the BLOG of stuart mcdonald

Slavery Is Alive and Well in America
October 22, 2009, 10:10 am
Filed under: Think About It

While many Americans believe that the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” effectively ended slavery in America, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Slavery is not only alive and well, bslave cellsut it is practiced and, in fact, celebrated all over the country, nearly every night of the week — especially on weekends. That’s right — the practice of rich Whites owning and utilizing Blacks for profit and personal gain is still flourishing, even in a alleged “post-racial” America. Although modern day slaves make substantially more money, even than the majority of the population, they are cut off from their people using a method referred to as “the Conveyor Belt,” a system that is in many ways comparable to the Middle Passage, and forced to work on the plantation for the profit of the White man. Who are these supposed slaves? They are professional Black athletes.

First, we should clarify the meaning behind the word, “slave.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines a slave as, “a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another.” Another definition clarifies that, “slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to receive compensation.” Between those 2 definitions there exists a comprehensive definition and idea of what it would mean to be a slave.

American slavery, while initially done for reasons of economy than a race, inevitably turned into Whites exclusively owning Black slaves based on the belief that they were inherently inferior as well as easy to control. Today’s slaves are not inferior, but rather excel at many of the sports in which they play, so much so that they are in the majority. Yet history has shown us that anytime there is free or underpaid labor, people, especially wealthy Whites, will not hesitate to take advantage of it. The National Basketball Association is no different.

Massa's not happy

Massa's not happy

Why bring special mention to the NBA when other professional sports obviously have Black players? Because of the fact that African-Americans comprise approximately 79 percent of NBA rosters, while only 65 percent of NFL line ups, and a clear minority of 18 percent of MLB teams. Out of the 79 percent of African-American NBA players, nearly 95 percent are starters or are in regular rotation.

Granted, professional basketball isn’t as cheap of an industry as cotton during the Colonial period in America’s history, yet the profits still greatly outweigh the master’s — excuse me — the owner’s investment. The New York Knicks, valued at 608 million dollars, are the highest valued team in the NBA, according to Considering their team salary total is just under 84 million, with the highest paid player, Larry Hughes, making 13 million a year, they pay a small price for a franchise that grosses nearly 200 million in profits in a single year.

African American New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden, author of the book, 40 Million Dollar Slaves, proposes that there is a methodical system set in place to “extract those bodies from where they primarily reside — in the black neighborhoods of rural and urban America — and put them to work” called the “Conveyor Belt.” The goal, Rhoden says, “is not so much to deliver young black athletes to the pros, but to deliver them with the correct mentality: They learn not to rock the boat, to get along, they learn… about the benevolent superiority of the white man and… to let the system operate without comment.”

In essence, today’s professional Black athlete are technically free, but many could argue that the contracts they sign themselves into would indicate otherwise. They’re full of requirements and stipulations that impact the athlete far outside the sports arena. This dilemma has lead to the creation of, “[an] apolitical black athlete, who [has] to be careful what he or she [says] or [stands] for, so as not to offend white paymasters.”

One of the reasons that slavery in Colonial America was so successful at keeping Blacks “in check” was because their entire support system was stripped out from under them during the journey from their home in Africa, across the Atlantic to America — better known as the Middle Passage. You had removed their family, their friends, and placed them in a strange place where they knew none of the geography nor where they could go were they to even contemplate an escape. In that same way, the professional sports industry has created an circumstance has eliminated, “every black person involved in sports — coaches, owners, trainers, accountants, lawyers, secretaries and so on — except the precious on-field talent.” Obviously there are a few exceptions to this rule, as with any, but by and large, this idea still rings true. By removing the positive, encouraging Black influences from the athlete’s life, a situation is created where the athlete becomes immensely more susceptible to the instructions and motivations of the Whites around them — which are generally whites more concerned with making top dollar than helping the athlete reach their full potential, both on the court and off.

