I cry silently every time I see a young black man hugging family and friends after donning a baseball cap representing the college he has chosen to attend when scanning the room reveals no one who looks as if they could be his father.
They at least got that far, but umpiring little league baseball games in an urban environment, I see boys surrounded by fatherlessness trying to survive in the hyper-masculinity ‘hood? Boys full of potential bouncing between tough talk and bright smiles but smoldering underneath is emotional turmoil that explodes through under a scintilla of stress or perceived slight.
The most athletically inclined are harvested without much attention to the terrain left behind. At best, we have a reflection of the street drug life paradigm. There, a few may rise above the underbelly but the vast majority of slingers and soldiers squeak out a short-lived existence truncated by prison or homicide. In the sports world, it wouldn’t be so horrific if those never able to earn a paycheck playing a game were able to carve out a profession tethered to the sweat, muscle and brain power of their former craft. But even for those who starred or had that sip of coffee often end up thirsty and broke.
Beyond this place of running and jumping loom real riches. Yet, most, and many professional athletes themselves, believe that athletes are overpaid. The kajillion dollar sports industry is like manna from the sky for the ruling class and its dependents. The slice of the pie that goes to the athletes –the flour, sugar, salt and butter- is a sliver, maybe crumbs, compared to the revenues recouped by the owners, broadcasters, administrators, marketers, apparel and equipment suppliers, medical and health providers, sponsors, security, insurance, legal, etc…
Of course, fatherhood is not a panacea to eliminate these woes and God bless the many mothers who raise children alone such as the mothers of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. These two are not just the best players in the world about to face off in the NBA Finals but are well grounded despite one being billed as the South Beach Villain and the other as humble as Oklahoma tumbleweed. Of course, neither is accurate but media driven story lines like that simplistic set-up much like demonizing the father figures of Earl Woods and Richard Williams.
The Atlanta Black Star is presenting a week long salute to black fatherhood focusing on books like that by NBA veteran Etan Thomas, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge. That book and many others on this subject is not about grooming professional athletes, but realizing how much sports can be used by fathers to meet the challenge is inescapable.
I know because I smile all over recalling my father, after one of my high school football games, tenderly massaging my cramping legs and placing me in a warm bath. I laugh when I hear myself saying to the now younger dudes toting the pigskin, “Go son, go!” just like my father used to yell at the television. And I anticipate with glee the next time over a baseball game he can reminisce about life. Now, I go to bath my own young son in the rivers of my father.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!