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Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

William C. Rhoden

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24. Juli 2007

From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built.

Provocative and controversial, Rhoden’s $40 Million Slaves weaves a compelling narrative of black athletes in the United States, from the plantation to their beginnings in nineteenth-century boxing rings to the history-making accomplishments of notable figures such as Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Willie Mays. Rhoden reveals that black athletes’ “evolution” has merely been a journey from literal plantationswhere sports were introduced as diversions to quell revolutionary stirringsto today’s figurative ones, in the form of collegiate and professional sports programs. He details the “conveyor belt” that brings kids from inner cities and small towns to big-time programs, where they’re cut off from their roots and exploited by team owners, sports agents, and the media. He also sets his sights on athletes like Michael Jordan, who he says have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason.

The power black athletes have today is as limited as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight. The primary difference is, today’s shackles are often the athletes’ own making.

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“Rhoden scores heavily with this Muhammad Ali of a book, one that blends autobiography with history, clarity of insight with passion. . . . A series of invaluable and irrefutable history lessons and contemporary cameos to illustrate Rhoden’s thesis that even the best paid of black American athletes live a double life—highly compensated, but in a state not unlike bondage.” —Arnold Rampersad, author of Jackie Robinson: A Biography and Days of Grace: A Memoir (with Arthur Ashe)

“Powerful and prophetic . . . Rhoden courageously lays bare painful truths about a fundamental reality in American life: the centrality of the excellence and exploitation of black athletes.” —Cornel West, author of Race Matters

“A book that touches the soul . . . Cuts to the heart of the matter, delivering a penetrating slice of the long and often painful journey to success taken by black athletes.” —Neil Amdur, former sports editor, New York Times

“Reading this work is an emotional experience. . . . Once I started I couldn’t stop. Informative, engaging, and extremely provocative, $40 Million Slaves caused me to alternately shake my head in violent disagreement one moment only to find myself nodding the next.” —Calvin Hill, former NFL All-Star and father of NBA All-Star Grant Hill

“A provocative contribution to the literature on race and sports . . . For anyone who cares about America’s future and sport in America, it’s well worth reading.” —Paul Tagliabue, commissioner, National Football League

“Breathtaking in scope . . . If you want to honestly view race in America, $40 Million Slaves will give you the prism of sports as a vehicle to see how far we still have to go to really achieve equality in America. It’s a must read.” —Richard Lapchick, director emeritus, Center for the Study of Sport in Society; columnist,; and author of Smashing Barriers

“This is the best contemporary writing—and best fuel for debate—on the large role black athletes hold in American culture. Bill Rhoden is playing hardball with stars from Michael Jordan to Mike Tyson on the issue of blacks and sports by bringing history, politics, and race on the field.” —Juan Williams, author of Eyes on the Prize

“Provocative and distressing—just the right combination for beginning an important conversation.” —Kirkus Reviews

From the Hardcover edition.

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

WILLIAM C. RHODEN has been a sportswriter for the New York Times since 1983, and has written the “Sports of the Times” column for more than a decade. He also serves as a consultant for ESPN’s SportsCentury series, and occasionally appears as a guest on their show The Sports Reporters. In 1996, Rhoden won a Peabody Award for Broadcasting as writer of the HBO documentary Journey of the African-American Athlete. A graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, he lives in New York City’s Harlem with his wife and daughter.

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The NBA as a Metaphor for the Plantation? Difference is They Get Paid Millions 28. Februar 2007
Von Dera R Williams - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete

by journalist William C. Rhoden gives a no-holds barred, unadulterated low-down about highly paid black athletes and the juxtaposition of slavery. How did Rhoden come to the conclusion that most Black athletes are highly paid slaves? He starts off methodically detailing the history of African Americans sports dating back to the plantation when slaves were a commodity; property to be used for entertainment as well as labor. Plantation owners would stage fights between slaves from different plantations as weekend amusement. Slaves also became jockeys to plantation owners who owned horses. This became a lucrative business and Black jockeys earned huge payoffs for their owners as well as for themselves on into Reconstruction and into the early 1900s. Blacks dominated horse racing but they were literally squeezed out of the market by greed, jealousy and blatant racism.

Rhoden also details the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues and the tragedy of Arthur "Rube" Foster, who sacrificed everything in the 1930s to organize Black ownership of baseball teams and to give due respect to black baseball players who were unable to play in the major leagues. Ironically, integration saw the end of the Negro Leagues when prime players such as Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige went to the majors. Rhoden goes on to chronicle the early days of football and basketball. He recounts pioneers in both fields, including Paul Robeson of Rutgers and Raymond Chester of Morgan State and then the Oakland Raiders. It was not until the early 1970s that Southern colleges began recruiting Black football players; at one time the NBA was almost all-white.

