If Sports Are Redeemable, Why Isn’t Society?
There is a vocal legion of Democrats that America’s history of slavery and racism precludes it ever from being truly redeemed. Black Lives Matter and Antifa torch innocent cities and attack innocent bystanders (here, here, here, here, here, here, here - seriously, how many videos does one need to be convinced Trump isn’t the enemy?) while demanding the whole white supremacist system deserves it and needs to be dismantled.
Reasonable minds take a different stance. The reality is that nowadays, blacks, like all Americans, can engage as much or as little in the economic and political system as they choose. As one evidentiary claim, when Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams can be ignored by the leftist community despite their prodigious success and contributions to humanity, one could safely conclude that society is ready to grapple with ideologies rather than skin color.
Growing up during America’s racial reckoning of the 20th century, sports have acted as a microcosm of American society writ large. They too began with segregation, the treatment of the first black athletes is infamous, and yet today neither the sports themselves nor the athletes participating in them seem to suffer from any such long-lasting or irreparable harm. In this view of history, sports’ own past is worth exploring.
Consider the NFL.
Founded in 1920, black players, while not barred from participating, nevertheless comprised a minute fraction of the total rosters. Between 1920 and 1926, only nine black players suited up, and between 1926 and 1934 only five were ever counted on rosters. Then, between 1934 and 1945 there was an effective ban on employing black athletes altogether. Even after racial integration occurred, the last NFL team to put a black player on its roster, the Washington Redskins, did not do so until court intervention in 1963. To say that blacks faced discrimination and had to make inroads would be an understatement.
Contrast black player’s past involvement with the league to that of today. Presently, about 70-75% of NFL rosters are made up of entirely black players. History was declared to be made when over half of the agents were also black in the 2020 NFL draft class. In terms of wages, the average NFL salary nowadays is just shy of $3 million. Keep in mind that this figure represents just one year of income. To put that figure into meaningful context, the average American family is figured earn that amount over the course of their entire lifetime.
Even the single-year, minimum rookie contracts guarantee $480,000. In 2012, about .5% of all Americans filed tax returns with AGIs approaching this threshold. (While neither here nor there, Washington D.C. has almost double the entire number of earners reporting this income as the next closest state. Swamp, indeed.)
What can be made of this? In the context of sports, over the past 100 years black athletes went from enduring legalized Jim Crow segregation and de facto bans of playing to representing the vast majority of all athletes in the NFL (despite black males being just 6% of the U.S. population). Moreover, these individuals, in a single season, make more than most Americans can expect to earn in an entire working life. And, of course, with money and athletic ability comes fame and outsized cultural influence.
In every sense of cultural, economic, political, and equal opportunity, it would seem that the NFL has redeemed itself. What more needs to be done? Apparently, these athletes think they need to celebrate social justice causes by adding a black national anthem and celebrating the lives of overdosing career criminals or hoax creators. And of course, there are still cries of injustice based on the fact that blacks are underrepresented as quarterbacks and head coaches.
These arguments simply display both the ignorance of leftists and more proof that, to use a football analogy, goal posts are always moving. Relating to the issue of quarterbacking, Patrick Mahomes just signed the most lucrative contract in the history of NFL contracts. As a black quarterback, as with any meritocratic contract, the pay reflects his on-field and big-game performance. Black quarterbacks will appear more frequently as they offer teams a winning product. Relating to the issue of coaching, while it is true blacks are proportionally underrepresented based on player demographics, might it be easy to conclude that many players tire of the league and do not want to coach? Or maybe it simply isn’t their skill set? Of the three black head coaches in the league, just one was a player in the league.
Next, consider the NBA.
Founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America, the league, like the NFL, was composed mostly of white athletes. It did not have a black player on the court until 1950. Even then, a de facto quota of four black players per team was in effect until the 1960s were well underway.
In the decades that followed, the NBA, like the NFL, saw player demographics shift remarkably. In 1995, the league saw its highest percentage of black players, reaching 82% of overall players on active rosters, and in the time since the overall percentage has remained fairly consistent at 77%. And it isn’t like the NBA is just doing the black community a favor by giving them a major professional sport as a token; NBA players are the highest paid athletes in the world. For the most recent season, the average player made $6.6 million, or over twice as much as the average American will earn in the their respective life.
Broken down at the individual level, the top fourteen highest-paid players are all black, and of the top forty highest-paid players, just five are white, and three of those came directly from Europe, meaning just two of the top forty compensated NBAers are white Americans.
To the point about black social justice, one could hardly make the claim that the NBA is actively seeking to diminish black voices. While it does actively prohibit proclamations of support for freedom seekers in Hong Kong or detained Uighurs in China, it has no problem propping up outright falsehoods. These lies are disseminated by NBA circles, like the ones that black Americans face wanton murder (i.e. “they are literally hunted every day…”) at the hands of vicious white Americans. Any contrary notion is countered by specific jersey names and court art displaying the Black Lives Matter insignia.
Yes, much like the NFL’s search for top talent and rewarding it as such, so too has the NBA operated meritocratically in the advancement of winning. If the best players are black, so be it; likewise, with coaches, as recently as 2012-2013 almost half of the coaching positions were filled by black men. And, until 2019 when Greg Popovich replaced him atop the leaderboard, the winningest coach in the history of the NBA was black man Lenny Wilkins.
Most black athletes, at least publicly in their interviews and Tweets, seem to harbor ill feelings toward the country that has given them more than any other black, let alone human being, in the history of mankind. The level of ingratitude is astounding; they are the freest and most prosperous blacks ever to walk the earth. For that reason alone, they deserve our scorn and derision. That they are cheered for by a mostly white fanbase is equally ridiculous.
By all accounts, the NFL and NBA have overcome initial prejudice toward race and flourished into truly ability-based and race-blind organizations. Sports ought to give us hope that America is always improving, and indeed has improved to become the best version of itself in 2020 vis-à-vis authentic racial harm. In the athletic arena, talent can be found and compensated in any form so long as it delivers a winning product. American society as a whole would do well to aspire to such belief sets around abilities rather than skin color, and these players should be the first voices to champion both the progress espoused, and ideals executed, by their employers.