The salaries of all NBA, NFL and MLB players combine for an annual payroll of about $57 billion.
Now, keep in mind that 80 percent of the players in the NBA, 70 percent of the players in the NFL and 8.4 percent in Major League Baseball are black. When you do the math, roughly $33.25 billion moves through the hands of black athletes every year. A great amount of money, but to what great purpose?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not hating. But, when you make that kind of money, what responsibility do you have to give something back to your community?
And I know there are those who would argue that a black athlete is no different from his white teammates; both are part of the “generation of me.” But if you’re white, you’re not part of a race of people who are shackled with the highest rate of imprisonment, the highest unemployment rate, the highest rate of death and illness as result of inadequate health care, the highest poverty rates.
So with a little more than $33 billion in the hands of approximately 1,425 black men the pool of professional athletes, do they have a greater responsibility to address these problems? Does anybody remember that better off does not make you better than?
In part, my argument relies on some empathy and personal experience. Many of them would still be living from hand to mouth if someone had not discovered and nurtured their talents. Whether it was their height, size, weight or athletic gifts, someone had to help them get to this point of extraordinary means.
How did they get there? It does not matter. The fact is that they are at the mountaintop. And I say, we have a right to expect more.
Our schools are failing, public libraries are closing, community centers and playgrounds are a thing of the past. Black-on-black crime is at its highest levels in American history, and despite all the sexual education that is put before our young men and women, teenage pregnancy and disease still run rampant.
Dr. Harry Edwards, political activist, author and professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley. His take? “Unfortunately, today’s athletes—they don’t have a broad scope of vision.”
Edwards, who has written extensively about black athletes and consulted for sport franchises on how to deal with their young black players, said players have no grasp of history and the responsibility it imposes on them.
“You cannot compel them to do something they are not taught to do,” he said. “I worked on the Obama campaign and getting guys to donate $2,300 was like pulling teeth. I had some of them tell me: ‘I’m a basketball player—that’s what Jesus is for.’”
This is not about beating up on the black athlete. We can make the same argument about doctors, lawyers, engineers and journalists who have been successful, but a pro-sports paycheck represents a special vein of good fortune. It’s the American Dream on steroids. To me it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong.
OK, we can talk about the Magic Johnsons and Tiger Woodses of the world. One of them, Magic, has built a $750 million empire of urban businesses focusing on fitness centers, restaurants, travel, real estate funds, media and entertainment, and food services.
The other, Tiger, has built a high-tech, 35,000-square-foot educational center that costs $25 million and offers children in grades 4-12 educational programs in a building that houses 100 computer stations, a 200-seat auditorium and a 1,200 square foot multimedia center.
But that’s two. For the most part, athletes have done a half-hearted job of being good role models, because there is no money and no commitment behind it.
Can you imagine what could be accomplished if just 10 percent of black athletes came together and gave 10 percent of the billions they make to some cause or causes in their communities?