No announcement yet.

Too much emphasis on sports in the black community

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Too much emphasis on sports in the black community

    I've been one of those voices crying out this fact for years. It pains me to no end, to see how youngsters who have a talent in a given sport, are being pushed to focus all of their energy on their athletic prowess, but the academic side is allowed to be tossed away like old garbage. Also, IMO, it's the over emphasis on sports as the "meal ticket" out of "the hood" that gives many of these youngsters a very warped view of their responsiblities of how to conduct themselves within a set social standard.

    Focus on sports hurts blacks, some say
    By Lori Shontz

    Without basketball, Regiana Moore doesn't know where she would be now.

    Eighteen years ago, before her senior year at Beaumont High School, Moore became pregnant with her first child. Many girls in similar situations dropped out, but she attended classes at a school for pregnant girls because she wanted to continue her basketball career. She gave birth to a son, Dwayne Polk, on Dec. 28, 1985, and was back on the court four weeks later.

    She had too much pride to stand for anything less. "I was an athlete," she said. "So I stood out."

    Six months later, Moore, the youngest of eight children, became the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She then earned a full scholarship to play basketball at Harris-Stowe State College, where in the late 1980s she studied, played and — with help from her family — looked after her son.

    Not surprisingly, she introduced Dwayne to basketball early. He had a hoop with a Michael Jordan backboard when he was 2. A Little Tikes basketball game followed not long afterward. By age 7, he was playing in a basketball league.

    Now a high school senior, Polk is the point guard and top player for perennial state power Vashon High School. All of his numbers are exceptional — 13.5 points per game, 5.7 assists per game and a 3.7 grade-point average. Next season, he will play for St. Louis University.

    "Basketball helps you in school," he said. "Because without a certain GPA, you can't play basketball."

    Polk doesn't have any doubt that athletics have helped him to be a better student, thereby giving him the tools he'll need to make a successful living someday. His mother, too, is certain. Now a St. Louis police officer assigned to public schools, she tells her own story as proof.

    But a growing number of educators and activists are questioning whether student-athletes such as Polk are, too often, exceptions. They are wondering whether black Americans' focus on sports as the pathway to success is, in the long run, hurting them.

    They point to statistics showing that for every 10,000 high school athletes, only one will play in the pros. They look at the growing numbers of African-American men in jail and the shrinking numbers in college. They worry that LeBron James, who went directly from high school in Akron, Ohio, to the NBA and signed a $90 million endorsement contract before he played even a minute with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is considered a realistic role model.

    "From the 20th century, the most visible athletes have been successful African-Americans, and then the stereotype of the natural black athlete takes over," said John Hoberman, a University of Texas sport historian. "Many kids are seduced into believing it is their ticket to upward mobility."

    Most evidence is anecdotal, because little research has been conducted on the subject. One prominent study, conducted by the Center for the Study of Sport at Northeastern University in 1997, found that 66 percent of black boys ages 13 to 18 who attended a showing of the documentary "Hoop Dreams" thought they would grow up to be a professional athlete. Among white boys, only 33 percent thought so.

    Perhaps more revealing, the study also found that black parents were four times more likely than white parents to think that their children would make a living by playing sports.

    Such numbers don't mean that whites don't place a heavy emphasis on sports and expect, at times, too much from athletes. Many do. But for many blacks, the emphasis has a different meaning.

    "No American community has been traumatized to the degree that the African-American community has been traumatized, starting with slavery," said Hoberman, author of "Darwin's Athletes." "So no group has had greater obstacles to overcome."

    Athletes spur change

    The list of black athletes who are revered as heroes is long — and impressive. Athletics is the ultimate meritocracy, and when black athletes won competitions against white athletes, African-Americans did more than cheer. They looked upon the victories as proof that they could compete in a white world that stretched beyond the playing fields.

    Boxer Joe Louis was one of the first athletes to foster such pride in black Americans with his decisive victories over white boxers such as Max Schmeling and Primo Carnera in the 1930s. In his book, Hoberman quotes a 1935 article from a black publication, "The Crisis," that spoke of the possibilities.

    "Those who maintain that a Negro historian or editor or philosopher or scientist or composer or singer or painter is more important than a great athlete are on sound ground, but they would be foolish to maintain that these worthy individuals have more power for influence than the athletes," the article said. "After all it is not the infinitesimal intellectual America which needs conversion on the race problem; it is the rank and file."

    As more black athletes succeeded, the expectations rose.

    When Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, an event Adolf Hitler had intended to be a celebration of Aryan supremacy, his success took on a symbolic dimension.

