respect the trauma. On the other hand, many of our occupations require us to take physicals to make sure we’re healthy enough to complete the task required in the job description. Professional athletes go through rigorous workouts because they are paid millions to do something they love to do. They sign a contract to be part of an organization. If you consider them “property”, so be it. I consider them contractors and when their contracts end, they are released to join another organization or retire. Sorry, I don’t consider a Basketball Court, Football Field, or Baseball Stadium a Plantation. When a Slave was no longer valuable to their Master, he or she was often exterminated. You know, killed or best case scenario beaten to a pulp.
If ownership is something you want to tackle, I can appreciate that perspective. Yes, the greatest athletes in the World are Black. Yes, almost all the owners of these Franchises, Leagues, Venues and Corporate Sponsors globally are White Men. Yes, that image can be a frustrating reality. Yes, this even goes for College Athletes and the powerful NCAA. Here is the difference between these “Owners” and “Slave Owners” - the Black Athletes have the POWER but will not use it appropriately. The Black Slaves didn’t have this power or at least didn’t think they had power in numbers. Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner thought otherwise, but let me get back to my point. The Black Athlete is a global “Cash Cow” and people only respect money. The Black Athlete can create more Unions and push agenda’s however they see fit. How can they do this when they don’t own teams in professional leagues? Well, fans care about THE PRODUCT. Remember, the NBA and NFL can’t survive without Black Men and our athletic talents. This is a fact! The NFL is over 70% Black. The NBA consist of 74.4% of Black Players. Yes, the leagues have player unions, representatives and things of that nature but the exercising of power is still somewhat timid. (especially in the NFL) Black Athletes have to put themselves in an ownership mentality.
There are other cities across this nation that can accommodate professional teams in various sports. Black investors have to think on this level. The level I speak of once again is ownership. Nobody is going to give you anything. Michael Jordan shouldn’t be the only Black Owner in the NBA but that’s for another blog at another time. Ownership is about maximizing resources and we have to do better. We have the resources! As this relates to Slavery, Slavery was about power and control. We have more power and control than we realize which is sad.
In the years and decades following Emancipation, blacks were denied the whole value of their labor and the opportunity to fully compete in the economic marketplace. Would you say American Athletes can’t compete in America’s economic marketplace? Would you consider being able to live in million dollar homes,100k cars, Personal Assistants, Trainers, Chefs, and other luxuries remotely close to Slavery? Now, a “Slave Mentality” is another story. These athletes have the opportunity to create generational wealth for their families and break “Generational Curses” that Systematic Racism created. Black Athletes can make sure all of their immediate family have life insurance, stocks/bonds, investment and land instead of unnecessary gifts. I'm sure some players have done these things. Black Athletes can assist in enhancing Black Economics. Slaves mostly contributed to White People’s economics with not many options for self-sufficiency. Black Athletes do make Franchise Owners money, but they can also create millions for themselves. Many Black Athletes give to schools, shelters, universities, scholarships, small black businesses, black churches and other community establishments because of millions made playing sports. Lebron James is the perfect example of giving back. This man has created jobs, put thousands of kids in school and provided opportunity to a huge number of Black People during his career. His story, ambition and vision are nothing short of amazing and commendable. Now, let’s get back to the money aspect of things. Talk to a 30 year old Black Person who works for Minimum Wage in America about Athletes and Slavery. I can assure you a Black Person making $7.25 per hour would educate you about what Slavery feel like. A person who can barely make “Ends – Meet” probably feel more like an indentured servant than someone riding around with $5000 in cash , headed to “Make It Rain” at some Strip Club. Ask Floyd Mayweather does he feel like a Slave.
The term Slavery has now been “Watered Down” by Politics, Historians and Special Interest Groups that want to compare their conditions, movements and agendas to the greatest atrocity in the history of this nation. I will not allow this disrespect to what my bloodline had to endure. Why don’t you hear many of these idealist say something is “like the Holocaust?" You will not hear a Jew compare social conditions to what their ancestors had to face from Hitler and Nazi Germany. Athletes are not in Concentration Camps or Picking Cotton in a field getting brutalized. Why would any Black Person compare Professional Sports or Collegiate Sports to Slavery? I could understand a Black Person (African American….. Whatever) somewhat remotely using Slavery in regard to the timeline of events after Slavery – such as Black Codes, Housing Discrimination, Jim Crow, KKK and 80’s Drug Laws. These laws or unwritten rules created within a Racist Government are a more logical comparison as they are the “Cousins of Slavery” in my humble opinion.
In conclusion, Slavery is not about the finer things in life. There is nothing good about Slavery. Children are being taught that Slavery wasn’t that bad. Children are being taught that Slavery was “Black People couldn’t pick the type of jobs they wanted” in our Education System. Eugene is in the 3rd Grade and a few months ago he shared with us what he was taught in school about Slavery. First of all, Slave talk to an 8 year old is heavy. When he is a teenager, I will show him the real picture of Slavery so he can appreciate his life. He is fortunate. We don’t live remotely close to the way Professional Athletes live but I will never disrespect our history by comparing my life to SLAVERY. Is the balance between Owners and Black Athletes a level playing field – NO. I understand this totally along with the racial undertones of Athletics from Junior Leagues up to the Professional Ranks in America. That being said, I also know what happened from 1621 – 1865.
The History of Slavery In America (FULL)