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Monday, September 18, 2006

Athletes and manhood


A recent column "Can Our Athletes Ever Be Men Again? Don’t Count On It" by Boyce Watkins, adapted from his speech he will give this week to the NAACP, reminded me once again why it's time for A New Look. (Thanks to my BFF Allison R. Brown for suggesting this subtitle for our book!) A cousin of Muhammad Ali, Boyce rails against the lack of "Real Men", activists in professional athletics in the hip-hop generation in a column posted on the online Black Athlete Sports Network website.
Deep sigh....We show evidence to the contrary in our chapter "Thomas, 36" which profiles Washington Wizards player Etan Thomas, who is not only a team co-captain, has made a name for himself as a published poet and anti-war activist. I had the honor of hanging out with Etan and his family briefly last year to talk to him about his struggle to heed Ali's challenge to "take this fame the white man gave to...use our fame for freedom," in highly ambiguous times. Although I personally think he could use some help from his NBA peers, Etan Thomas disagreed.
“I don’t feel alone," he said. "We’ll have discussions. Guys couldn’t stop talking about what happened with [executed former gang leader] Tookie Williams. They are aware; they are just not trying to speak out. That’s my thing. People think [all basketball players] do one thing and that’s it, they don’t have a mind and opinions about anything. Guys are definitely aware, a lot more than people think. That’s the whole thing with perceptions.”
And that's also the whole thing with forcing older measures and definitions on a new generation, which we also talk about throughout DT. We don't pull any punches about the triflinity that also pervades our generation, but this is a new world and we need to keep up. That means not making lazy assumptions based on what we read in Sports Illustrated or see on TV. Really sad in this case, since Etan was a standout player and activist since his days at Syracuse, the university where Dr. Watkins happens to be a professor of finance.

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