The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story in the New Millennium

Updated: October 26, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (BASN)—Jack Olsen’s 1968 epic Sports Illustrated report which later became a book, The Black Athlete – A Shameful Story, is being replayed by an unexpected audience.  The fact that some of Olsen’s concerns regarding the Black athlete are still prevalent today is unfortunate.  However, the Black community has more millionaires than at any other time in our history in America.  The Black community has more individuals working in education, professional sports and corporate America than any nation on the planet.  The cultural influence of the Black community on American culture has never been as dominant as it is today.

We’re Black Athletes and here to help

Eugene Robinson’s book, Disintegration, carefully examines Black America and identifies four types of Black America: the Mainstream Middle Class, the Largely Abandoned Minority, a Small Transcendent Elite, and the Emergent group.  In agreement with Robinson, Black America has become divided and this divide is clearly visible in the “Sports Network,” where the majority of Black professionals in the field have emerged into these four distinct groups.  After years of independently assisting athletes on all levels, it is time for me to leave the abandoned group Robinson refers to and enter the transcendent elite group and highlight the talkers, the doers, and the self-righteous individuals, to address what I see as a shameful story as it pertains to the Black athlete in the New Millennium.


The problems and issues concerning the Black athlete such as academics, crime, financial neglect, and the array of other issues reported by professionals as seen on FOX, CNN, CBS and ESPN are clear.  Now the question is simple, what are we going to do about them?


The “Sports Network” is a place individuals such as myself rarely travel to, as I have always been concerned with the Personal Development of the athlete.  Personal Development is an area most often misunderstood or overlooked, as the R.O.I is difficult for sports professionals to grasp, as a concept, in its true forum.  Also, most professionals working under the umbrella of Personal Development are short sighted on implementation.  This Network has been slow to recognize the need and value of Personal Development for Black athletes.  The “Sports Network” can cause most Black men and women to lose sight of what is right and more importantly, what is needed to assist others outside the Network.


Most Black individuals in the “Sports Network” believe it is their right to be in this Network (because of their hard work or educational attainment) and fail to grasp the reason they were allowed inside this Network in the first place.  You were allowed in the “Sports Network” to assist individuals who are outside the Network, silly!  The advocates for the Black athlete residing in the Network have become so focused on holding their place in the “Sports Network” that they have lost sight of what it takes to make significant change for the Black athlete or possibly, never had any intentions on helping our athletes at all.


The “Sports Network,” in the money generating sports, is largely due to the participation of the Black Athlete.  The Black Athlete is not in the Network, but is responsible for the Network’s existence.  The level of participation in college sports (specifically at the D1 level), in the NBA, and the NFL clearly validate that the “Sports Network” has been established on the backs of the Black athlete.  We are aware of how companies such as Nike, Adidas, Enterprise, Chick-fil-A, and the like have financially benefited from the hard work and entertainment the Black athlete displays.  However, many Black Americans in the “Sports Network” are also benefiting from the Black athletes existence and have become more of a problem than the desired cure.

Have we learned anything yet?


Individuals and organizations such as Dr. Harry Edwards, Dr. Boyce Watkins, Rev. Jessie Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Bill Cosby, the National Collegiate Players Association, and the Student Athletes Human Rights Project have all played a huge part in bringing attention to the treatment of Black athletes.  Yet have they assisted in the Personal Development of the Black athlete or are they simply using the problems Black athletes encounter to gain attention to themselves and maintain Network status?  In my personal interaction and communication with many of the above individuals, the lack of attention given to the Personal Development of the athlete, not “the cause” of their problems, has been extremely disappointing.


I recently contacted one of the individuals above regarding the Black athlete.  I was told via social media communications my request for an interview was denied because I did not possess the necessary media credentials. Why does one Black man need media credentials to speak to another Black man about the Black athlete?  Is this a prerequisite for communications between Black people in the new millennium, or is this a polite way of saying you are calling from the abandoned minority group and not in the “Sports Network” so I don’t have to speak to you?


Another disappointment is the role that professional Black athletes, entertainers, and celebrities have played in the underdevelopment of our young naive Black athletes.  It seems to be a case of the haves and have nots.  If we look at some of “the causes” Black professional athletes back financially, they fall short of hitting the mark of assisting the athletes that need support the most.  Writing a check to help the homeless in a particular city is wonderful, but what about helping a specific national organization charged with helping the Personal Development of young Black athletes?


The same holds true for entertainers and celebrities, such as Jay Z, Dr. Dre, Oprah, Will Smith, and the list could go on.  If these individuals and others invest in helping with the personal development of the Black athlete I believe we would see a significant change in some of the problems and issues young Black athletes encounter in our society.  It is wonderful to help the youth on the African continent, but what about the youth who are aspiring to become athletes on U.S. soil?  Athletes on all levels of sport can be seen wearing Dre beats head phones or listening to Jay Z, but how are these two taking “the cause” to a movement level of development for the young Black athlete?  In fact, Jay Z and Will and Jada Smith with their investment in the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers just became part of the “Sports Network.”


It is time for individuals who desire to assist in helping the development of the Black athlete to wake up and make a serious commitment to the Black athlete and stop chanting “the cause.”  Although many might disagree, the NCAA, NBA, and NFL are concerned about the development and fair treatment of all of their athletes, but it is a business and we have known of this fact for some time now.  Yet we as Black professionals have failed to address the root of the problems facing young Black athletes.


Many in the “Sports Network” have become concerned with their own status as talkers, not doers, or they simply don’t have the capacity to bring and build resources to assist in the personal development of the Black athlete.  While I don’t believe Black advocates lack the capacity, I still question the movement.  Where is the organization specifically targeting the Personal Development of Black athletes?  Where are the professional athletes backing the movement?  Why are we consistently pointing fingers at the NCAA, NBA, and NFL for our inability to provide the necessary Personal Development programs or organizations our young naive athletic boys require to become educated well-rounded athletic men?


Black Americans in the “Sports Network” are the key players in the shameful story of the Black athlete in this millennium, not the NCAA, NBA, or NFL.  Therefore the next time CNN, CBS, FOX, or ESPN decide to address the subject of problems and concerns regarding the Black athlete, and interview someone inside the “Sports Network,” consider the source and ask yourself “are they helping the Black athlete or are they simply chanting “the cause” to support their own self-worth in the “Sports Network?”’


Is this transcendent enough for you?


Dr. Mark Robinson has been a Personal Player Development Consultant since 1997 and can be reached at and you don’t need media credentials.


  1. Eric Graham

    October 26, 2012 at 4:55 am

    No credetials, but lots of scholarship. Couldn’t said it better myself….

  2. Chris Rooks

    November 3, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Great article Dr. Robinson. I’ve been evolving in the field for twenty years and have met many a difference maker for the black athlete. Unifying our efforts through strategic direction, goal attainment and actualized outcomes has always been the problem. Can we get together and make a difference?


    November 8, 2012 at 1:28 am


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