The Black Athlete
Growing up in a predominantly Black neighborhood, playing sports was an expected way of life for me. In fact, as a Black male your athletic prowess in any sport afforded you a sense of pride and superiority to those who did not possess the same ability. Conversely, to be Black and possess no athletic ability was frowned upon. Expressions such as “soft,” “chump,” or even “White boy” were often used to characterize “non-athletes” throughout every recreational park, gymnasium, and court I found myself in. Countless images in the media portray Black people as “physical specimens;” perpetuating the stereotype that athleticism is innate to and the standard for all members of that racial background. In watching any NBA game, it is never hard to notice the fact that the majority of the athletes are Black, while the coaches, owners, and spectators are White. Many young African-Americans have been socialized to idolize professional athletes rather than teachers, doctors, or business owners. Young African-American men are continuously lured into a culture that devalues education and overemphasizes the desire to live irresponsibly.
I acknowledge that a system which marginalizes the Black athlete and African-American culture is deeply embedded in our society. However, education is the key to disrupting it. A person can be an athlete and still be a responsible and meaningful contributor to society. As the saying goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” In recognizing their status as role-models, many athletes lead healthy lifestyles that can and should be acknowledged. Though the media often attempts to portray something otherwise, the overwhelming majority of athletes have minimal involvement in alcohol and drug use, minimal involvement in violent and criminal related incidents, have obtained some level of college level credit, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and are actively engaged in their respective communities. In addition, athletes possess and demonstrate great character building traits such as teamwork, persistence, passion, hard-work, determination, and discipline among others.
I believe that we as a society should not condemn our Black students who aspire to be the next Lebron James. Instead, we should continue to encourage and expose them to more holistic images of the Black athlete as well as other Black professionals, scholars, and academics.
--By Randall Phyall