Black Scholars on Sports: Controversial Book Brings Black Intellectuals Together to Discuss Whether African Americans Are Preoccupied with Sports

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

Black Scholars on Sports: Controversial Book Brings Black Intellectuals Together to Discuss Whether African Americans Are Preoccupied with Sports


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


Controversial book brings Black intellectuals together to discuss whether African Americans are preoccupied with sports

New York -- If African Americans have become overly obsessed with sports, the engagement or lack thereof by Black intellectuals on the subject should not be blamed, contend a group of scholars who attended a symposium held here earlier this month.

The scholars convened to critique a controversial book that argues that sport is damaging Black America by helping to preserve racial myths and stereotyping. The book also contends that African Americans are encouraged to be overinvested in sports.

The scholars took issue with numerous observations made by Dr. John Hoberman, author of Darwin's Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth out Race. Described by the organizer as a "wake-up call" urging Black scholars to begin addressing sport issues, the symposium left little doubt about the willingness of Black intellectuals to answer criticism leveled by Hoberman, an University of Texas scholar whom several symposium participants depicted as an "uninformed" observer of African American life.

As Dr. Donald Spivey, chair of the department of history at the University of Miami, said, "It is not that I find fault with everything that he writes in his book; I find fault with most of it.... Professor Hoberman's thesis is spurious, historically anti-contextual, unsubstantiated by research, and indefensible."

Another symposium participant simply declared at the end of his presentation, "F--John Hoberman."

The book, published in 1997, has stirred controversy among scholars, the sports industry, and the public for alleging that sports are doing more harm than good to the African American community. While a number of Black scholars, such as Dr. Gerald Early of Washington University, have said the book raises important issues, many others have faulted it for its attack on the Black middle class and Black intellectuals.

Black scholars contend that African Americans, especially working class Blacks, are no more obsessed with sports than any other group in America. Additionally, they say that African Americans are certainly no more obsessed than either minority groups or the working classes in foreign countries.

Enlisting Black scholars to speak out on the book, NYU's Africans Studies Program and Department of History sponsored the symposium "Sport Matters: Black Intellectuals Respond to and Transcend Darwin's Athletes." Symposium organizer Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, a NYU historian, says that while Hoberman's book was the catalyst for the symposium, his purpose is much broader.

"By bringing together, in one place and time, an outstanding array of seventeen Black female and male scholars/intellectuals, including some who have already contributed significantly to sport scholarship and others who have never engaged the subject, `Sport Matters' should inspire a new outlook on sport and serve as a signal achievement in facilitating a clearer understanding of the relationship of sport to the Black experience," Sammons said during the symposium.

Symposium sessions, which were open to the public and drew crowds ranging from thirty people to as many as seventy, were held during the weekend of the thirtieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. The symposium had the strong backing of NYU administrators, several of whom addressed participants and audience members during the event. The National Basketball Association was also a sponsor of the event, according to Sammons.

Among scholars who participated in the symposium were Dr. Arnold Rampersad, Dr. Gerald Early, Kenneth Shropshire, Dr. Bart Landry, Dr. Gerard Fergerson, Dr. Donald Spivey, Dr. Kenneth Manning, and Dr. Angela Dillard. Novelist Walter Mosely and social critic Stanley Crouch dropped by and attended the symposium as audience members. …

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