If you don’t keep your mouth shut, they’ll do it for you

The concern that, because athletes make markedly more than the slaves in Colonial America did, they’re more loved and respected, should also be addressed. While we do love Black athletes — we wear their number on our backs and root for them every time they get the ball — the fact remains that they are slaves on the plantation. They’ve been, perhaps unknowingly, coerced into a system that’s been intentionally designed to keep them in bondage. Wasn’t a slave who worked in the master’s house, perhaps cooking or cleaning, in close proximity to him and his family, still a slave? Of course. Did the compliments they received on their skills, make them any less of a slave? No; the house slaves weren’t any more free than the field worker who lived in a rugged excuse of a house two miles past the master’s quarters. Curt Flood, Gold Glove winning center-fielder, and the man who pioneered the free agent system, in a 1970 interview with ABC’s Howard Cosell, said it best, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.” He would know; he too was African American.

Ultimately, the level of income and the immense accolades the Black athlete receive is irrelevant when discussing the level of freedom that they have. The “Conveyor Belt” method, as exposed by sports columnist William C. Rhoden, is having similar effects as the Middle Passage, in that it has been implemented in order to weaken the support system of the young, Black athlete, and surround them with Whites that may appear more wise — to the athlete — yet fail to take into account the athletes best interest. Surrounding them with Whites only serves to keep the Black shackled to the plantation with little means to devise an escape. And although the National Basketball Association utilizes this system more frequently than other sports, MLB and the NFL are by no means except. Many wealthy Whites are still in the business of using and abusing Blacks for their own profit, thus furthering this version of modern day slavery.

He doesn't look too happy... Is a rebellion about to start?
He doesn’t look too happy… Is a rebellion about to start?

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

With this argument, we are all slaves to the systems that indoctrinates us and pay us to live.

I don’t understand why it only has to apply to African Americans.

If you want to view society as a composition of free individuals, acting with free will, you’ll see free enterprise. If you want to see slaves, everything about society can be viewed as oppression and indoctrination.

We are all free to make decisions, but if those decisions are out of line with societal expectations, we are punished. That’s life for everyone, not just African Americans.

Comment by Greg Bond

I’m sorry, but that’s insane. It’s an insult to people who actually did (and still do) experience REAL slavery. There can be complaints about the system (it isn’t perfect… does one exist?), but to put it in the same category as SLAVERY is disrespectful, emotionally illicit, and logically untenable. Athletes enter into contracts. Willingly. They are not coerced. In fact, when they so choose, they can exit the contract if they want. If they retire, they are not obligated to pay anything to anyone. They just stop playing. And those horrendous restrictions are a reality of a business that relies on people with physical bodies to keep those bodies healthy. If they do something dangerous, they jeopardize their ability to uphold their end of the agreement.

And the fact that they have those restrictions… does it stop young athletes (black, hispanic, purple, blue, green, etc.) from wanting to be a professional athlete? No. Absolutely not. They try for it their entire lives. SLAVES were brutally, physically, emotionally oppressed against their will. They were treated as things. If they said, “I choose not to do this anymore,” they weren’t let go. They were beat harder and worked more. Owners own teams. And they own RIGHTS to a players PRODUCT. That’s what a contract is for. It’s the same thing as companies owning rights to intellectual property. Are those people slaves? No. Why? Because the people aren’t owned. Their product is. And they cede that over by choice.

Choice is a huge part of the equation that absolutely demolishes the comparison with slavery. Are there problems? Yes. Do I think it’s a shame that athletes (of all colors, mind you) can’t find their voice to speak out issues? Absolutely. But they make that decision because they are businessmen who don’t want to hurt their brand. Which is themselves. And again, should we watch to make sure that young black men are not forced to associate with only white people? Absolutely.

But to say there are real comparisons between that system and the Middle Passage is disrespectful and irresponsible. Saying that professional athletes are, basically, experiencing the same status as human being crammed into the holds of ships and then auctioned as cattle… that’s maddening.

Comment by Anthony

Very good point made here.

Comment by JG*

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