July 15, 2010

40 Million Dollar Slaves?

In light of recent events, I decided to finally start reading a book that had been on my to do list since '06. The book is called 40 Million Dollar Slaves and it provides a very insightful look at the history of black athletes in America. It got me thinking about some things.

It's so inspiring to read about those who worked hard to bring black athletes to a place of prominence. And it's sad that the days of the socially/politically conscious athlete seem to have gone.

I don't think we should consider professional sports, in and of themselves, as significant contributions to society. When we see five or six-year-old kids playing basketball we don't take it seriously, and we shouldn't. They're just children playing a game. When we watch professionals playing the same game, we place a much higher value on their activity—though the essence of the activity hasn't really changed.

Yes, it's (usually) more entertaining and there's a lot of money involved, but it's still only a game. Don't misunderstand me, if I had the ability to make millions of dollars by playing a professional sport, I would do it. But I would do it with the understanding that the most important part of being a professional athlete is not the sport or the money, but rather the platform it provides to influence millions of people.

I don't want to rehash the whole celebrities-as-role-models debate, but I don't think it's a coincidence that so many black athletes today have lost sight of the responsibility and dedication to community that came so naturally to black athletes of the past.

I can't put all the blame on the athletes themselves. There are a number of forces at work that help shape the modern athlete, but I have to ask: Is it unreasonable to expect globally recognized athletes to speak publicly about things bigger than sports? Professional sports are only games, but they are games that can serve as a means to accomplish so much more if we want.
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