Tomlin May Spark A New Hiring Trend

Mike Tomlin will be guiding the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.  How amazing is that?  He is also the youngest coach to reach two Super Bowls.  He is a genius.  He hails from the Tony Dungy coaching tree.  Looks like more teams need to seek out the next hot, young, Tomlin instead of recycling the same old coaches each year.  The hiring frenzy is pretty much complete.

Maybe Tomlin’s success and the fact that in the last four years four different Black coaches have led teams to the Super Bowl we will see a long line non-whites joining the head coaching ranks in the NFL.  I will not print what I think NFL really means.

While I am optimistic, I cannot avoid examining the truth: Diversity remains a mountain to climb in the NFL off the field.

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Thabiti Lewis learns the power of the Pen

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Don’t Pimp Them, Pay Them

With the help of their Black studs, top ranked universities and coaches reap the economic benefits of the harvest (a winning season). Their spoils are endorsement deals with sports apparel companies, commercials, million-dollar contracts and video game revenues to Bowl Game money and publicity that ramp up admissions along with school profiles.  Coaches enjoy bonuses, endorsement deals and television shows, while athletes get room, board, books, tuition, and perhaps illegal payments on the side. What gets glossed over is the enormous revenue surrounding high-profile college athletic programs. The entities profiting most from college athletics escape scrutiny for exploitation, while athletes asking to be compensated for their lucrative labor are criticized. The universities and NCAA (like a pimp) enjoys the bulk of the profit from the labor and product the players bring to these spectacles. If pimping is about control, universities and the NCAA have mastery over players, rules, and a system that allows them to generate enormous capital, manage all the money and makes all decisions, while declaring a tax-exempt status. Even their mission is similar to that of a pimp.  The NCAA and universities claim to provide athletes with: protection and management.  Like a pimp their rap is also similar: if left to their own devices athletes (prostitutes) would make the wrong decisions and be exploited by those unconcerned with what is best for them.

Indeed, they are vulnerable to exploitation because high-profile collegiate amateur sports are big business, which explains why universities, coaches, and the NCAA are “big pimpin’.”  So why should athletes participate for the honor of the game, or accept as their only reward an “education” when everyone around them gets rich from their efforts?  This is the same “education” some claimed New School Baller LeBron James was missing out on by declaring himself for the NBA draft right out of high school. The same people who criticized him for taking his enormous talent directly to the NBA ignored the specious morality of his high school, which profited from selling the rights to televise several of his games on ESPN. The bottom line in American culture is cold, hard cash—dead presidents.  And, those who produce must be paid.

Academics and education is a myth, a lie.  In fact, academic often compete against athletics for the time of athletes involved in revenue-producing athletics like football and basketball. Unfortunately school often comes second because the stakes are high. Football teams receiving a BCS bid in 2009 earned their conference $18 million—win, lose or draw.  If a second team from a conference qualifies, the conference shares an additional $4.5 million.  In 2006-07, the thirty-four of schools entered into the NCAA basketball tournament from major conferences on average earned revenues of $9.4 million and an average profit of $4.4 million—an amazing 47 percent profit margin! (But basketball players did not receive a salary)  However, the NCAA Presidents’ Commission is hesitant to make any sustained or comprehensive reform of intercollegiate athletics.  Why?  Too much money is on the line. So with that in mind, it is evident that “big pimpin’” will be hard to stop.  It is now time for athletes to either get paid or remove the nonprofit status of the collegiate sport.  It cannot continue to exist both ways.  If University of Connecticut head basketball coach Jim Calhoun feels he is justified in earning several million annually because his program produced a multi-million dollar profit, then why is it wrong for his players, who earned this money, to get paid as well?

Personal Fouls in the College Game

Unfortunately colleges, universities, and even the NCAA are a sort of mafia that shakes down student-athletes for all their talent and sweat equity in exchange for “illegal” booster payments, “free tuition,” and an “education” (that there is scant time to achieve between preseason, summer and spring workouts and practices, film sessions, weight training, and travel). The pimps are the NCAA, coaches, and colleges that receive outrageous performance bonuses and revenues because of players’ performances. For the most part, a college “education” is a joke at most Division I universities. California state senator Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, compared athletes to sharecroppers, where the post-slavery, post-Reconstruction vocation left many forever in the debt of the White landowners whose fields they worked. Like sharecroppers who rarely left with a profit because of their debt to landowners, modern athletes are in a similar state. They have everything to lose. If they receive money, they are expelled; there is no health insurance for athletes participating in “voluntary” summer workouts—which are “strongly urged” if one is interested in renewing his scholarship. These sports-croppers are annually in debt to a coach who has the power to renew (or rescind) scholarships.

Sports have changed drastically, particularly on the collegiate level, where everyone “legally” profits from players’ sweat and toil, except them! Even AAU and high school coaches receive money, sneaker and sports apparel deals from the sweat of their players’ performances and to guide them toward certain schools. The college game is even worse. Coaches’ careers hinge on the signing of top-notch recruits. So much money is at stake that middle-aged White men will walk into the toughest housing project or neighborhood to get the recruit who will bring him conference titles, bowl bids, appearances in the Sweet Sixteen or Final Four, and, oh yeah, more money. Modern slaves (who receive food, shelter, and basic “education”) fill stadiums, draw television contracts, and bring exposure to programs along with pay raises, perks, and bonuses for coaches and athletic. BNS are angered that they do not see one “legal” cent from revenues generated, and that if caught with “extras” they stand to lose everything. This is unacceptable. How can every entity involved in sports from junior high school to college sports profit except the field hands? Such inequities must be challenged. It is time for exploitation to end and for revenues to be shared with players.