    Jackie Robinson, who became the first black player in Major League Baseball in 1947, is celebrated for more than his playing skills, which were considerable. He is credited with helping to advance racial relations in the United States — no small feat.

    Historians say it's no accident that black athletes have taken on such roles. Harry Edwards, a nationally known sports sociologist and activist, lists four activities in which white society has traditionally encouraged blacks to participate: the black church, the military, entertainment and athletics.

    "At the end of the day, the blacks were encouraged to participate in activities that were not seen as a threat to the status quo," said Edwards, a former sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

    Given such a situation, researchers say, it's no surprise that even now there are more prominent and successful blacks in those areas than the business world or academia. And given how media — for better or worse — pay more attention to singers and football players, people who excel in such pursuits get more attention than teachers or accountants.

    So why wouldn't young black men with dreams of success peg themselves as athletes? And why would their teachers, coaches and parents — many of whom probably know full well the pitfalls — want to discourage them?

    "It can present a false illusion, an illusion of grandeur that this is the real world, that this is going to happen for everybody," Vashon coach Floyd Irons conceded. "But one of the things we try to do is we try not to keep the kids from dreaming. We all dream, we all have aspirations. As a coach, it's part of our responsibility not to keep a kid from dreaming."

    "A totally different world"

    Hoberman has called the emphasis on athletic prowess "a defensive response to the assault on black intelligence, which continues to this day."

    Researchers in every field from sociology to history to education have noted the existence of an "acting white" syndrome, in which black youths who work hard in the classroom are accused of selling out their community and adhering to white values rather than black ones.

    Such attitudes, along with the preponderance of black athletes on television and in newspapers, are seen as roadblocks for black students who want to excel in academics.
    This month, during an interview on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," Henry Louis Gates Jr., head of the department of African and African-American studies at Harvard University, spoke of the confusion within the black middle class in how to help and encourage those who are still struggling.

    He referred to a 1991 article he wrote for Sports Illustrated in which he used the 1990 census to count the number of black lawyers, doctors, dentists and professional athletes. The numbers: 20,000 black lawyers, 14,000 black doctors, 5,600 black dentists — and 1,200 black professional athletes.

    "Now the average black person, the average white person, probably thinks that the figures would all be reversed," Gates said. "In fact, most people probably think there's 100,000 black athletes, if you watch basketball and you watch football. But it's not. It's easier to be a black brain surgeon than to make it in the NBA."

    Such perceptions, Edwards said, can't help but influence black boys, in particular, when they fantasize about what they want to be when they grow up. And those aren't the only misperceptions promoted by society.

    "Even if a black kid does go to Harvard and come out and get a job, there's always going to be a question," Edwards said. "Was it his level of competence, or is he an affirmative action hire?

    "But no one sees LeBron James as an affirmative action hire. (University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald), who's going to go pro, no one sees that as an affirmative action move. They say, 'Let's see where we can get some more just like him.' Compare the two areas, it's a totally different world."

    Then factor in recent court decisions that have limited the scope of affirmative action programs at colleges.

    When the Supreme Court was considering whether the University of Michigan's admissions program — which assigned points based on certain criteria — was a quota, the hue and cry came over points given for an applicant's race. There were few objections raised to points given for an applicant's athletic prowess.

    Affirmative action advocates contend that because of the disadvantages faced by black students, particularly the ones who have no choice but to attend troubled schools in urban areas, those students deserve special consideration in the admissions process. It is probable that the recent interpretations will make it more difficult for students from those schools to meet college admission standards.

    Athletes aren't expected to have the same problems.

    In such an environment, it's easier to understand why black families see athletics as the way out of low-income neighborhoods. A fast runner will stand out at a track meet even with substandard equipment. A basketball player can learn the game on the playground, which requires little financial investment.

    A talented student — or even an average or above-average student with an interest, say, in chemistry — is going to have a harder time excelling without the proper textbooks and motivated teachers, two things many inner-city schools lack.

    "Let's say you've got a black kid in middle school and he's got some talent in science," Edwards said. "There aren't any computer companies who are going to come into the hall and give him a free computer, or send him to brain surgery camp over the summer. But LeBron James, he was a big kid in the halls of his middle school, and he got free shoes and basketballs and a chance to go to basketball camp. That just doesn't happen in academics."

    As far as Gates is concerned, the reasons behind the athletic emphasis don't matter. Action must be taken to correct it.

    "The blind pursuit of attainment in sports is having a devastating effect on our people," he wrote in that Sports Illustrated article. "Imbued with a belief that our principal avenue to fame and profit is through sport, and seduced by a win-at-any-cost system that corrupts even elementary school students, far too many black kids treat basketball courts and football fields as if they were classrooms in an alternative school system. 'OK, I flunked English,' a young athlete will say. 'But I got an A plus in slam-dunking.'"

