By Ross T. Runfola
The Another Voice by Paul Caccamo (Aug. 22) posits the view that youth sports “are a cost-effective safety net … a solution” for at-risk African-American boys being “either a perpetrator or a victim” of violent crime.
Unfortunately, such a simplistic view mirrors the view of society that sports are the best vehicle for the assimilation of young black males into the culture. Many young black males, who after all are products of the same society, are victims of the same belief that it is their biological and cultural destiny to play sports.
The racial history of the United States is replete with what sports sociologist Jay Coakley calls “race logic” that underscores the stereotype that emphasizes black male physicality and superiority while at the same time racial discrimination and segregation limit life chances for young African-American boys in the economic, educational and political segments of society.
The inevitable consequence has been the false perception of sports as the best vehicle for young black men to escape racism rather than opening up other, more important spheres in society, such as education and economics, where blacks have been systematically excluded.
Arthur Ashe, the late, great African-American tennis player, isolated the true solution for at-risk young black males when he wrote a New York Times piece urging black mothers and fathers to send their children to the library rather than the playing fields. In a companion piece for the Times, I wrote that African-American parents send their children to the sporting arena because they, like all segments of society, are no less a captive of the myth that sports are the best vehicle for the racial integration of their children, especially after witnessing racism in education and politics, where blacks have been systematically underrepresented in the highest echelons of power.
Even in sports, African-Americans have been the victims of racism, for example, where they are over-represented in sports such as basketball and football and underrepresented in tennis and golf. Moreover, although it is changing, the major positions of control and power in sports – center, middle linebacker and quarterback in football – are held by whites. And, of course, those who run sports are almost exclusively white.
In short, what is needed for increased social mobility for African-American young men is not an emphasis but a de-emphasis of sports and a renewed desire to empower them in the economic, political and educational centers, where true power is in American society.
Ross T. Runfola is an attorney and professor of social science at Medaille College.