As an educator I have often knocked heads with others in my circle of peers. The source of the disagreement? Surprisingly, sports. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge sports fan. But I am also a sports truther and realist when it comes to the potential harm it can have on the Black community.
I am not calling for an end to sports or even a drastic change to them. I am asking that we examine the messages that athletics can send to our youth.
In general, sports are great for everyone—especially the Black community. This is not a hard sell because what society sees when they look at sports is success. They see college stars who become household names before they are 21. They see pros who have built multi-million-dollar empires. But as an educator, I see things that they do not.
I see the eighth grader who is not good enough to play on his middle school team, but still has all his eggs in the NBA basket. On one hand, if he is a difficult student, basketball gives me an opportunity to reach him. On the other hand, one day he is going to realize he is not good enough to make it at basketball. What happens then?
While it’s tempting to blame him for not having a plan, one could argue—and I do argue—that society plays a role in this equation too. Especially for boys of color. I never really had a good way to sum this up but the film “Black Boys” summed it up perfectly with a quote from, Jemele Hill, sports journalist:
You’re conditioned to think that all you have to offer is your body … What’s the point of working on any other part of who I am as a fully realized human being if this is the only part they are going to value and accept.
The fact that Hill, like me, is obviously a fan of sports means the critique should ring even more true to people.
I think it’s time to start being appropriately critical of the message sports culture sends to our youth. It’s okay that athletes are massively popular. But when you are an inner-city Black kid, the only Black male role models society shows you are athletes—which makes some kids feel like the only way for them to make it is as a sports star. And unlike other career paths, there are simply an extremely finite amount of those spots. By definition, the vast majority will not make it. What do we want to see for black boys who aren’t on a field of play? Because right now, it’s not clear.
Watch the film “Black Boys” on Peacock: