Racialicious hits it out of the park again with an article on black men and sports as a way of coping with their pain:
Why is it that so many young black men still search for safety, solace, and a sense of control in the sporting realm, whether in the ring, on the court, or on the field? The execution of Troy Davis in Georgia despite questionable evidence against him and the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman just for looking “suspicious” both shine a harsh spotlight on the continued precariousness of black life in the twenty-first century. A cursory look at recent movies from Streetballers (2009) to The Blind Side (2009) shows that society actively encourages young black men to escape their troubles and drown their sorrows in sports. And yet, that same society often castigates black youth for becoming “sports obsessed.”
Where else but in the sporting arena can young black men benefit from their reputation for being “dangerous”? Where else are they glorified for that “hard chip of ice” that many store in their fighting hearts? Where else can they have a good chance of receiving adulation and respect? And, where else is the violence they face at least controlled by rules and referees?
Black men, in American culture, are highly associated with sports. Many of the “positive” stereotypes (in quotes, because no stereotype is truly positive) of black men revolve around their supposed increased athleticism, particularly in basketball, football, and dance. If they’re stereotyped as hyperviolent, criminal, and stupid, at least they’re also stereotyped as, unlike white men, being capable of jumping.
I think a lot of the idea that black men are good at sports comes straight out of the stereotyping of black men as animalistic and hyper-masculine. Animals are capable of astonishing physical feats; in a racist culture, black men (who are of course one step above animals) are similarly capable. And just like black men are stereotyped as having large penises and being anti-intellectual, very sexual, and violent– all traits associated with masculinity– so black men are stereotyped as being good at sports, another masculine trait.
Nevertheless, I think it’s also important to talk about black men’s relationship with sports not just as an outgrowth of racism but also as a source of solace and hope within a racist society. As Racialicious says, sports is an arena in which black men are valued for the stereotypes that, in the outside world, so hurt them. Where in the outside world the idea that black men are violent will lead people to shoot you for wearing a hoodie and having Skittles, on the court it merely makes you a more intimidating player.
The prison-industrial complex, shitty inner-city schools that fail at education, few jobs available that will give them not just enough money to support themselves but also basic human self-respect, poor social services… the world that all too many black men face is a dim one. Sports can provide an escape. Something fun, something you can win at, a place to escape from the ever-decreasing opportunities of inner-city life.
And, hell, sports can offer hope, a way out. A ticket to college or even to professional sports teams. Even among those who are not good enough to reap those benefits, it’s a blessing simply to dream. I think a lot of people underestimate how vitally important it is to have hope that one day things will get better. And for far too many black men, particularly ones who grew up poor, the only hope they have that things will get better is through being a rapper or a sports star.