Another precautionary sports tale

By Dr. Boyce Watkins, BASN Contributor
Updated: October 29, 2010

Tommie Smith's misfortune is an opportunity for us to rewrite the script on black male athletes.

Tommie Smith's misfortune is an opportunity for us to rewrite the script on black male athletes.

NEW YORK — My head cocked to the side just a bit when I heard the news about Olympic Champion Tommie Smith deciding to auction off his gold medal from the 1968 Olympics.

Tommie, of “black fist” fame, led one of the most significant protests in sports history when he stood, along with John Carlos, holding his fist in the air during the playing of the national anthem. Tommie’s stand for civil rights will never be forgotten.

I wondered what could have led Smith to decide to sell his medal. I couldn’t help but wonder if money played a role in his decision, in light of the financial struggles that he and John Carlos endured after the games were over.

Reports are that Smith has struggled financially, (though other news reports deny that money is an issue). Money trouble is nothing new for the experience of the black athlete in America.

For many African American males, the dreams of fame and fortune are morphed into realities of devastating humiliation. We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that the way to get rich is through sports, and find out that it’s nothing compared to what could have been.

We put down our books and pencils in exchange for basketballs and footballs, hoping that we can all become the next LeBron James.

The end result can be flat out terrible. Another Olympic champ, Antonio Pettigrew, just committed suicide last week. Melvin Turpin, a former star for the University of Kentucky, killed himself.

Antoine Walker,who also starred for Kentucky, may be on his way to prison after going broke from gambling too much. When it comes to black athletes, there is no shortage of stories aboutbankruptcy, suicide, and horrible outcomes.

Perhaps it’s time to rewrite the script.

The same tenacity, focus and study it takes to play in the NFL can be used to become a doctor, lawyer or airplane pilot. The same way we can find our way around the criminal justice system or convert kilos to ounces, we can use that same energy to get into Harvard Medical School.

The money from being an athlete is not only surprisingly small, it’s also short-lived. Almost none of the men drafted by the NFL are millionaires when they hit the age of 30.

Instead, many of them end up as 25-year-old retirees with a fifth grade reading level. These men are then sent back into our communities, many of whom have as many job prospects as a felon. This does nothing for the African American family.

Black men are smarter than what we’ve presented ourselves to be. We are bold, courageous, focused and capable. We are too great to let the sports world control us, but for some reason, we continue to sign up for slavery.