“You Treated Fairly?”: Open Letter to Philly’s Grassroots Hoops Community

Milk crateThe 1st hoop for many, many Philly ballers!!

If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto
Don’t ever come to the ghetto
‘Cause you ain’t understand the ghetto
And stay the fuck out of the ghetto…
“Ghetto Bastard” Naughty By Nature

Basketball is THE inner city game. It is the game played in the ghetto, ‘round the way and in the ‘hood. Every year black communities and neighborhoods many consider off-limits to outsiders are invaded by representatives of multi-million dollar college athletic departments. Wave after wave of college coaches regularly venture into places most white people avoid after sundown. The trained eye can spot ’em a mile away.  You see ‘em roll up in rental cars fresh off the private jets looking lost in public housing developments.  The team logo and that of their shoe company sponsor featured prominently on a new golf shirt or sweater if it’s a lil’ chilly outside.  The over-sized Conference Championship ring is dripping with ice.

Rucker_parkAcross America in cities like Philly, Motown, NYC, Chi-town, LA, B-more, DC, ATL, and H-town representatives of America’s increasingly wealthy athletic departments come in search of beautifully sculpted Black bodies. They are looking for the young men that will lead them to the “promised land” or at least the “Sweet 16.”  This search brings to them to the projects, Section 8 homes and other low-income Black neighborhoods one after the other.  Representatives of the Math department, Chemistry department and History departments never seem to make their way down.  In much of the non-sports mainstream (mostly white) discourse, urban centers are derisively described and as isolated pockets of dysfunction, deviance and despair to be avoided and in some case obliterated, if the opportunity for gentrification presents itself.

The athletic department reps, the coaches, the recruiters are there for a very specific purpose.

These colleges and universities are vying explicitly to extract a valuable resource from these impoverished communities. They want young athletic Black bodies.  They want to co-opt the labor of our young men and use it to increase the economic status of the University President, Athletic Director and Basketball coach and other athletic department employees. They want our Black boys to serve as cheap labor in the multi-billion dollar enterprise known as collegiate athletics.  Now, it should be noted that along the way he may earn or be awarded (see recent UNC scandal) a degree in some obscure major with limited earning potential.

As bad as this situation sounds, it’s infinitely better than being one of the 72% of Black boys that fail to graduate from HS on time every year in places like Philly and NYC.  These young men are headed for a lifetime of low wage earning or they will participate in the extra-legal ‘hood economy and likely end up in prison. In the ‘hood, collegiate athletics is a possible way up and out of poverty.  But having dealt with college programs over the years, you know others benefit to a much larger extent.  The fates of the gifted low-income urban Black male athletes and wealthy white university athletic department employees are inextricably intertwined.

A situation has emerged whereby Black boys and the struggling grassroot basketball community from which they emerge are dependent upon billion dollar sneaker companies and college athletic programs with $100-$150 million dollar athletic budgets. The existing situation breeds economic success and financial security for Presidents, AD’s and coaches. In many ways, the existence and sustenance of grassroots programs is dependent on the their connection to college programs and the college program’s continued economic gain in dependent upon struggling grassroots basketball programs. Born out of this arrangement is a sort of mutual dependency.

Dr JJulius “Dr. J” Erving in a Harlem, NY Playground

High skilled urban Black male basketball players sell their athletic labor in return for athletic scholarships while the college athletic programs generate millions of dollars selling their performance to alums and the general public.  Coaches are paid million in salaries, bonuses and perks.

As the heads of the AAU/grassroots “farm system,” what are you getting? Are you treated fairly? Do the coaches, boosters and fans respect you?  Over and over, I hear that you guys are “killing” amateur basketball.  It’s bullshit.  AAU/grassroots basketball long ago superseded scholastic basketball as the premier development arm for collegiate hoops.

In Philadelphia, basketball is king among amateur sports. College basketball occupies a unique space in Philadelphia’s sports milieu. There are six (6) NCAA Division 1 Basketball programs in the Philadelphia area representing some highly competitive conferences. Villanova (Big East), Temple (AAC), St. Joseph’s (A10), LaSalle (A10), Drexel (CAA) and Penn (Ivy) all play in tough leagues with nationally recognized competitors.

Anyone that watches the games will notice some common themes regarding these teams and others in their respective conferences. A significant percentage of revenue is generated by basketball programs with a high percentage of urban Black male athletes.  The boys from ’round the way are getting it in.  North Philly’s DJ Newbill is the star at Penn State.  Jabril Trawick, hailing from the Westside, is the headliner for Georgetown.  Another North Philly native, Rysheed Jordan in manning the point guard spot in Madison Square Garden for St. John’s.  Chester’s Rondae Jefferson is back for a 2nd and perhaps final season at Arizona.  Black males from ’round the way are making a lot of money for these schools.

sidewalk hoops

The over-representation, employment and production of Black males in revenue-producing sports (basketball and football) is well documented. Black males represent a mere 5.8% of the total U.S population. Black males comprised 45.8% of major college football rosters and 61% of major college basketball rosters in the 2009-2010. The numbers for the pros are even higher. Over 67% of NFL players are Black and 78% of the NBA in 2011-2012. Collegiate and professional football and basketball organizations consistently scour the ‘hood when seeking talented players.  In many cases, you stand ready and willing to serve your players up to the hunters. I want ask you some important questions.

Are your AAU/grassroots programs sufficiently benefiting? Do you feel like college programs respect the role you play? Do college coaches and fans appreciate your tireless efforts getting these guys ready for the next level?

Is it enough for these programs to just come year after year and take the most talented and highly gifted without considering the plight of those left behind?

