A Silent Discrimination In Sports

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: August 10, 2007

CALIFORNIA — Two years ago the NFL and NBA took actions to eliminate the opportunities for African American teenagers to enter into the professional world of sports. The NFL denied two African Americans under the age of 18 the right to play professional football.

There are a multitude of reasons why many younger football players do not enter the NFL. The game is faster, and the players, are bigger and stronger then their college competitors. The potential for injury is higher than any other major team sport. So there is some logic behind this ban.

The same age limited was placed in the NBA and it still seems to be an illogical move. The body contact in basketball is not very limited, unlike the pounding of professional football, nor is there a big size difference. Players of any age can play. So then the question is: Why is there an age ban in the NFL and MLB?

No doubt the decision to ban players 18 or younger had an immediate effect on African American high school and college athletes. This is something the America public had been clamoring for.

This has closed the door on young black males athletes in high school and college. Think about this these same young men can go to war and lose their lives defending this country, but they cannot make a living playing the sports they love. Could this new ruling be creating a new cultural imperialism? Or is this the ultimate in hypocrisy?

Each year we see Major League Baseball becoming a “Whiter Shade of Pale”, as Asian, Latino, and White players are beginning to dominate baseball fields all over the country, while fewer young African Americans are not seen throwing baseballs around the diamonds.

The PGA, LPGA, NHL, MLB, WTA, NASCAR, and MLS impose no such limits. Th e LPGA has 18-year-old talented Michelle Wie has not won a single professionally sanctioned tournament. Wie made her pro debut in October of 2005 at the Samsung World Tournament in Palm Desert, Calif.

Brittany Lang, Paula Cramer and 19-year-old Morgan Pressel are also on the links every weekend. 15-year-old Carman Brandea from Duluth, Minnesota just missed qualifying for the male U.S. Open while 14-year-old Isabelle Beisigal was right behind her.

Last year, another female wiz, 14-year-old Kimberly Kim from Hawaii won the 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur Open. Will the LPGA ever impose an age limit? Probably not!

The same can be said about 20-year-old Sidney Crosby who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It has been stated that he probably will be the next hockey superstar — the next “Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, or the next Mario Lemieux.

Last year, the Ontario Hockey League drafted 14-year-old John Tavares. The same league drafted fourteen year old Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins) some 40 years ago. Will the NHL impose an age limit? Not in my lifetime

Teenagers have also entered the tennis world of sports. 30 years ago, 16-year-old Tracy Austin and Chris Evert were tennis superstars.

20 years ago a young Jennifer Capriati and Mary Pierce walked on to the courts. Capriati and Pierce had family and emotional problems that almost ended both of their careers. They were unable to handle their personal problems and played horribly on the courts because of their immaturity.

10 years ago Anna Kournikova, a beautiful 17-year-old blonde bombshell from the former Soviet Union, appeared, captivated by her looks not her game. Anna is the first millionaire tennis player not to win a major tournament.

Today, 20-year-old Russian, Maria Sharapova, is taking the tennis world by storm. She too had the same captivating looks as her fellow country woman Kournikova, but Sharapova can play the game.

Lastly the rise of the powerful young African American Williams sisters, who have entered the tennis world at the age of 18 and 20. Yet Tennis has not imposed an age limit

Basketball and football has not followed their sports brethren.

Two years ago, 18-year-old Mike Williams played for the University of Southern California as a wideout, and Maurice Clarett was a tailback for Ohio State University.

Both were stars at their respective colleges. Two years later, Williams is with the Oakland Raiders, while Mr. Clarett, is in an Ohio State jail cell. Williams and Clarett represent the good and bad points with young adults being recruited for professional sports not ready for other life experiences.

Could this be considered a cultural ban?

The NBA instituted a new dress code and abandoned it after an uproar by the media, the fans, and the players. Two years later NBA players now wear a suit and tie or slacks and blazer.

Dressing this way reminded players of their high school days, when there was a dress code imposed. The NBA made the statement that the players are going to work just like the rest of America and should dress likewise.

The NBA engaged in a successful attempt to woo the hip-hop culture and inner city fan. After the NBA glory days faded with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. They wanted to fill the stadium seats with African Americans. This attempt was somewhat successful until the 2004 player-fan brawl in Detroit with the Indiana Pacers. This put an abrupt end to this hip hop philosophy.

Players like Allen Iverson with his tattoos and his traveling posse in Philadelphia, the NBA noticed too many African American players wearing their doo rags and big medallions. Too many big tall black males in the front row of the basketball courts protecting their bosses.

The NBA wanted to return to the images of Michael Jordan, Magic, and Walt “Clyde” Frazier — clean, quiet, dressed down personalities. Sorry, Mr. Commissioner, you opened the door and the young players walked in.

Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a history of younger players. The first group included Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, and Spencer Hayward in the 1970’s. The middle group included Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Shaquille O’Neal in the 1990s.

The last group included Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in 2000. All of these young men entered the NBA at the age of seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen. This has come to a screeching halt in 2006 and the league will not discuss this issue again until 2012.

The NBA needed to defend its position with their new age limit ban. The NBA Commissioner David Stern and the Players Association have tentatively agreed to a six-year moratorium on players under the age of eighteen. Could this be viewed as classism, ageism, racism, or all three?

It also proves the question of is an education more valuable than making money? This year’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Ohio State’s 19-year-old Greg Oden (Portland Trail Blazers) stated that being in college was one of the most enjoyable segments of his life and wishes he could stay three more years. This should be the goal of the NCAA and the NBA.

The positive side to this dilemma is that young African American male athletes might earn their high school diploma and attend college for one year. The might even get a glimpse of the world outside of sports.

The negative part is that the NFL and NBA have taken away the option of earning a living while using their talents to play in a sport that they love.