As a Black male, father, husband, university lecturer and business owner, I am deeply concerned about what is going on in the Black community as it relates to Black success, i.e., economic independence and financial freedom.
There seems to be an ever-growing and popularized notion in many Black households that athletics is the avenue to securing stable and sufficient long-term financial resources. Rather than teach their children to teach themselves about financial self-reliance, cooperative economics, saving, debt avoidance, investing, real estate and brand building, parents are betting the farm in the hope that their children will one day have lucrative careers as professional entertainers—and become the next Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Odell Beckham Jr., Ezekiel Elliot or Dak Prescott.
Take for example, three out of my four children actively participated in high school sports (basketball and track and field) and were good enough to earn full rides to top colleges/universities—at least that’s what coaches and scouts told us. On many occasions, I was approached by teachers and coaches who sought to “educate” me about the “value” of getting my children involved full-time in athletics.
These well-meaning educators threw around bait words such as scholarships, tuition-free, school of your choice, or opportunity of a lifetime. As an academician and entrepreneur, those words fell flat and were meaningless to my economic senses. To the dismay and disappointment of those coaches, I told them emphatically that my children’s participation in sports should only be viewed as an extracurricular athletic activity and nothing more, and that my children were sufficiently prepared and equipped to seek other ways to thrive economically.
Unfortunately, this approach is not one that many Black parents choose to adopt in that they have convinced themselves or have been convinced that athletics (and performance & entertainment) is the way for them and their children to escape a life of financial uncertainty. The reality is, the athletics path to economic security is filled with pitfalls and covered with land mines such as injury, burnout, or simply not making the roster or getting cut.
Here are other factors to consider. The probability of your son or daughter making it to the pros is less than 1%. The odds of your child getting struck by lightning in his/her lifetime is greater than the chances of him or her becoming a professional athlete. According to a study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the lower the education and household income, the more likely for those parents to encourage their children to pursue athletic careers.
In other words, the hope that their child will one day make it to the pros is a poor person’s dream—or should I say, nightmare. Conversely, in households where the median income is above $50k, those parents are likelier than not to steer their children toward academics or high-earning jobs, which have a much greater probability of yielding successful financial outcomes.
The fact that some Black families elect to push their children toward sports careers is not necessarily a bad thing. Nonetheless, if the goal is to build sustained financial security and independence, then pursuing sports, performance and entertainment careers is certainly NOT the path to travel on.
As a Black community, we have to recast and redefine what success is and looks like. Being a successful Black person in America should not be synonymous with serving as anyone’s sporting or entertainment spectacle. The winning symbols of Black success should be that Black startup founder of a private equity firm with billions in cumulative capital commitments or that Black attorney arguing a case before the Supreme Court or that Black doctor separating conjoined twins or that Black military officer commanding an aviation squadron or that Black luxury vehicle mechanic who has his own shop or that Black pâtissier supplying pastries, desserts, bread and other baked goods to large retail chains or that Black educator facilitating meaningful learning experiences.
Being a successful Black person in America should not be synonymous with serving as anyone’s sporting or entertainment spectacle.
Building financial security requires a plan and careful management. Encouraging our youth to immerse themselves in organized sports in the hope of becoming professional athletes is patently irresponsible and certainly not the best long-term economic plan—it is a pipe dream-a practically unattainable or fanciful hope or scheme.
From a sociological perspective, sociologists and Black thinkers see the push of Blacks toward sports, performance and entertainment careers as the rebirth of systemic economic disempowerment; a way of maintaining social class structures that ensures the continuous re-centering of white supremacy; and over-conformity to norms and symbols of oppression.
A crucial cultural difference is that Jewish parents are not pushing their kids toward sports; rather, they are raising future economists and finance experts—and Asian families are busy developing mathematicians, coders, and engineers. It is a historical fact that the economic system in the United States was not created with Black people in mind. Even so, this very real obstacle does not mean that Blacks are destined to a life of financial constraints and economic insecurity.
The economic forces of production and distribution can be tapped into by anyone. No social group has a monopoly on information, creativity and innovation. No one is preventing you or your children from reading a book on wealth-building. The “evil White man” or “the rigged system” is not stopping you from building a high-revenue and profitable business and enduring legacy. Economic security and access to opportunities are ripe for anyone’s picking—for anyone who is willing to put in the time, work and effort.