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Can Contemporary Athletes be called “Slave”?

Did Haynesworth Really Mean “Slave”?

America was recently shocked or better, outraged when Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth uttered the following statement: “Just because somebody pays you money don’t mean they’ll make you do whatever they want…I’m not for sale.  Yeah, I signed the contract and go paid a lot of money [$21 million this year], but that don’t mean I’m for sale or a slave or whatever.”  A media feeding frenzy ensued as people declared outrage that a black man making so much money would compare his resistance to playing in a defensive scheme he despises. According to Haynesworth this issue was part of his contract negotiations with the Redskins. Of course he is not the first cotemporary athlete to utter the slave comparision.  Former NBA great Larry Johnson once referred to some of his Knicks teammates as “rebel slave” which generated similar outrage.  In fact, William Rhoden’s wonderful book “Forty Million Dollar Slaves” takes on the historic plantation mentality of American sport culture and contemporary athletes.  My own work examines the mentality of contemporary post-civil rights, hip hop generation athletes (whom I call Ballers of the New School), bold enough to make such utterances.

To be fair to Haynesworth who is black, the history and legacy of the enslavement of African persons in the New World, and testifying against it or vestiges of it, will forever be part of the psyche of black Americans.  Enslavement in America was harsh, bitter, and cruel as recounted in endless slave narratives.  These narratives testified against captors and bore witness to the desire of every black person to be free.  Haynesworth’s recent tirade or testimony underscore the feelings that most contemporary athletes are either unwilling to or incapable of articulating.

While Haynesworth certainly does not endure the same type of cruel bondage, his rebellion is against those in power of a plantation or system (dominated primarily by white men) that controls black men—even if when they pay them.  It is a system capable of making them “do whatever they want” whenever they want.  Haynesworth, like the slave narratives, which demonstrated the problematic value of plantation culture, is perhaps addressing the problematic white-black labor conditions in contemporary sports culture that is driven by a modicum of the past master-slave ideology.  As Rhoden confirms in his book, “sports might be a plantation of sorts.”  Indeed, Haynesworth seems to concur.   And, no amount of money will hush black folk with knowledge of this legacy, because America’s foundation is buried in the fields of slave plantations.

Ironically, the foundation of contemporary high profile sports like football and basketball are the descendants of former slaves.  Even the structure of contemporary sports teams traces the power dynamics of plantations; all the owners, most of the head coaches and commissioners, all the people who exercise power over players are white.

Quite frankly the outrage directed at Haynesworth for making his “slave” comment confirm the unspoken notion that descendants of former slaves, especially Haynesworth, should be grateful—more grateful than his white peers—for the money he makes.

But if Haynesworth is getting paid so much and the dynamics are so different why make the comparison?  Haynesworth is bothered that despite his immense wealth he does not control the terms of his liberation—the problem slaves faced without the benefit of wealth.  Further, in the contemporary sports world not only are white men (like his coach and team owner) in power but they have defined the terms of the liberation for black men.  Haynesworth’s analogy is his way of perhaps saying that while his services may be for sale, his pride and self-respect are not; despite the money, prestige, and lifestyle he is not blind to the master-slave power dynamic in contemporary sport culture.

The oddest aspect of the Haynesworth saga is how it compares to Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings who is white.  Haynesworth dislikes the Redskins 3-4 defensive scheme, preferring to play tackle instead of nose guard.  He also skipped the Redskins voluntary off-season conditioning program.  The media maligned him for this, suggesting he was lazy.  Brett Favre routinely skips training camp until the last two weeks of camp.  He also chose to play for the Vikings because they use an offense he likes.  Yet the media response to his antics is the antithesis of the response to Haynesworth who is called ridiculous and a idiot for making his comments. Meanwhile Favre is worshipped for holding teams hostage (deciding if he will play or retire) each season until two weeks before the season—in fact he was given a raise this season (he now makes $16 million)!

Race is an undeniable variable in the different treatment of these men.  The black one is told he should be grateful, shut up and do what he is told.  The other is afforded the latitude to waffle about playing, and is offered a raise for doing so. One is the descendent of former slaves and should be happy for the opportunity. The other the descendant of former slave masters and entitled to do as he pleases. Haynesworth is aware the terms of his liberation and rejects them.  Perhaps this is what Haynesworth meant when he said “I’m not for sale or a slave or whatever.”

Thabiti Lewis is the author of Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America.  He teaches English and American Studies at Washington State University Vancouver.

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One can certainly commend Mr. James for being creative enough to orchestrate drama around his free agent status by holding naive fans captive for one hour on ESPN today. But with the pace of today’s news world, unless he is going to do something other than stay with the Cavaliers, who cares. What can he possible say or do today that will take more than five minutes?
The modern sports world has become too hyped. What is most bothersome is that amid a near depression, historic unemployment highs, and a catastrophic oil spill that is threatening jobs, communities, and wildlife all along the eastern coast of the United States, there are people who care to take time to learn where Lebron James will play basketball for the next five years!
The truth is that sports are popular because they also offer escape. For the rest of the evening basketball fans will speculate whether he made the right choice, and the difference it will make for the team he will play for over the next five or six years. The whole thing reeks of a three ring circus; his boyhood friends the ringmasters, and the fans are the clowns whose intrigue with Lebron James and sport culture has cleared space for this big top performance of little importance.

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