Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Professional Athletics, Corporate Media and Racism

Professional Athletics, Corporate Media, and Racism

By Solomon Comissiong

I almost feel the need to preface what I am about to write with this statement: I have long been an ardent fan of professional sports. Truth be told, I really have been a fan of professional athletics, for as long as I can remember. I have participated in sports on many levels and have enjoyed the often unpredictable nature of professional athletics.

However, as I have gotten older, wiser, and more knowledgeable about the world we live in; I have also become extremely jaded about a number of things, professional sports included. Some things that I used to find extraordinarily regaling, such as pro-sports, have lost much of their luster. With that proceeding statement alone I can almost hear the cacophony of moans and groans from “die hard” sports fanatics writing me off as if I am some kind of “wacko”. For the record, I still enjoy watching a ‘good’ game on TV. However the stakes and emphasis that I used to place upon professional sports has steadily dwindled.

There are a number of reasons that have contributed to my quasi-new perspective on professional athletics. One of these many reasons has to do with the glaring inequities that exist within the games we watch, and dare I say ‘love’.

In recent years I have allowed myself to get sucked into random conversations centered on how much money professional athletes in the NFL or NBA get paid. I can’t lie…I used to senselessly participate in these conversations from the perspective of arguing who is overpaid and who isn’t. The aforementioned nonsensical debates often revolved around discussions of players (many of which were of African decent) of various sports and their respective salaries. “Man, can you believe how much he is getting paid this year. He is ripping off the team with his high salary. Look at how much they are paying him…what a waste of money”, the debates would frequently go.

However, the more I thought about it, one thing became ever so clear to me…we were debating about how a bunch of filthy rich white men were spending their money. Shouldn’t the real debate and energy go towards discussing how and where our so-called government spends our tax dollars and why hundreds of billions more are spend on destroying people than on social uplift? After all, the government is supposed to work for us (the people). Should the debates become even stronger regarding some of the inherently racist names some of these teams still cling to despite the annual protest from indigenous people? For there to even be a team with the name ‘Redskins” is extremely abhorrent. The team name is the equivalent of naming a team the ‘Niggers’.

Yet every year that team’s officials, and many of its fans, justify the name by saying it is tradition. The unbelievable thing is that they have convinced themselves of this lame argument. Damn, slavery was a tradition in America too, for more than 250 years. Given racist naming and mascots of teams which make a mockery of indigenous First Nation people, and the racist justifications to keep them, do we really think these team owners give a damn about the governmentally neglected communities from which some of their best players come from?

Debating how a bunch of filthy rich, capitalistic driven and exploitative NFL owners spend their money is a bit counterproductive. If we are really that concerned and appalled why don’t we simply stop giving our money to them in the form of ticket and merchandise sales?

These sports revenue debates are almost like a bunch of serfs arguing over how a “lord” decides to exercise his disproportionate ‘power’ rather than why they have no power within the system of feudalism. Just as those at the top of a feudal system seldom worried much about their vassals, or serfs, and their overall wellbeing; most professional sports owners seldom spend much time worrying about the fans of their teams and the respective communities in which they come from. If actions are any indicator they especially don’t worry about the black and brown skinned fans’ and their communities.

It is true that they are concerned with overall ticket sales, and you clearly need fans in order to sell tickets, however next time you watch an NFL or NBA game take a look around in the stands during a commercial break. How many black or brown skinned fans do you really see at those games? If you take an honest look, you will see that there are very few fans of color seated within those multimillion dollar sports facilities.

Is this because people of color do not like to watch NFL and NBA games in person? Of course not; it is because most of them have effectively been priced out from being able to afford an overpriced ticket to watch a gladiator styled NFL game. The majority of the players are black; however the overwhelmingly majority of the fans that can afford tickets are white. This is very much a microcosm of American society in general, the haves and the have-nots.

