Revenue, Sports, and Black America; a 21st Century Plantation?

Mon, 12.19.2016

Revenue, Sports, and Black America; a 21st Century Plantation?

The main office of African American Registry® is in Minneapolis, about 2 miles from US Bank Stadium where the Minnesota Vikings play professional football. 3 miles from the University of Minnesota campus, where Williams Arena and TCF Bank Stadium feature the school's basketball and football programs respectively. 2miles from downtown, our office is also where the now 6-year-old Target field lives and the redesigned Target arena across the street. This is where the Minnesota Twins play professional baseball and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx play professional basketball.   What does this have to do with a Plantation? 

All of these athletes have one thing in common; they comprise a labor force for the businesses that own them. About 7 years ago while near Windsor, North Carolina, I stopped by the Hope Plantation. A year earlier I visited the African Burial Ground near the tip of Manhattans’ Financial District in New York City. With its history, of slave labor at both locations, I was reminded of its revenue similarities with the NFL NCAA and NBA relationship with black labor.  

It is not far-fetched to see the viewpoint of a master counting their profits in the same manner that Jerry Jones, the Athletic Director at the University of Alabama, Any NBA owner or MLB owner doing the same. I was pleased when Michael Jordan went on record as concerned about the un-reconciled violence from law enforcement on black men and women in America. In 2014, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson sold the franchise after the revelation of a 2012 email he wrote stereotyping African American fans  

In his 2006 book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete author William C. Rhoden wrote much interesting analysis’ to support this blog.   Many horse jockeys in the 1800s made considerable money but were sold off to other owners like the very animals they cared for.  He quoted Curt Flood saying that as a pro baseball player he was kind of like a sharecropper. “When you don't own it, when you don't own the enterprise you could be kind of treated like chattel, that's essentially what you are.“ Rhoden also mentions that though plenty of today’s black athletes have their foundations that do good work in the black community, a collective effort remains unused and would be worth pursuing because of the extremity of need on a unified national level.

The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, And Predominantly White NCAA Institutions is another book that inspired this blog. Written by Billy Hawkins, he uses multiple tables and statistics to support his assertion. He provides examples of how the new plantation exploitation functions through the sales of media rights that generate revenue for predominately white institutions. For instance, Hawkins points out that, over the next fifteen years, ESPN will pay the SEC $2.25 billion for the conference’s TV rights that were not taken by CBS’s fifteen-year, fifty-five million dollars per year contract.  

Hawkins then provides this statistic: Black athletes comprised 46.9% of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams and 58.9% of Division I, basketball teams. One of Hawkins’ best examples to support his position is when he analyzes the racial demographics of players playing for teams participating in the 2008 Bowl Championship Series, a composition of games that paid out $170 million to the ten teams or their respective conferences. He found that 51% of the athletes participating in the BCS were Black, 38% were White, 3% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 2% were classified as other.

The history of revenue sports’ abuse in higher education is slowly coming to a place where we as descendants of American slavery need to rethink and if needed revolt to this rendition of serving the master. 

In 2003, Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The committee, which included faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators, was charged to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. It was also asked to organize public programs that might help the campus and the nation reflect on the meaning of this history in the present, on the complex historical, political, legal, and moral questions posed by any present-day confrontation with past injustice. The Committee presented its final report to President Simmons in October 2006. On February 24, 2007, the Brown Corporation endorsed a set of initiatives in response to the Committee’s report. This may not be enough.

In 2014, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a group of Northwestern football players were employees of the university and has the right to form a union and bargain collectively. The ruling comes at a time when the N.C.A.A. and its largest conferences are generating billions of dollars, primarily from football and men’s basketball. The television contract for the college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years. The decision could give momentum to those who believe the N.C.A.A. should modify its rules on how athletes are compensated. The ruling applies only to scholarship football players at Northwestern (white and black), but the precedent could extend to other Division I scholarship football players at similar private universities. (State law, not the N.L.R.B governs Collective bargaining at public universities.)  

In 2016 Georgetown University acknowledged owning and selling over 270 slaves before emancipation to meet expenses. Black players dominate this school's strong revenue-generating basketball program. Their 1838 slave sale would have been worth about $3.3 million in today’s dollars.   Black slaves in America as a labor force did not have the option of pursuing other vocations until the 19th century unless they escaped bondage or lived in the less oppressive American union states. As an American labor force in the 21st century, how do black college and professional athletes see themselves? This blog suggests a unifying agenda that reinvest in young people with two strategic plans in mind. 1. Could be to brainstorm about the pitfalls of oversaturation in the career path of professional sports. This could channel our future into more stable, realistic, and sustainable careers.

2. Answer the question: How and where could these currently invested athletes collectively channel more resources to create similar or better opportunities for the next generation of black youths outside of the 21st-century plantation? 

by B. Mchie