The Black Athlete: A Catalyst For Change

By Roland Rogers, CEO,
Updated: April 27, 2006

NEW YORK—Jimmy Cheatum grew up in upstate New York; was a three-sport high school star in basketball, football and baseball. He could jump higher; throw a tight football spiral seventy yards on the fly and hit a baseball even Barry Bonds would envy today. A can’t-miss prospect. All the scouts would take up residence in his hometown to try and convince him and his parents the value of signing a letter of intent with their respective universities and in turn be lavished not only with gifts and girls but have access to a king’s ransom.

He had been an average kid as far as academics were concern. Throughout his formative years his parents spoiled him along with the rest of the community because it was a forgone conclusion he was going to be famous, put them in a palatial home and the town on map. The great American dream realized.

The more adroit Jimmy became with his athletic skills the more his educational pursuits took a back seat to the allure of fame and fortune. Even his homey’s looked up to him, believing he could somehow transform their own meager existence into riches just by him being in their immediate proximity, in spite of a dependence on tobacco, alcohol and drugs, which only allowed them to escape, if only temporarily, a destiny so commonplace in inner cities across America. As long as one crab got out of barrel the others were willing to sacrifice their souls to a TV, black-on-black crime or reminisce about old times and how life dealt them a dirty turn. It was easier to accept because there were no mentors, only absentee fathers and mothers whose only goal was to make sure food was on the table and only through public assistance was able to keep the lights and gas on to survive.

Jimmy would eventually grow tired of hanging out in hood; hearing war stories from old-timers about the good ole days and decided to seek refuge across the tracks where everyday life took on a different hue and meaning. Abundance was everywhere; no one lacked for anything and because his stature Jimmy was able to intermingle and transcend the circumstances and sooth the guilt and pain associated with a lifetime of segregation and racism. He represented a different kind of savior for the white community, a race card in reverse, one in which the monetary and sociological dividends were the rewards to define and amalgamate an insincere legacy.

Cheatum was now the product, like crack, apple pie and Chevrolet; marketed and sold to a frenzied wide-eyed public consumed with high championship expectations. Of course he was oblivious to this, his only concern being fine tuning his crossover dribble, doing the wild thing with wanton women and preparing for a limitless future.

He was so good and could play all three sports simultaneously in the same season but after his freshman year decided to forgo his education altogether and turn pro, becoming a first round pick. He signed with an high-profile agent who outlined a strategy in which all Jimmy had to do was continue to be adolescent, sit back and play his video game toys, hang out with all rap stars and other celebrities with his twenty cars on his estate and ensuring that Easy Street would be his address for the rest of life.

What he never realized was how his rags to riches elevator to fame and fortune story would play out on the fields of life and the price one paid for selling his soul to the devil. He worked hard to become the best in his chosen sport. He could buy anything his heart desired-except self-esteem! What he now understood, much to his chagrin that he purchased fool’s gold and the debt became due.

After rupturing his Achilles and told by doctors he could never play again left a huge hole in his psyche and heart shambles. Gone were the applause, adoring fans and teammates; and adding insult to injury, his agent, he found out later, had ripped him off through phony investments schemes and just plain robbing him blind leaving his bank account penniless.

Returning home, he discovered his parents hadn’t paid taxes on the house and was now in foreclosure. His worst fear imagined, growing up a poor black man in America would be realized. A town that once lionized him now considered him a pariah. His friends, all that were left, who hadn’t died or gone to jail or were so beat down they didn’t even recognize him, always being in a drunken or in a drug induced stupor. The game of life had played its cruelest joke and nobody was laughing!

The fostered illusion that equality in America was a God-given right and somehow, if by magic, all the political suffering endured for centuries were banished to the archives of history. In it’s place society anointed new gatekeepers, the gangster rappers as the neoteric proxy of the black community. Our political leaders, ministers and business leaders have all been freeze dried, brought and paid for, told in no uncertain terms in order to keep what little power they possessed had to shut up, ignore the rumblings and support the status quo or be thrown back into the cesspool of days gone by.

Historically, people of color in America are last in the pecking order and no amount of marching or protesting will ever change the prescribed way of doing things. Now, Jimmy understood perfectly well. Losing all hope and realizing things would probably never change, he took his father’s hunting rifle and blew his brains out!

When will it end-The vicious cycle.

A people subjugated to remain slaves, abandoned by their own faithlessness and ostracized from the rest of society for just wanting a taste of freedom; entitled, like everyone else who immigrated to this country, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while trapped in a vacuum of powerlessness by a society given pardon only to our athletes and entertainers as symbols of hope.

We must ALL wake up; shake the tree of discontent, call on our collective consciousness to climb out the barrel of despair together as one. Emancipation has long been all about aligning our true nature with our public identity. Our integrity was always the taproot of hope. How long is the life cycle of an athlete or entertainer compared to the life span of a people hopelessly lost in eternity?

The only way to reconcile the deaths of the Willie Cheatums of our community is with a commitment for change. Not just talk the talk but also truly, without fear and condemnation walk the walk. Then and only then will our children and communities look up to us with respect and a renewed sense of hope based true justice. Real education, not mimicking a society who keeps us living in hell; but through education of spirit, of being, not one based on how much money, power and greed one can accumulate. The game of life becomes a lot easier for ALL of us by accepting our divine right to live grow and prosper as mankind intended…

Not to say we should compromise our respective identities and the interest for the good of the country but recognize the daily tension between the races still exist within this nation and have existed for centuries creating an invisible polarity, a demarcation line, which won’t allow resolution because of the perception if one group wins the other loses.

We the people having endured the painful lessons of the past shouldn’t now let faceless charlatans, acting as leaders, dictate our actions without close scrutiny of the evolutionary ramifications. Inner-city communities should now be able to discern right from wrong and a lie from the truth without being distorted. Let’s call to the carpet those so-called “leaders” who purport to know which way is up and seems more concerned about their own self-enrichment at our expense; the same people they’re sworn to protect; while not having any compassion for our plight as a whole. It’s time for accountability, on every level from the streets to pulpit.

Use the only resource recognized and respected by the power structure. Use the athlete and entertainer as the fulcrum for meaningful change. For years having supported, idolized by anointing them the savior and keeping us in line, which only exasperated our efforts because they were too busy accommodating an “image” which never, in cursory way were able to give back.

So who got rich? Anyone NOT associated with our communities. Agents representing our athletes, car dealerships, real estate moguls brought out of the communities while we abandon and sell out while calling it gentrification. The upper crust of society is becoming homogenized devoid of color and the only one who wins are those with the cash!

How did money gain such prominence! Who’s to blame? What’s the solution?

Look to the stadiums, arenas and concert venues. The way to the promise land

goes through sports, the universal currency.

I hope the prodigal son’s and daughters: Michael, Magic, Tiger, Jay Z, Puffy, Venus, Serena,Rev. Al, Lebron or Kobe’s are listening… and come home to help mobilize a new day in America or remain comatose in a worthless existence, while allowing the madness and disenfranchisement to continue…