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THE WORD!!

Copyright 1998. 1999 ASET, Mba Mbulu. All Rights Reserved

"What Makes A Black Athlete Popular?"

Would Michael Jordan be as popular an athlete if he were a Black Power advocate? Would Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe or Ken Griffey, Jr.? Will Venus Williams?

Would Jim Brown have been better received if he had not been so protective of and at ease with his Blackness? It can hardly be denied that Jim Brown was as great a football player as Michael Jordan is a basketball player. But when Brown made his excellence clear to the world, he was not greeted with open arms, especially after it became clear that he was not going to abandon his Black value system. Sure, some of the resistance he faced was probably due to the time period, but to leave it at that would be dis-educational. Brown was honored to be Black, he didn't want to be white. That was the key to Jim Brown being less popular than an athlete of his calibre should have been.

There is probably no documentation stating that Craig Hodges was prematurely released by the Chicago Bulls because of his openly expressed dissatisfaction with the treatment of Black People. No, there probably is no such document, but We know how that works. Hodges had the skills, was one of the best three point shooters in the league in fact; but he didn't go out of his way to accommodate white people. A Black athlete has to accommodate white people in white America. Otherwise, s/he will not become popular or make the kind of money he or she is deserving of.

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Have you noticed: the most popular Black athletes go to predominantly white schools, where they directly or indirectly are encouraged to cross into the white world. The less popular ones either do not attend predominantly white schools or attend them while maintaining contact with the people in the 'hood. In short, the less popular Black athletes prefer to not cross over when they are given the opportunity to do so.

What does this reluctance to cross over represent? It represents a preference for what one grew up with, what one is accustomed to, what one knows about. It represents a statement; that given the choice between the white value system and the Black value system, one prefers the Black value system. Given the choice between the white way of life and the Black way of life, one prefers the Black way. A statement such as that by a popular athlete would make it easier for that athlete's fans to remain true to their roots. But Black People who remain true to their roots upsets the comfort zone of white people and white power advocates.

So, white power uses its institutions to make Black athletes aware of how they are expected to act. They don't just come right out and say it, but they let the athletes know via indirect and subliminal channels. The most popular athletes keel over and do as white power "suggests." The others resist, in some way or another, and are penalized; that is, they receive smaller monetary compensation and have to defend their character against damaging assaults and distortions.

Whatever his/her response, the Black athlete becomes a messenger. The ones who choose Black even when given the opportunity to cross over to white give other Blacks the message that it's alright to be Black and appreciate what is Black while earning a decent living. But white people get a different message. The message whites get is that of a defiant Black athlete, one who does not appreciate the opportunity whites have given him/her. To make sure everyone understands his "place," whites must tear that athlete down, make an example of him/her, and make it clear to all of the other athletes that they will come out on the short end if they do not play the game according to the dictates of white people and white power.

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Muhammad Ali is presently one of the most revered of athletes. Ali is held in high esteem by many whites, but We must not forget that Ali was despised and hated when he first hit the scene. He was viewed as a rebel, as one who had the nerve to say Black was beautiful, and white people wanted to see someone whip him. When Ali fought Sonny Liston, white people wanted Liston to whip Ali, even though they did not like Liston. When Ali fought Floyd Patterson, white people wanted Patterson to whip Ali. When Ali fought Joe Frazier, they wanted Frazier to whip Ali. After the Liston fight, when Ali revealed his conversion to Islam and association with Black Power advocates like Malcolm X, Ali was attacked mercilessly, prejudicially. Ali then magnified his "sins" by publicly questioning the legitimacy of the Viet Nam War and refusing to serve in the United States Army. Ali was simply not setting the example white power wanted individuals of his stature to set, and Ali was made aware of his "transgression."

When faced with the wrath of white power, Ali went about the business of proving that he was no threat. He put adequate space between himself and the Blacks who were most concerned about the well being of Black People. As he did this, white people and white power became less alarmed by him, rewarded him more and more handsomely and, over the years, put Ali on one of their highest pedestals. But this happened only after he accepted the validity of white values and standards as opposed to Black values and standards. Only when he abandoned his own beliefs and accepted the superiority of the white way did he receive the full rewards that an athlete of his calibre was deserving of.

Boxers are the least respected and most attacked of popular athletes. Why? Generally speaking, boxers do not develop their talents at a college or university. Bluntly stated, boxers don't attend predominantly white prep schools or colleges and are therefore not exposed to the subtle yet systematic brainwashing process that colleges and universities take people through. What boxers know, what they tend to represent, what they tend to appreciate, is what they learned in the 'hood. And much of what they learned about white people and white power did not endear them to the white value system. This, naturally leads Us to Mike Tyson.

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If We put all of the pieces together, it is clear that Mike Tyson represents, either deliberately or uncannily, everything that makes white people feel uncomfortable about a succesful and highly visible Black person. To whites, Mike Tyson is, let us say, a potential Malcolm X with millions of dollars and a lot of supporters. This is not to say that Tyson is a thinker of Malcolm X's quality, or a proponent of Black Power like Malcolm X was, or a person who acts in the interest of Black People like Malcolm X did. What Tyson's political/racial leanings are are beyond my scope of knowledge, and beyond that og white people. But facts and reality do not matter to white people when they have an agenda. What Tyson is is what whites imagine him to be, and what they imagine him to be is what they make him into by way of their institutions, particularly their media. What whites see in Tyson is a highly visible representative of the Black option white people fear most. Tyson, deliberately or uncannily, insists on the legitimacy of the Black reality. Tyson, deliberately or uncannily, rejects the "foregone conclusion" that the white way of life, the white value system, is better than any system that represents or validates the Black reality and the Black response to that reality.

