As most of you have heard, an active NBA player recently came out as being gay. No matter what people say, this IS a big deal as there are certain sports which promote a culture of ultra machismo. Jason Collins is a minor role player for the NBA’s Washington Wizards who has just come to the end of his 12th season. He was engaged to a beautiful woman before breaking the news to her as well.
So, what is the Blacknek angle on this story? A large number of people inside and outside of the NBA, including President Obama and Kobe Bryant, have congratulated Collins on his decision to come out. People have even compared his bravery to that of Jackie Robinson. I am glad that Jason Collins has come to terms with who he is and is no longer under the burden of trying to live a lie. I, also, understand why he would be considered a hero to in the closet, gay male athletes worldwide. I don’t want to lessen anything from his personal struggle, but let’ s be clear. This is not a Jackie Robinson situation.
Jackie Robinson was a Black man trying to play in a White league in a society in which Blacks weren’t supposed to integrate with Whites in any way except in clearly defined roles of subservience. He could not come out of the closet because he was born outside of the closet. Now, if Jason Collins came out 20 or even 10 years ago, at a time in which 60% or more of Americans disapproved of homosexuality and gay couples, I would predict that he would have had an even worst experience than Robinson. But we live in a new world. Time magazine recently declared the fight for gay marriage and approval of gay lifestyles all but over. Only a minority percentage still disapprove, and even these know that they better not express their opinions too publicly. The one pro athlete with a negative response to Jason Collins, Mike Wallace, was so swiftly attacked by the public that he deleted his Twitter post in hours. Looking at the situation objectively, for an aging, low productivity support player reaching the end of his contract, his media declaration of his sexuality could be considered a brilliant career move. With a few spoken words, he has moved from a nobody on a nobody team to a national role model, with calls from the President and celebrities, talk show invites, book offers, and endorsements. And how can the Washington Wizards not offer someone now declared an American hero a new contract. I will say strongly that I have no idea if any of these alternative motivations played a role in Collin’s decision to come out as a male athlete, but there has never been a better time in the nation’s history to do so. But while Collins has a surfboard just at the peak of a cultural wave, Robinson’s journey involved rowing a rowboat into a perfect storm surrounded by sharks. Jason Collin has helped lay the groundwork for other current and future gay athletes to no longer hide who they are, and for this he deserves all the praise given, but let’s just keep prospective.
As the yearly tournament of the best college basketball teams in the country gets underway, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on all of this March Madness. You will find no shortage of talented, young Black men doing magic on the court in the next few weeks. But this game is so linked to the identify of the African-American male and has been for half a century, that you have to wonder what has been it’s effects overall. Day and night, millions of Black boys and men spend hour after hour, day and night, mastering the moves and skills involved in moving this orange ball around and in a basket. Certainly, there is a great appeal to the game. It is relatively cheap to play, is enjoyed solo or with a group of friends, can serve as a gateway to respect and admiration in neighborhoods lacking strong male figures or heroes of any kind, and is a path to the rich and famous lifestyle so many of these young men desire.
But the concern I have is that the percentage of young black men chasing the basketball dream is incredibly large. Getting to the National Basketball League involves making it to a top college basketball program. Even, then, you need to stand out in some way from the thousands of other highly talented kids. A statistic from Livestrong.com says that 0.3% of high school basketball players make it to the pro leagues. Even more alarming is another stat: only 10% of NBA players have a career longer than 4 years. Even if this 0.3% finally make it to the mountaintop, it will be for a brief time. It might be argued that these kids will at least move on to college and get a higher education. Sadly, only 3% of high schoolers continue play at the college level. Here lies the problem. Millions of black males are dedicating themselves to a sport with little reward, at the expense of developing other academic and work-related skills to support themselves and any future families. Outside of coaching, there are few fall back careers requiring the ability to dribble and throw a round ball into a basket. With so many dreamers, we are becoming less and less prepared for reality.
Those lucky enough to make it to the NBA still have nothing much to offer the Black community. Millions are spent on mansions, yachts, and other money drainers. 60% of retired NBA players are broke after 5 years. Event worse, NBA players are constantly on the road and constantly surrounded by attractive women hoping to have a taste of the good life. The NBA player associated with infidelity and baby momma drama seems more of the rule than the exception.
I love basketball and spent a good chunk of my youth playing it as well. But what we are lacking is perspective. Basketball must stop being the lifestyle and the dream gateway and more of the hobby. I blame a great deal on high schools who are letting these kids move through their classes simply because of their basketball talent. Having good grades should be a requirement to even being on a team. When the game ends, these poor kids are left with no skills and no solid plan for the future. Let’s stop the madness.
Statistics are funny things. They can provide the support for a number of arguments as people see numbers and draw their own conclusions. There were eight head coach vacancies in the NFL this past month, and all eight were filled by white men. This has caused a number of strong soapbox reactions across the football world, such as seen on ESPN’s First Take:
I’m not going to go into the specifics of why certain coaches were hired and others weren’t, though I know the way football is becoming more high scoring, teams were desperate for innovative, offensive coaches no matter what skin color. I wanted to use this story to highlight a disturbing trend. The civil rights movement aimed to make doors open, with no discrimination based in skin color or anything else. The idea of racial quotas is an anti-civil rights idea with a good heart. These things and pursuits aim to right the wrongs of the past based on numbers. So, if any grouping is not diverse, such proponents are quick to argue that some personal or systematic racism is behind it all. Yes, there might be cases where such practices might be occurring these should be stopped by any legal means, but we need to stop throwing charges of racism out anytime we don’t approve of the colors of people hired. To flip everything around, you could certainly make the lack of diversity argument in the NBA. Starting NBA lines ups on many teams are 100% Black and the league as a whole is 80% Black. Yet, the large majority of high school basketball players are White. Yet, no one views this as some systematic effort to keep Whites from having high paying NBA jobs. In a completely open, non-racial society, blacks can be hired and can be fired without any special treatment. Whites can also be hired without hesitation. If organizations have to have the internal conversation of ‘I want to hire this guy but he is not the right race to make us diverse’, that is a set back for civil rights, not an achievement.
There might be a number of factors for the lack of new Black NFL coaches this year. Many argue that since the NFL is 70% Black then that should be reflected in the coaching numbers. Being a good player does not equate to being a good coach. At the same time, many of the best coaches were only so-so players. There are only so many candidates each year who are highly desired and it’s mainly due to bringing something exciting to the table or having track record of winning. Black coach Lovie Smith took his team to a 10-6 record this season and has a Super Bowl appearance under his belt, but was not hired. While this is very surprising, Lovie has earned a reputation as a defensive orientated coach and the league is moving in an offensive direction. I think he was more the victim of trends then someone saying ‘I don’t want to hire him because he is Black’. Not every non-hire equals racism.