The Power of the Dunk

Previous generations of African-American athletes were politically active. By and large, they aren’t anymore, and when they are, as in the case of Dennis Rodman, it tends to be maniacally weird. Today’s athletes stay clear of politics, seemingly unmindful and unappreciative of the benefits they enjoy due to the controversial efforts of Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Curt Flood and others.

Yet their potential power is so great.

Why did Southern colleges finally break the color line? It began in the courts, but it became accepted on the playing fields. When coaches and fans finally got it through their thick noggins that Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia, etc., were at a competitive disadvantage when they played schools from other parts of the country and obviously because of the impact of black athletes, it changed.

Blacks still face discrimination in the South. Not on the fields and courts, though.

What if the best high-school basketball player in the nation was from Hamlet, N.C., and what if he went on TV and said, “I’ve wanted to be a Tar Heel all my life, but the State of North Carolina has made it more difficult for poor people, and old people, and minorities to vote and participate in the political process. It has cut taxes for the rich and unemployment benefits for the poor. I feel I have no choice other than to sign with Syracuse.”

When will South Carolina decriminalize marijuana? Oh, probably about the time ESPN reports that Colorado and Washington sign the country’s two best recruiting classes.

I don’t begrudge great athletes the millions they make, but it’s compromised them. Make them rich, and they’ll ignore others who aren’t so fortunate, or at least that’s what the rich and powerful believe.

Many years ago, my father’s restaurant catered a campaign event for a veteran Congressman. At one point, the distinguished gentleman turned to my dad and said, “I tell you what, you give these lintheads and cottonpickers a bowl of hash, and they’ll vote for you twice.”

That attitude’s still around if folks let them get away with it.

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