A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Barbershops and Sports
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS— Black America is something special. Where else can one get a great meal at a great soul food restaurant, drop of their clothes and then walk a few doors down to their favorite barber shop to get a haircut and trim of the facial hair. And whether you are a mail or female, the barber shop/beauty salon is the place to get caught up on your community and what is going on in people’s heads this time of the week.
Just about every Thursday I do the latter; visiting the barbershop. The one I go to is well known to many in my community because just about anybody and everybody drops in to see Sammie.
From mayoral candidates to secretaries of state, from the guy next door to professional athletes, this barbershop has seen them all and when it comes to sports, Sammie and his compatriots are the ‘kings of spill’ on the subject.
One of the favorite topics is why so many black athletes think they are above the law. Normally it won’t take much to get this topic going between these old men but for some strange reason the case of three former Notre Dame players really got the ire of everyone in the establishment that day.
“Man how dumb do you have to be?” Sammie yells while he’s edging some guy up in the back. “Rape isn’t the way to get anything you want these days.”
Sammie is referring to the case of Donald Dykes, Lorenzo Crawford, Justin Smith and Abram Elam. Dykes, Smith and Crawford were charged with rape and Elam was charged with conspiracy of rape.
“Say Mo’,” as Sammie calls me, “what’s your take on this whole thing. Isn’t those guys wrong?”
Of course I have to keep the pot stirred. To see a 60-year-old country boy from Gonzales County, Texas wield hair clippers like some samurai is something else.
“Hey Sammie you know that all four of them are brothas.”
Okay call me an antagonist but I just love the fervor of the conversation.
“What the hell?” says one of the patrons. “You serious? Damn what’s this world coming to? Aren’t there enough of us black men in jail?”
And thus for the next fifty minutes or so there’s a full fledge debate going on in the local barbershop. From the barber chair to the waiting room to the dominos table. Everybody is weighing in on the subject but for me this is nothing new; this is the world I like to be in when I need to get some insight into what average Black sports fans talk about. The conversation is about sports but it has the social commentary twist that every person in America should hear.
During another such escapade we were discussing why pro sports stadiums and arenas are always located in the ‘black part of town’.
Under normal circumstances this topic may not raise even a finger of thought from most folks. But because there is such a venue going up just four miles or so from the shop and that many of the patrons are affected by its construction, the topic is again hot and heavy.
“I have no use for such things in my life,” one patron said. “Here it is I have to drive around the mulberry bush to get home just because of the construction of this place that I will probably not go to? It’s ludicrous and we shouldn’t have put up with it.”
“I feel you on that one, Jonsey,” Sammie says. “Now the streets will be fixed because they want it to look nice to the country on television and yet we have been complaining about poor drainage for twenty years.”
Again the sports topic turns to the community issues of the day. For many in this community, the fact that an arena is going up in an area where there is no economic development and no true economic viability for African Americans either during the project or after it’s completion really chaffs residents.
Many of the patrons in this barbershop have lived in the Alamo City for at least ten years or more but their plight and frustration can be found in just about every Black community in this country.
“It seems that we are always being exploited,” another patron says.
Finally during that same time frame I wanted to find out if turn pro early is a good idea and if anyone had a son in that position would they allow him to do so.
“Mo’,” Sammie says, “You’re a pretty bright guy and you been around pro sports a while now. You’ve also gotten to know how many young men think because of what they aspire to be in life. I’ll tell you this much, if my sons ever had the opportunity I’d want them to get that sheepskin first. Your money and fame can be taken away from you but your education is something that will be with you forever.”
“I got to agree with Sam on this one,” another barber says. “It’s not that these young men shouldn’t pursue the American dream. But how many of them are going to get a good education with the opportunities they have in front of them?”
Both of these old school gents understand the plight of Black America because they are fathers who have lived that plight. They have raised sons and are now in the process or raising grandsons to understand what the Black man has gone through and why it is so important that if opportunity affords them a free education in college, they need to take advantage of it.
“I read your article about these young guys,” says Pete, a patron who I have come to enjoy talking to when he’s in the shop. “Sometimes I think you are being too hard on them but then I remember how hard my mom and dad were on me in school. We all have the lives we want because we have made decisions to get us there. We have seen the thrills of the chase these guys have when the almighty dollar is present but we also have witnessed the hardcore life lessons that follow when many of these high rollers don’t set funds aside for that rainy day. There shouldn’t be a way for these young men to ‘grow up’ so early in life but if they are going to do that, it would be nice to have some type of classes for them.”
I can understand what all of them are saying on this subject and believe it or not, the many leagues do offer such classes but it is up to the individuals to learn from them and grow.
Numerous times I have heard the tale of pro athletes asking these speakers of finance how to double their money in a week instead of how to plan for a nice, long retirement in which I can keep my mansion, Ferrari, and jewels that I bought the wife. The courses are there for these athletes and there are some special courses for young black athletes but I’ll repeat myself on this; it is up to the individual to go to them and learn from them.
The barbershop is usually the place where you can get a haircut and catch old friends but for the Black community it is something more. It is one of the last living vestiges where one can not only socialize but also comment on the community’s events and come away with a feeling of fulfillment.
I know I feel that way each time I drop my $15 every other week and I am glad I can find a place to have a source for new material when it comes to writing. There’s no other place like it outside of the locker room.