Historian: Black athletes should use their numbers as political leverage

Professor John Hoberman Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Historically, sports and entertainment have been the two readily acceptable areas of society where Blacks could show their expertise and excellence, stated Hoberman, the University of Texas at Austin professor. He is the author of several books and articles in the fields of sports studies, race studies, and medical history, including his 1997 controversial book Darwin’s Athletes:  How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race.

Hoberman spoke January 30 at the U-M Humphrey School of Public Affairs on “New Roles for Black Athletes? Post-Ferguson and Post-Kaepernick in the Age of Trump.”  A front-page story on his speech is featured in this week’s MSR print edition and MSRNewsOnline.com.

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew widespread criticism after his protest of the national anthem before a 2016 preseason game.  He “dared to be a Black [athlete] activist,” said the professor.

The professor also suggested that Kaepernick and other NFL players who protested over police-related killings of Blacks might have had an adverse effect on 2016-17 NFL television ratings: regular season viewership down on CBS (seven percent), Fox (six percent), NBC (10 percent) and ESPN (12 percent).

“One could speculate whether the 10 percent loss of viewership in the NFL may or may not have anything to do with White resentment of what Colin Kaepernick did. [But] why should I be concerned about profit margins for billionaires who run the NFL,” added Hoberman.

Speaking to the MSR prior to his speech, Hoberman reiterated the topic question, “Do…Black athletes have a role to play in standing up for traditional political and socio-ethical values that we associate in the United States? The answer is yes they do. Kaepernick demonstrated that there is a way to take this public platform that the high profile athletes have and to do something with it.”

But when asked did Kaepernick saying he didn’t vote in the November election somewhat tarnish the quarterback’s newfound activist role, Hoberman said, “When I saw that, that was very disappointing. If he was a more politically prepared person like hundreds of millions of us are, then he would have made sure that he voted. But he didn’t.”

The professor told the audience that many of today’s Black athletes might be ill-equipped to become societal commentators, especially on racial matters: “Athletes are not prepared to do this,” he pointed out.

Hoberman told the MSR that the 48-hour protest by the University of Minnesota football players in December unfortunately serves as an example of this. “It was clouded by the dark cloud of sexual assault allegations. They were standing together but… is this the best sort of bonding on behalf of a cause?

“It was a confused situation to the people watching [but] Kaepernick was not a confusing situation. Any informed person can look at the social conditions that he was addressing and he’s talking about facts. He’s talking about an injustice, which can easily be noticed and defined.  That was not the case in the Minnesota case.”

College athletes also “are afraid of losing scholarships, being disciplined. The imbalances of power that operate in the sports world are very extreme,” added Hoberman. “You also are talking about people who are young — in Division I you are talking about people who are probably concentrating on their athletics in a way they have not concentrated on their intellectual development.”

Black athletes, nonetheless, should use their majority workforce numbers as political leverage, said Hoberman. Unfortunately there are some barriers that often keep Black athletes from protesting, such as how their future non-athletic careers might be affected if they do, he said.  “This is not their way of life.  Most of them are not educated to be social and political activists.”

Is race a deciding factor on whether or not a particular player or players’ protest is publicly supported, such as the case of Kaepernick, who’s Black? Why hasn’t there been a similar public backlash over New England quarterback Tom Brady’s reported friendship with President Donald Trump, whose initial approval ratings are below 50 percent?

“There is a race factor,” admitted Hoberman. “On certain NFL teams, the Trump thing [during the campaign] divided people along racial lines. The same thing will happen in police departments. I’m sure that 99 percent of all White cops in America probably voted for Trump [and] the number of Black cops and perhaps Hispanic cops I think would have been much less than that.”

Finally, “Racism in this country is a system. It has its subsystem in sports, in medicine or wherever it happens to be.  We can assume” that people will be judged on performance or be treated oftentimes along racial lines, contended Hoberman.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com