Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview
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18

CRISIS OF BLACK ATHLETES ON THE EVE OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Harry Edwards

FOR MORE THAN TWO decades I have been adamant in my contention that the dynamics of black sports involvement, and the blind faith of black youths and their families in sport as a prime vehicle of self-realization and social-economic advancement, have combined to generate a complex of critical problems for black society. At the root of these problems is the fact that black families have been inclined to push their children toward sports career aspirations, often to the neglect and detriment of other critically important areas of personal and cultural development.

Those circumstances have developed largely because of: (1) a long-standing, widely held, racist, and ill-informed presumption of innate, race-linked black athletic superiority and intellectual deficiency; (2) media propaganda portraying sports as a broadly accessible route to black social and economic mobility; and (3) a lack of comparably visible, high-prestige black role models beyond the sports arena. The result is a single-minded pursuit of sports fame and fortune that has spawned an institutionalized triple tragedy in black society: the tragedy of thousands upon thousands of black youths in obsessive pursuit of sports goals that the overwhelming majority of them will never attain; the tragedy of the personal and cultural underdevelopment that afflicts so many successful and unsuccessful black sports aspirants; and the tragedy of cultural and institutional underdevelopment throughout black society at least in some part as a consequence of the drain in talent potential toward sports and away from other vital areas of occupational and career emphasis, such as medicine, law, economics, politics, education, and technical fields. Sandlots, parks, and even backyard recreational sites in many instances have been taken over by drug dealers, or they have become battlegrounds in gang disputes, or they have simply become too dangerously exposed to eruptions of violence to be safely used. Cutbacks in educational budgets and shifts in funds from school athletic, physical education, and recreation programs to concerns deemed more vital in these fiscally strapped, troubled communities (including campus and classroom security) have further narrowed sports participation opportunities. Even where interscholastic sports participation opportunities have survived, security problems and fears of violence and other disruptions in an increasing number of cases have restricted both the scheduling of events and spectator attendance.

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