Rhoden contends that our young Black athletes, high school, college and professional, lack knowledge of their history in general, and the history of African Americans in sports, in particular. He cites this disconnect for not only the negative, destructive behavior that many of them indulge in but the apathy and lack of political noninvolvement and racial pride. Where are the young Muhammad Alis? But it is the Benjamins that are the prize at the end of the day. Poor inner-city or southern rural Black kids who show exceptional athletic talent become a victim of the "Conveyor Belt." A system, by which they are prepped, coddled and many times exploited at early ages on into high school and college with the main goal to snag the million dollar contracts and lucrative endorsement deals. Who would not want this? But at what cost? Even with all the money Black athletes command, there is still a lacking in coaching, those in top management and almost nil in Black team ownership with the exception of Robert Johnson of the Charlotte Bobcats. Also notable are the few African American sports journalists working to shape and control our image and the lack of exposure to Black agents, attorneys and other specialists to these new multimillionaires.

Kellen Winslow Sr., now an attorney, was a former college football star and played pro for several years and is now in the Hall of Fame. Because he went through the Conveyor Belt, he was able to advocate for his son, Kellen Jr. when the college scouts came courting. He speaks candidly about how college scouts will try to divide the child and parents. He refused to let this happen, often butting heads with his son over where he would go to college. Winslow maintains though that most Black kids do not have a parent, most specifically a father, who will run interference in these matters.

One of the most profound chapters is "The River Jordan: The Dilemma of Neutrality."

Rhoden shows disappointment, hurt, an almost aversion to the beloved Michael Jordan. Jordan's apathy towards Black causes and his neutral stance was a topic of debate when Marcus Book Club met to discuss this book. The members however, came to the agreement that to whom much is given, much is expected and cited Magic Johnson and Dikembe Mutombo as excellent examples of those giving back to their communities. This book is a must-read, especially for young people, both young men and young women and their parents. The history is invaluable and the subject is timely. This is a keeper in one's African American library.

Dera R. Williams

Marcus Book Club (Oakland)

APOOO BookClub
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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Paradox of the "Slave Athletic Celebrity" 17. Juli 2006
Von M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Rhoden's aim in this finely written and very readable screed is to explore the African American star athlete's paradoxical dilemma: On one hand, he is worshipped for his athletic prowess and is lavished with millions of dollars. On the other hand, he is beholden to white team owners, white league administrators, and as such is limited to the role of a super-paid lackey.

Some reviewers object to the slavery analogy and the exodus from the plantation to the Promised Land that is heavily used in Rhoden's argument. But Rhoden is correct to point out that the slavery is both spiritual and power-based. Spiritual because too many African American athletes, Rhoden charges, are so busy micromanaging their careers that they have no sense of the broader context, of African American history (one star athlete was shocked with disbelief when he discovered that blacks were once banned from Major League Baseball). Power-based because too many blacks are relegated to "black" roles and forget the larger mission of making more opportunities for blacks in positions of privilege.

Whether or not you agree with Rhoden's analogy, I would argue that the book is nevertheless very readable and entertaining, giving us powerful narratives of how black men, starting with the emancipated slave fighter Tom Molineaux, left America to fight the English champion Tom Cribb and showed whites that blacks' athletic performance defied stereotypes about being dense, ignorant, maladroit, etc. By studying Molineaux, Ali, and other African American greats, Rhoden shows how black athletes who see themselves as symbols of black power help forge the way for other black athletes.

On a personal note, Rhoden, an African American, explains in his own life growing up in Chigaco in the 1950s and 1960s, that sports are a great avenue for learning about race and American history. I am no exception. As a child, I loved Hank Aaron and one day as I read about the way he was bullied and denied white restaurants and hotels, I got a bitter taste of what this country was like for people of color and contemplated the hideous color divide.

Sports is a powerful metaphorical arena for talking about race and Rhoden has done an exemplary job of developing that metaphor in a book that is always engaging and provocative.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Reassessing the Power of Athletes in Modern America 4. Juni 2011
Von Roger D. Launius - Veröffentlicht auf
Sportswriter William C. Rhoden offers in "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" a fascinating portrait of the modern African American athlete. He finds that they are well compensated, but that they are forced to confirm to a longstanding meme in society, which of white dominance and control versus black subservience and servitude. In his estimation, modern "athletes have ridden the coattails of protest movements, benefiting from the sacrifices of the [Paul] Robesons and [Jackie] Robinsons and Jim Browns and Muhammad Alis, but have been content to be symbolic markers of progress rather than activists in their own right, pushing progress forward. They have been unwilling to rock the boat" (p. 217).

Rhoden finds that athletes are processed, like so many manufactured products, homogenized "to get along, they learn by inference about the benevolent superiority of the [owners] and enter into a tacit agreement to let the system operate without comment." They learn "to accept the power structure as it is. The young, talented athlete learns about the value of cultivating the far-reaching range of range of affiliations, connections, and alliances that can make the athlete's...journey smooth; he also learns about the kinds of associations and ideas that can make it quite miserable or even terminate it altogether" (p. 194). They learn early on to keep their mouths shut, uttering trite clichés and little more. That is one of the reasons why when an athlete articulates sophisticated criticism of the status quo, regardless of the purpose, it is such a delight to journalists and such a threat to owners and others in the power structure.