    Investing in sports

    For decades, Edwards sounded many of the same themes. Worried that too many black children were dreaming of the NFL or the NBA rather than becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers or businessmen, he tried to stress the realities.

    Recently, however, his views have evolved. He has seen too many largely black, inner-city schools fall into disrepair — and too many children using out-of-date textbooks. He has seen too many neighborhoods fall apart, too many drug dealers and gang members become community role models.

    His perspective is among the most radical. He believes athletics must be part of the solution.

    "The deterioration of African-American society is so horrific that it is no longer an issue of sport overshadowing the alternatives," Edwards said. "Now we need it as an alternative to essentially give kids the tools they need.

    "Kids are turned off to education. The one thing they all want to be is they want to be like Mike. Or Torry Holt, or Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis or LeBron James. So sports may be the sole means left of the mainstream institutions that can enable the community and larger society to connect with young people. It may be the last hook and handle for an entire generation."

    Edwards believes the African-American community needs to invest in sports.

    Few students are going to stay after school for an English literature seminar, he said, or a session teaching how to balance a checkbook and handle finances. They will, however, flock to a basketball camp. Edwards thinks that's the perfect time to include sessions that don't have anything to do with on-the-court skills.

    "You have someone say, 'That's all good, but let me tell you that less than 5 percent of all high school athletes go on to play in college, and out of all college athletes, less than 2 percent get a shot — not get to play, just get a shot at the pros. And those who do get their shot but don't make it, 60 percent of them are back on the street in three years. But if you have an MBA, this is how you can be successful.'"

    Edwards knows that would take a financial investment, not simply from individual citizens, but from the government as well.

    "It looks to me like the U.S. government can take $87 billion and do exactly that in Iraq — the rebuilding of all the institutions and fixing what was unjust and teaching them how to build an American society," he said. "If we are able to do that, why aren't we able to do that with $87 billion in our cities?

    "With corporate support, (the government) is sending journalists over there to show Iraqis how to be journalists, they're sending experts in agriculture and computer science and foreign languages. Why can't you do the same thing here?"

    Some area athletes say that sort of thing already happens — albeit on a smaller scale — in their schools.

    At East St. Louis High School, athletes' grades are checked weekly. If they aren't passing all of their classes, they don't play. "Without academics," said athletic director Alonzo Nelson Sr., "you can't even bounce the ball."

    Given the alternatives, members of the basketball team said, they make sure they're passing.

    Senior Tyron ArMur said of the community, "Everything going on is a negative. If you're not doing sports, eventually you're going to do something negative."

    Many coaches disagreed with the decision to monitor grades so closely when it was made about five years ago, Nelson said. Illinois rules require schools to check grades once each semester, and the coaches feared they would be placed at a competitive disadvantage.

    Most have adjusted now, he said, and the practice is paying off.

    "Kids have to know that people are pushing them to do their best," said Nelson, who also teaches calculus. "If they have parents who are pushing, our job is easy."

    Senior DAndre Doby, for instance, wasn't passing sociology or chemistry in mid-December, so he wasn't able to play one weekend — and he missed his chance to play in the Savvis Center. He went to the game anyway, and sat in the stands, but soon closed his eyes and went to sleep. He couldn't bear to watch.

    Since then, his grades have stayed up, and his friends and teammates make sure he's paying attention so he doesn't let down the team — a beneficial form of peer pressure. Doby has an extra incentive, as well.

    "I've got to deal with Mom," he said.

    In a discussion with five members of the team — ArMur, Doby, Steven Andrews, Bennie Lewis and Eric Cooper, all said they were preparing for life after high school. Among the careers they're considering are sports journalism, marine biology, accounting or mechanical engineering. Each of them sees guys on the street corners who spent too much time on the court and not enough time with the books, and no one wants to suffer that fate.

    That's not to say they wouldn't turn down an NBA opportunity if it became available. But they say their coaches tell them how rare those chances are — and that an injury can end any chance they have in an instant.

    "You know in your heart if you're ready for something like that," said Cooper, who at 5-foot-9 knows he isn't big enough to play at that level. "But sport can take you to other options."

    In a perfect world, that's how sports can work — by providing the framework and incentive to succeed in other endeavors. That's how Regiana Moore has used it — and encouraged her son to do the same.

    Although she didn't graduate from Harris-Stowe, she got enough of an education to put herself in line for better jobs. And in the fall of 2000, when she applied to the police academy, she had the credentials to be accepted.

    Since February 2001, she has been assigned to the schools. Over the course of a week, she visits between 17 and 20 St. Louis schools, and she sees her share of boys and girls who have dropped everything in their quest for athletic success.

    But she's still not ready to repudiate sports. She has seen what they have done for her son. "Dwayne knew he was going to college," Moore said. "He's only 5-8 or 5-9, so he knew he had to get the education to go to college, so he could know what he's going to do for the rest of his life. He's not going to be a pro. But he knew that through basketball he would be able to get the education to decide what type of career he wants."

    Reporter Lori Shontz
    Make America Great For Once.

  • #2
    I read the article and was a little confused.

    First they state it there is very little data supporting this and then they go on to write about it anyway.

    I think there is too much emphasis on sports in our society period. I disagree with Harry Edwards assertion that sports may be the last hook to reach our kids since it appears to be one of the few things they are interested in.

    This is exactly the problem. Trying to find a way to trick kids into learning by making it interesting to them. If you want kids to learn something you make them and more importantly their parents accountable for it.

    This is our curriculum, this is what is expected of you, if you don't do it you fail.
    Now, of course the problem is that there are so many parents who either lack the skills or the desire to help their children succeed in education. I went to school with a lot of those kids - and you know what - those without a strong parent or parents usually failed. So how do we help those children? The sad fact is that even with the most well intentioned educational programs - the child's foundation for learning can be undermined by having to go home. When I worked in social programs - it was clear to me that the best hope for many children was to arrive early to school - stay in an after school program and go home very late. Even these programs were not fool proof. I picked up a kid one day to take him to movie - I was his big brother and he was 10. He said lets go see "Set it Off" a R-rated violent shoot em up. I said what about Space Jam. He said his father had already taken him to see "Set if Off" and he wanted to see it again. We went to Space Jam but imagine who had the bigger influence in his life.

    The bottom line is we (as in a society) can't expect our children to make it without parents. If parents aren't going to invest in their children those children are going to be troubled no matter what or who they idolize.
    Turning the other cheek is better than burying the other body.

    Official Sport Lounge Sponsor of Rhode Island - Quincy Jones - Yadier Molina who knows no fear.
    God is stronger and the problem knows it.

    2017 BOTB bracket


    • #3
      I'd like to see a mentoring program established in schools, where men and women from everyday career jobs can show the child that there's no shame in working in a factory, office, driving a truck, or any other form of employment that's a heckuva lot easier to obtain, than setting unrealistic goals about making the NBA or NFL.
      Make America Great For Once.


      • #4
        Perhaps it goes deeper and people in general in this country have this belief that society owes them a living.

        I can't understand someone who is not motivated to become a productive member of society by learning skills that have value in the workplace and putting in an honest days work using those learned skills.
        Go Cards ...12 in 13.


        • #5
          Originally posted by TTB@Feb 22 2004, 11:17 AM
          Perhaps it goes deeper and people in general in this country have this belief that society owes them a living.

          I can't understand someone who is not motivated to become a productive member of society by learning skills that have value in the workplace and putting in an honest days work using those learned skills.
          Having seen it so much I understand how it gets in someone's mind. I don't understand why it would stay there - except out of a refusal to challenge the status quo. If a group of individuals are all failing you have to challenge the status qou to not fail. There needs to be a greater focus on society stating that failure should not become a way of life and offering help in not failing.
          Turning the other cheek is better than burying the other body.

          Official Sport Lounge Sponsor of Rhode Island - Quincy Jones - Yadier Molina who knows no fear.
          God is stronger and the problem knows it.

          2017 BOTB bracket


          • #6
            By help I mean - pointing out that failure doesn't work as a lifesytle - and reinforcing that hard work will always get you out of failure.
            Turning the other cheek is better than burying the other body.

            Official Sport Lounge Sponsor of Rhode Island - Quincy Jones - Yadier Molina who knows no fear.
            God is stronger and the problem knows it.

            2017 BOTB bracket


            • #7
              Originally posted by Schwahalala@Feb 22 2004, 11:26 AM
              By help I mean - pointing out that failure doesn't work as a lifesytle - and reinforcing that hard work will always get you out of failure.
              Absolutely. With hard work anyone can be a success in this country.
              Go Cards ...12 in 13.


              • #8
                IMO, those damned Democratic backed social programs helped to create a few generations of hopelessness and self victimization.
                Make America Great For Once.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by The Kev@Feb 22 2004, 11:31 AM
                  IMO, those damned Democratic backed social programs helped to create a few generations of hopelessness and self victimization.
                  Those programs have contributed to the problem.
                  Go Cards ...12 in 13.