Yet, despite these stark reminders of structural inequities within the socially flawed American society many allow themselves to be distracted by utterly insignificant things. Who gives a damn how these owners, most of which are white men, spend their money? If they want to spend it on paying a black man 12 million a year to play a sport more power to that brother. Why would I ever give a damn how some rich white man spent his money? Do we really think that if they did not spend all that money on that brother, that they would spend it on programs of social uplift?

If one believes that then I have some of that “clean burning coal” to sell you that Obama often speaks about. Fact of the matter is, if they only pay that brother seven million year as opposed to the 12 million that five million dollar difference is going into his bank account, his kids’ trust funds, or invested in his hedge fund. It is almost comical to debate on how these sports team owners spend their money rather than further discussing how our vastly flawed government spends our tax dollars.

Hundreds of millions of dollars a day are being spent on destroying people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, yet many of us wish to waste idle time arguing about how much money sports team owners are spending on black athletes. If you cannot contain yourself in terms of arguing about how filthy rich elitist white people spend their money, why not spread the debate on over to why do some actors get paid 20 million a movie or why would anyone pay the racist-policy peddling ex-president Bubba Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak. However, those debates are a waste of valuable community organizing time too.

If you are going to worry about anything, non actual game related, worry about raising the specter of social consciousness of some of these black professional athletes and how they could truly pool their resources, and start to make some political demands for the benefit of the communities they derive from. In these days we should, more than ever, appreciate the sacrifices of professional athletes, like a Muhammad Ali, who had to courage to speak truth to power as a means of raising the collective consciousness of the masses. Professional athletes like Ali had so much more to lose in the 1960s and early 1970s than they do today.

It is truly unfortunate that some professional athletes are more beholden to their multi-million dollar contracts than they are with using their public platform to influence social change. This phenomena is the residual affect of the strangle hold that capitalism has even in locker rooms throughout America. As it stands now, many of those athletes are allowing themselves, and their respective communities, to get the ‘short’ end of the proverbial stick. Take the NBA for instance; the vast majority of the players are of African decent.

These black players, directly and indirectly, help create strong economic foundations for the National Basketball Association, many of its employees, team owners, the corporate media, video games and clothing merchandise, to name a few. However, how many corporate contracts do we really think are doled out to black businesses? What companies make the merchandise? Who owns the media that broadcasts the games in which they play? If your answer is “white business men” for most of the aforementioned queries, you are exactly right on.

Black and brown athletes help generate capital for so many different white business owners it is utterly pathetic. We can talk all we want about all the millions of dollars that some of these players are making, however that is a mere pittance compared to the mother load of cash that others are making off these players. It gets even worse when one closely examines the structure of the National Football League which is another example of professionally sanctioned exploitation. The NFL is showcases a brutally violent sport that offers no guaranteed contracts for its “gladiators”.

Are we really fooling ourselves to think that these leagues give a damn about building up the impoverished communities where many of the black players come from, via increased so-called minority contracts, when they don’t give a damn about its own players beyond scoring touchdowns or slam dunks? To most professional sports owners their players are only as good as their last productive game.

These owners are pronounced appendages within the US Capitalist system…profits over people at all costs. They care about their infamous bottom-line as well as that of their corporate partners. It is a virtual vertical economy that they have methodically built. These professional leagues are vertical industries built and sustained to support the select few within their “good ole boy” network.

Imagine if all of the black and brown athletes got together and demanded that these leagues offer more corporate contracts to so-called minority business owners. Imagine if they demanded that they be in proportion to the percentage of black and Latino players occupying everything from the NFL to the NBA to MLB (major league baseball). In the eyes of this author that would truly be a beautiful thing to see evolve.

However until that happens, the vast majority of those players of color are simply symbols and tokens of a deceptively exploitative system, much like what happened when black baseball players began to migrate from the Negro Leagues into white run MLB. As those African-American players began to follow the lead of Jackie Robinson the Negro Leagues began to crumble.