It is amazing that a so-called educated people could unscientifically attack an individual's intelligence in the manner white "professionals" attack the intelligence of Mike Tyson. I have had very little contact with professional athletes, but based on interviews I have seen and articles I have read, I think Tyson tries to address issues at a level of philosophical profundity that few popular athletes have demonstrated. It seems to be that he is an extremely intelligent person--- I feel certain about that. His shortcoming, in part at least, might lie in the fact that he has not been able to put enough of the relevant pieces together that can lead him to peace of mind. I don't think he understands that anger is an appropriate response under some circumstances. I don't think he realizes the extent to which white power had downgraded his life (and the life of every Black individual) before he was even born, paving for him an easy path to anti-social behavior, juvenile delinquency, a troubled soul and failure.

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White people will do all they can to make Tyson's life miserable, and make it difficult for him to function as a well-adjusted human being. He has to learn how to slip those racist punches. Whether he commits a crime or not, he will be made and treated as a criminal. Whether he has admirable personal traits or not, he will be projected as a brute, a menace to himself, his family and society in general. Whether he proves to be a careful manager of his finances or not, he will be presented as an extravagant spender who will end up broke, having wrecklessly lost every one of his millions. Tyson will be made an example of, has been made an example of, and white power will use him and others like him to send the "picture" to other highly visible Blacks.

Albert Belle apparently has not gotten the "picture" yet. White people want Albert Belle to act like they want him to act. Belle has refused, either deliberately or unwittingly, but whites have not failed to blatantly assasinate his character in the manner they assassinated Mike Tyson's. The same is true for gifted athletes like Chris Webber and Allen Iverson. Success in the white scheme of things means presenting the "right" image to the white boys, white girls and white adults that enjoy seeing gifted athletes play ball. You can't present the "right" image if you continue to be real with your homeboys.

Most athletes with star like abilities, Rasheed Wallace is an example, don't seem to have a political ideology at all, yet they are steadily under a white light of criticism because of the way they look, how they dress or who they hang out with. They cause white power's danger alarm to go off, and white people immediately begin to whip the questionable athlete into shape. Should the athlete put up too much resistance, white power makes life hell for them and less rewarding. This is the choice that is in store for up and comers like Venus Williams (who has all the the abilities and intangibles to become a huge star). The question is, "Will she cave in to the demands of white power?" Will she cross over and, in so doing, pass along the message to all of her fans that the white value system is superior to a Black value system, that white power is preferable to Black power? Or will she stand her ground, in much the manner that her father seems inclined to do, state the truth as she believes it and let the chips fall where they may?

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One can read the papers, look at the news and assess the opportunities offered on a person by person basis and see who has chosen to play white power's game and who has failed to get the "picture." Quantity of off the court visibility, quality of off the court visibility, business associations generated during an athlete's career and opportunities available after s/he retires are only a few of the indicators.

An athlete who fails to get the "picture" makes whites feel uneasy for the simple fact that s/he prefers to represent his/her own reality. An athlete has every right in the world to represent his/her own reality. If others feel threatened by this, then it is those others who are maladjusted, not the athlete. Let's be sensible: no one should break the law, provided that the law is just, but no one should be obligated to abandon their roots and home people simply because they represent values that do not set well with the bastions of the status quo. Black athletes are informed, by way of words, actions and signals, that they must respond to the masses of Black People in much the same way white people do if they expect to be properly compensated; that is, they must ignore the masses of Black People to whatever extent possible, abandon them if push comes to shove and make it crystal clear that the value system of white America is superior to that of Black America.

Sadly enough, most Black athletes make it clear that they get the "picture." Some start off refusing to buckle under, but as they become bombarded with financial considerations and stressed out by the pressure, most start submitting. How unfortunate that is for Us as a People.

Neither high visibility persons nor anyone else should participate in criminal activities, but personal preferences can not be categorically equated to crimes. The fact that high visibility persons of African descent are attacked and made the objects of character assasination simply because their likes and dislikes do not mirror those of white America is itself criminal. Therefore, the whites who perpetuate these activities are the ones who should be the focus of investigations and intense media scrutiny. However, character assassination is a small crime compared to the insidious, low-down, evil essence of the "make the highly visible Blacks do right" process. At its sinister root, one finds white power using high visibility Blacks to "teach" the Black masses that white power is better, that white values are superior, and that successful Blacks are better off putting space between themselves and other Blacks. The message is that anything Black is, at best, second rate, so it is better for Black People to not be about Blackness.

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The most popular Black athletes never have anything of substance to say about race; they have apparently decided to toe the white line, do the white thing. I urge them, and all persons of color who are somewhat visible, to stand up for their right to represent the legitimacy of their roots. Athletes have the right to trade themselves in for a few dollars, but once they realize that they are being used to devalue and delegitimize an entire race of people, that trade can not be justified. In spite of the many appearances to the contrary, this one sided relationship between whites and Blacks is getting more and more one sided. Athletes, like the rest of Us, should not take this thing personally. Athletes, luke the rest of Us, should use their weight, how much or little they might have, to help balance this situation out.

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