From the boxing rings of the early twentieth century with such individuals as Jack Johnson through Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson, and Jackie Robinson to the more recent experiences of Arthur Ashe, Mohammed Ali, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Kellen Winslow, and John Thompson, "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" explores how everything about modern sports is built around an unwritten agreement that in return for unchallenged authority and excellence on the court or field the black athlete receives wealth and fame. Few question the structure of sports and society, and some even revel in it. Rhoden holds up Michael Jordan as the classic example of one who has been celebrated and enriched through this arrangement. When asked about his response to overt racism expressed by a candidate for Congress in 1990, Jordon responded, "Republicans buy sneakers, too" (p. 201). He did not want to jeopardize his deal with Nike. In contrast, those who question this situation set themselves up for marginalization
Rhoden's work is powerful, provocative, and perceptive. His characterization of the state of sports, the place of athletes, and the nature of the business of sports is illuminating. His conclusion that many African American athletes are willing participants in this system is troubling. I recommend "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" as a thought-provoking treatise on a major aspect of sports and society.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Excellent from cover to cover! 30. April 2013
Von Quicksand - Veröffentlicht auf
Not only did I learn so much from this compelling and well written book, as I read each page, some of my own thoughts were reinforced about black men, sports and society in general. Because of my profession in sports, I see what is being illustrated in the book in person. He begins the book with insight as to what took place during slavery as slaves were used not only for work but also for entertainment purposes for white slave owners. Sadly enough, this is still in effect today. Of course one could argue that the players agree to sign the contract to play for whichever team is interested in their talents and no one is forcing them to do so. But when one takes away the flash of the million dollar contract and considers the lack of diversity at the administrative/management level and the overbearing control they have over the players, its clear to see that history is merely repeating itself.

Test Question: Why are there dress-codes in the NBA and NFL but not in the NHL or MLB?
2nd Test Questions: Why are there salary caps in the NBA and NFL but not in the NHL or MLB?

The "conveyor-belt" that I witness while working is lightly discussed in the book as well. I see a cycle of young African american boys who are talented yet misinformed and in some cases misguided. A "GOOD" father figure in the home is almost unheard of for many. A harder push in athletics rather than academics as it is seen by many as "the way out of the hood". When they arrive to college, they are TAKEN under the wing of what is usual a white coach and staff who, to some degree, is the first adult male father figure they have ever had. This young man eventually gets auctioned, i mean drafted into the league and is so far removed from his upbringings and pride, that in essence, the positive aspects of African american culture he may have embraced are usually lost or dropped for acceptance. When one is 25yrs old without an identity, its much easier to mask it with a Bentley and gaudy jewelry.

I recommend this book to everybody i know, especially young African american males. Excellent job Mr. Rhoden!
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Reflective of Black America's Generational Divide 16. Oktober 2006
Von Andre M. - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Overall, this is a very good book. As a bookworm since childhood, I've never been a big sports fan (Ali aisde as I'm a 70s child), but I am a historian by profession so I enjoyed that aspect of the book.

Mr. Rhoden gets into some really good information about pioneer Black Athletes as boxer Tom Mollineux, baseball player Moses Fleetwood Walker, cyclist Major Taylor, and Negro League inventor Rube Foster. I've heard of these people, but have not read of their lives with this much depth.

Mr. Rhoden goes on to criticize the modern Black athletes for lacking a sense of history and black nationalism. I understand his frustration and agree from a moral standpoint, but something has to be considered here. Mr. Rhoden and the Black baby boomers came of age during the civil rights movement and the rise of Black nationalism. Its understandable, but not really realistic to expect marginally educated athletes born long after the fact to fully undertstand such things. Actually, its just as well that some of them don't speak out, as poorly informed individuals with a platform can do a lot of damage and cause major confusion among the public by speaking out on important issues that they really know little-to-nothing about (as was the case of some so-called "conscious rappers" of the early 90s). With that said, it WOULD do some of the young black athletes who are more inclined toward serious reading to read this book.

Also, I have to strongly disagree, as I often do with Black Nationalists of his generation, with the glorifying of the Jim Crow era. While I understand that a lot of people feel that we lost out culturally with the end of segregation, growing up in South Carolina in the aftermath of all that makes me say that the bad of Jim Crow far outweighed any good and it is dangerous to encourage any return to this era. One does not need enforced seperation to encourage a sense of group identity.

His argument against Bob Johnson (BET founder and Charlotte Bobcats owner) is far more valid, since Johnson is old enough to have had an appreciation of the struggle to have sold out like he did. It is a sad reminder that we are living in an age of materialism over ideology.

However, Mr. Rhoden's book, even when polemical, is a valuable service and food for thought.
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