Are we once again fooling ourselves into thinking (or not thinking) that MLB offered a place and space for black owners of Negro League teams within the confines of a predominately white baseball league? Integration only truly works when the integratee is allowed the same rights, respect, and overall privileges as the integrator. This was not what occurred by a long shot.

We tend to overly romanticize sports, in this country, without examining the contextual fabric in which some of these stories occurred. We often hear that sports bring people together from across cultural lines, and it most certainly does. However, what does it mean when the game has been completed and those black and white players step back into the same world that existed prior to the start of the game?

That world is often one that rewards the white players and his/her families with various privileges simply for being white and punishes the black players, and the communities they derive from, simply for being black.

When we examine it closely it appears that sports are yet another great distracter from social ills that continue to plague society. These social ills ravage the communities that the black players come from at a far greater frequency than that of their white counterparts. This does not happen by way of bad luck; this happens by way of unchecked structural racism and white supremacy. If sports only literally bring people together without any substantive breakdown in social structure; why are they praised as if they are the cure for all social ills?

We are often suckered into deleterious mental traps by way of catchy phrases like, “sports is a fantastic distraction from the world we live in”. We buy these foolish trains of thought without analytically thinking about what that statement means. I would contest that we cannot afford to be distracted from the gravity of the world that we live in. It is a world dominated by large to small, and implicit to explicit forms of racism, white supremacy, classism, sexism, unfettered capitalism, and imperialism, just to name a few.

These things irrefutably cause preventable and unnecessary suffering worldwide. Further mass distractions from the root causes of the aforementioned social maladies will continue to foster a prime breeding ground for those same social sicknesses.

We cannot simply allow ourselves to continually be distracted by catchy phrases in reference to various forms of entertainment (e.g., sports, corporate backed rap music, etc). These things often represent a microcosm of the larger societies we live in. And for the elite who control this vastly hypocritical and unequal system, entertainment is the perfect distracter and pacifier for the masses who are suffering the most. It is their objective to distract the masses into a mode of large scale sedation.

A critically engaged and analytically astute populous does not bode well for their continued long term reign. This is not to say that we should not enjoy sports on a participation level, as well as a spectator level.

However, we cannot allow ourselves to become more preoccupied with the final score of the Sunday afternoon NFL game than we are with the current (May 2009) 15 percent unemployment rate within the black community. What is ironic is the fact that, when examined closely, it is professional sports that provide us with some of the most blatant reminders of the kind of unequal society we still live in.

One of the more brilliant recent reminders that sports have given us, that we are still living a vastly racist America, was the Michael Vick dog fighting incident. It was incredibly interesting to witness scores of white people outside of the Atlanta courthouse where Michael Vick stood train for his dog fighting case. Many of these “people” held signs stating things like, “Vick is Sick”. They were picketing as if they were on strike.

Some of these blood crazed followers had even dressed their babies in miniature t-shirts adorned with the same un-clever, “Vick is Sick” saying. It was eerily reminiscent of the mobs that would gather to witness the lynching of scores of black men during this country’s tainted history. These people came out in large numbers.

However, that sentiment was not restricted to only the Atlanta metropolitan area; this was seen in other predominately white communities, as well as on the corporate media co-opted airwaves. This display was symbolic of the American brand of racism on some very basic levels.

The author is not one to defend dog fighting on any level; as a matter of fact not too many people would defend dog fighting. However, what is interesting is that in a country where police brutality and the shooting and killing of unarmed black and brown men is the norm you will never see those same scores of white people in front of a courthouse demanding that a police officer, that killed a black man, be brought to justice. You just won’t see it happen, not even in the so-called 2009 post racial era.

We are clearly not living in a post-racial era by a long shot. What this sports related lesson tells us is that in America it is far more acceptable to assassinate black men than it is to be cruel to dogs. This is the world we step back into upon completion of that professional sports game.

