Dear Black Athletes,
There is so much trauma experienced by the Blacklete. So much responsibility is hoisted upon their shoulders that it makes one cringe if you just give it a thought.
From a Black boy’s perspective (I will be splitting the discussion by sex only because sports are split based on sex), we are taught from a very young age that sports are the equalizer to all transgressions and inequalities. If you are a success in sports, the rewards will be immeasurable. You start off with your peers, then you are put right onto the auction block and you never leave it. You are looked at, poked, and tested to see just how well you can perform. When you display any signs of superiority your value surpasses all the others. You are deemed faster, stronger, more "committed, and more diligent." Those attributes are reinforced by the coaches and then reinforced by your own psyche. The better you do, the more accolades you receive, which propels you to work harder and harder. You want and need attention. Finally, the holy grail, your efforts are paying off! You now have the talent to get "paid" for those attributes. Throughout your youth career, you were chauffeured to and from practices and games. You have changed mentally and physically, and you garner attention from all sorts of admirers -- other players and coaches. Romantic interests abound, you are the man! The rewards: you no longer have to maintain exceptional grades, you still pass, it feels good and you work harder in sports because you get more of the same. Your parents begin to see hope and a way out of the racist doldrums that have been manifested through poverty, crime, and dead-end jobs. We discover just how $pecial you are to white America. Your parents are treated $pecial- it feels great. You need, they need, we all need that modicum of acceptance by white America. You have been monetized just like we all are, but your self-determination is gone...or is it?
For young girls. You start out never being exhausted. For the most part, (thanks to the Megan Rapinoes, the Venuses, and Serenas) you begin your career playing co-ed sports and you excel in so many ways. This prowess holds true for a few years. Then your female counterparts do not celebrate you: partly because of envy and partly because they do not possess the characteristics. You are then directed to girls sports, the likes of gymnastics, volleyball, softball, though I do not subscribe to any of these sexist chauvinistic compartmentalizing any sport. Sometimes you are labeled a "tomboy," the old school term for a lesbian. (Whether or not you are queer has nothing to do with your athleticism, and if you are queer you should stand proud like many queer athletes that have done so before like Billie Jean King.) So mom and dad want you to back away from sports so you can become more effeminate...oh academics and girl-talk about boys! Yeah, that's what girls do. You are not allowed to have any interest in sports unless you are exceptional in soccer or Uconn basketball! Not bad alternatives but you do not get a pass on your grades, not like the boys. So even though the attention is perverse, you are deemed completely different. Ironically, you are not monetized nor put on the auction block, but you are ostracized. What does this do to the emotional makeup when you are relegated to the position of a second class citizen? You don't even get to be a "dummy" and make money. You have to get your four-year degree, you have to speak better, relate better. No flying off the handle, no passionate speak, and for god's sake no fist fighting. You are better off for having those talents but it doesn't seem like it. You have a stronger understanding of the game but you can't coach men, you can't get those lucrative commentator jobs, you can't even ref. Yes, you are second class even though you are better educated, more knowledgeable, and more well-rounded. As Sam Cooke wrote and sang so beautifully, "change is going to come."
Blacklete, you must now take a page from Lebron James, Venus Williams, and Megan Reponoe's book. Control your destiny. How? First, recognize your power to know your value. As you ascend through the high school and college ranks, if they make money off of you and your age, then damn it, negotiate for you. Take part in that pie and make sure you are a 51% shareholder. Make sure you support your community. Negotiate to bring opportunity to your community. Be strongly valued. Lookup Venus Williams equal pay for women's tennis, look up Megan Repinoe' s stance on equal pay and BLM in support of Colin Kapernick. Watch Lebron James’ "The Decision" on ESPN.
We have been valued as a commodity for years. Marshall Walter "Major Taylor," Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Colin Kapernick, and Mohammed Ali: these guys knew their value first as a human being and secondly as an athlete. Each was robbed of their opportunity to make it but each eventually turned it around, made an inroad, and cleared a path for you to do what you do. Now is the time. Right now. As previously stated, know your value, and know your influence and power. I would say take your trusted friend with you on your rise. Make sure they are taught to bring value to your "corporation." Your influence opens doors, allowing them to market with shoe companies, negotiate with sports agencies, revise legal contracts with law firms. You, Blacklete, monetize your self-control. Yourself. No one else. If you can go from high school to pros then do it. If not, go to an HBCU and take a couple of top recruits with you. Negotiation is stronger with numbers (see Michigan's Fab Five). If you go to an HBCU with a Division 1 program, the advertising dollars will follow YOU!! You would help yourself and the institution. You will be able to dictate more readily with an HBCU that has your needs in mind. You may only play one year but that year, or two, would bring dollars into your community, rather than the PWI that don't want you if you can't bring dollars in. It is our time to dictate how dollars are introduced to our community and how they are spent. You have the cards, you can change the trajectory of black sports and Blacketes forever. Do not waste your energy and do not think you are special in any way. The streets are littered with great athletes who never made it. No shortcuts here. Work hard to be smart and think holistically and globally. Listen, when it comes to sports and money, Black Lives control the narrative!