By Tony McClean
Updated: October 31, 2007
“This is about the fascinating modern-day American black athlete, the burden he carries, the racism he gets and the racism he imagines, the image he gives, the image the media gives him, his triumphs and failures, his friends and enemies, and why he’s the only one dancing in the end zone.”
– Shaun Powell, Author of “Souled Out?”
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Just about a year ago, Bill Rhoden’s “Forty Million Dollar Slaves” took a interesting and historical look at the history of black athletes. In his new book, New York Newsday sports columnist Shaun Powell takes a unblinking look at the modern day black athlete.
Now, some 40 years after the American Civil Rights Movement set the stage for greater participation and integration of blacks in sport, the complexion of this country’s ball fields, gyms, and stadiums — though not owners’ suites and administrative boardrooms — has been forever changed.
In “Souled Out?: How Black Are Winning And Losing In Sports”, the award-winning author pulls no punches in asking and answering tough questions concerning the state of blacks’ sports participation today.
Sure to make you think, and likely to make you blink, Powell’s work is unique in its objective, honest approach to this too-often polarizing subject. What emerges are an authentic picture and forward-looking perspective that challenge all of us to address the remaining obstacles to ensure that sports are equally accessible and rewarding for people of all colors.
“Most of the books I’ve seen and read about black athletes have dealt with them in historical terms”, said Powell. “However, this is a different day and age and I feel that certain things needed to be re-examined and explained. There are many myths and perceptions out there and I really just took it upon myself to write about this.”
The book addresses several of the following issues including:
– Do today’s black athletes and coaches have the purpose to follow the leads of pioneers like Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Robert Johnson, or Tony Dungy?
– Is Muhammad Ali’s great legacy being misused to justify the behavior of today’s prima donnas and their preconceived, self-centered celebrations?
– Why, with tremendous models like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Venus and Serena Williams, and Candace Parker, is black female participation not more encouraged across a wide array of sports?
– Are portrayals of professional black athletes, centered on gaining luxury possessions and material wealth rather than giving back to the community, ensuring that a me-first mind-set carries over to the next generation of athletes?
– Will more blacks break through the glass ceiling in coaching and sports management positions to achieve strong decision-making roles?
– Can negative attitudes about race, held by segments inside and outside the black community, be overcome so that faster and enduring progress can be made in the future?
“I wanted to put the focus on this generation of black athletes not because of the negativity, but because there are a lot of them who carry themselves in a dignified and professional manner”, Powell added.
“I have a great respect for most of them. But there are many things about them that I’m very confused about in regards to some of their off the field activities. I’m very disturbed by how some colleges chew up and spit out black athletes with degrees in less than challenging fields and it’s become an accepted practice.”
It’s one of the many questions Powell poses and ultimately answers with regard to the nature of blacks’ participation in American sports. Neither blacks nor whites — athletes, coaches, administrators, owners, media, parents, and yes, even fans — are without blame for race still being an issue in the athletic arena.
In a time when many social and political issues are driven along racial lines, Powell takes a pointed look at the cause and effects of some these perceptions. “Souled Out” is both an intriguing and interesting read.