For all of those Caucasian fans wildly cheering for their favorite basketball player (most of which are black) their reality is a far different one than that of the African-American fans who could not afford the egregiously overpriced ticket. Most of those same wildly cheering fans could care less about the governmentally neglected communities in which many of their favorite players come from.

After all, this is America, the land of rampant social apathy, white privilege, institutional racism, and unfettered capitalism. Why would they worry? The masses of white America, and their families, generations prior to them, have never constructively worried about those things.

If white America, in general, was truly concerned with destroying institutional racism perhaps we would not still consistently see some of the structurally racist maladies that continue to break-down black community after black community. Just because there may have been a reduction of white people calling black people ‘niggers’ does not mean there has been a reduction in racism.

The most destructive form of racism is the kind that is built into the fabric of a vastly stained institution. This is the form of racism that makes it acceptable for police to murder men of color and then have the general public give the benefit of doubt to the murderous police officer.

Institutional racism is the kind that continues to foster economic policies that keep the majority of black America below the poverty line and then blame all of them, no matter what their circumstance, for their economic hardships. If there author were to go on listing all of the inherently institutionally racist policies in America I would write a book rivaling “War and Peace” in length.

You see, being against racism means being against all forms of racism, especially institutional and structural forms. It is more than simply being able to tell your friends and feel good because you voted for a phonotypical black man for president.

After all, that black man appears not to see institutional racism as a major issue in America. That black man believes that America is 90 percent of the way towards racial equality. He seems to have the same “fuzzy math” issues as did his intellectually and morally challenged presidential predecessor. It is the same black president whom refused to send a US delegation to the most recent UN Conference on racism in Geneva.

In my humble opinion being against racism means organizing your white communities to protest against everything from the fact that for every dollar a white person makes in America a black person makes 40 cents less to the fact that black people represent 50 percent of the booming prison industrial complex.

As Malcolm said, “Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ is […] on the battle lines of where America's racism really is - and that's in their own home communities; America's racism is among their own fellow whites. That's where sincere whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work.”

White America’s several hundred year disease of racism has to be cured internally from the inside out. There needs to be self medication, however if white America is unwilling to take its medication there will be no cure. At this point white America is not even sure it has a disease (racism), so why would it feel the need to take any kind of medication? Truly sincere and progressive whites need to be the social “doctors” within their own communities.

People of color, within America, do not have the institutional power to be racists. There is a clear distinction between prejudice and racism. The distinction has everything to do with power. The electing of a racially challenged black man to the office of president clearly does not place a monolithic panacea on the scourge of racism.

As I said before, voting for a black candidate for any office does not mean a damn thing towards racial equality especially if their politics are not progressively geared towards obliterating all forms of institutional inequality. Voting for candidates such as Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, and helping them get elected, would be an incremental step towards decreasing the pernicious levels of structural racism in our communities.

However, widespread mobilization and organization is even more effective. Without sustained organization there is no movement. Such movements will make it easier to elect progressive people like McKinney and Clemente to public office.

America has some real issues it must deal with, racism being one, before it can truly be the so-called beacon of hope some refer to it as. Cheering for a black professional athlete does not make one non-racist anymore than it makes America less racist. As long as we believe that “supporting” mainstream entertainers is a barometer in which we can gauge America’s racism levels we will continue to allow our attention and energy to be taken away from the vastly more important issues.

Police brutality, racist housing practices, unequal school systems, racial profiling, housing gap, wealth gap, achievement gap, and unemployment gaps are direct and indirect forms of institutional racism. They won’t go away without a collective, organized and concerted effort. Placing more emphasis on which team you route for on Sunday afternoon rather than on how you help communities most affected by institutional racism will not help in the struggle against racism and white supremacy. It will merely continue to keep our collective eyes off the “ball”.

About the Author

Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, and public speaker and hip hop cognoscente. He may be reached at: sunderland77@hotmail.com and at http://www.solomoncomissiong.com

He is also the Host of Your World News http://www.blogtalkradio.com/your-world-news

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