Do the City 6 programs work with you when your kids can’t afford the $200, $300 or even $400 price of their camps? Do they give you balls? Do they donate equipment?  Do they make sure you “eat” when you bring your players to visit their campuses? Do they provide tickets to your organization so the younger kids can see the older kids play “live”?  Or, do they just come through, pick the ripest fruit and get back in the German luxury sedan?

Baltimore BoyPuttin’ in work…

Let me know… I’m really curious.  Remember, you have leverage.

If they tell you the kids have to “pay” full price, let everybody know… Tell the other AAU/grassroots coaches how you were treated…  Share information about your experiences…. In my opinion, Black boys have already paid. Let me show you how.

Young men from the ‘hood currently participating in revenue-generating sports (football and basketball) far exceed their white counterparts and other races. Keep in mind football and basketball make virtually all the money supporting all the other white dominated collegiate sports. Think about this fact, less than 1 percent of the total collegiate student-athlete population generates more than 90% of NCAA revenue during “March Madness.” Of the 1 percent, well-over half were Black young men from ’round the way.

Over the past decade (2004-2013), the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has triggered more than $6.88 billion of national TV ad spending from 269 different marketers. Ad revenue in 2013 was $1.15 billion, up 3.8 percent from the prior year.  Less than 1% of college student-athletes generate this staggering amount of revenue, the overwhelming majority are young Black men from the ‘hood.

Guys from the ‘hood played, started and produced more than their non-Black teammates. Locally, Black players scored 73.9% of Temple points last year. Blacks accounted for 83.5% at St. Joseph’s, 87.3% at Villanova, 98.3% at Drexel, 87.1% at LaSalle and 65.7% at Penn.

Wilt Claude

The 1953 Christian St YMCA, National Champions, featuring Philadelphia school boy legends Wilt Chamberlain (standing center) and Claude Gross (seated 2nd from right)

The local colleges and universities want and need Black athletic talent. Their labor is undeniably needed to sustain massive inflows of revenues in athletic departments. Make no mistake colleges, universities, Presidents, Athletic Directors and coaches are making money off the labor of young men plucked from the ‘hood.  The players get an “opportunity” to earn a college degree as long it doesn’t conflict with their athletic obligations. Alums, boosters and fans root for and are entertained by the performances of these young men.

Ask yourself: How do the university’s alums and fans really feel about the young men in the ‘hood? I know they shake your hand after your boy gets get 20 points  and grabs 10 rebounds against a rival. I know they cheer loudly and passionately for your boy when you’re seated next to them at the Wells Fargo Center, Liacouras Center, Hagan Arena and Gola Arena. But, how do they really feel about you and yours?  How do they talk amongst themselves?

Do fans of the local schools respect the communities that spawn the athletes that help them win games? How do they refer to the neighborhoods that border their respective institutions?  You have been there your entire life.  They are guests passing through while pursing a college degree.

One way you can get a feel for this is by perusing the local team message boards. It’s an absolute must for those desiring a peek behind the curtain of cordiality extended to your face during actual games and “official” visits to campus.  There behind the veil of a screen name, keyboard tough guys unleash their true feelings about the ‘hood and those who hail from there. They are talking about your Grandmom that refuses to move from the house she paid off years ago. They are talking about your cousin that is struggling to work 2 jobs to pay that Catholic school tuition. They are talking about your homie that’s remodeling the house his parents left him in their will. They talking about your Aunt with those hot ass plastic furniture covers on her “good” living room set.  They are talking about your uncle in the halfway because the police lied and fabricated evidence against him.

What are they saying? Far too often, they say “Fuck the community!” Far too frequently, they argue that they should “bulldoze your family’s homes!”

MinstrelTurn of the Century “Minstrel” Poster

Then 10 minutes later they argue that your son, grandson, godson, nephew, or youngbuck averaging 32 ppg for the public school ‘round the way should come to their school. They call President Obama and Attorney General Holder “minstrels.”  Meanwhile, the same person puts forth an argument why “Junior” should come, bust his ass and sack quarterbacks for their alma mater next year.  It’s a truly weird dynamic to observe. They make no apologies.  Indeed, the proudly claim they are speaking “truths”.  Many of them despise and hate the ‘hood, while simultaneously yearning for the big beautiful Black bodies walking down it’s narrow avenues.

I say Fuck ‘em!

I say keep track of these public discourses and hold the programs accountable.  I say ask the coaches and athletic directors to disassociate themselves from the most egregious offenders. If they choose not to, I say educate our young men from the ‘hood about the way SOME of the alums feel about them, their families and their neighborhoods.

Let’s not ignore those that wish you and yours harm.  Of course, MOST alums and fans are respectful and always decent in public and behind a screen name.  I say call on them to check the racist tendencies of the vocal minority within their family.  These boards have moderators.  If offensive language it left up, one can safely assume is is acceptable within that cyber-community of the school’s alumni.

Read for yourself. View this stuff for yourself. Make sure you let young people understand the parameters of public discourse surrounding their families and their neighborhoods.

The time has come to make sure our young people and their families are fully informed before they make the very important decision to earn money for a particular university.  If one or more of the local schools is offering your players a scholarship he will likely have other options.  If he doesn’t hit me up and I’m sure we can find a school that will pay his bills.

If you feel disrespected, if you feel unappreciated by local programs and their followers and they are offing your players scholarships you have options.  Exercise them.  Buyer beware!

It should be noted that it’s a very specific segment of the largely white male middle class fan and alumni base making the most vile statements.

Message boards are largely populated by white male alums of the schools. Recent surveys have identified the characteristics of message board posters. The data indicated that the vast majority of message-board users were male (87.8% of total, 92.2% of subscribers), White (90.8% of total, 92.4% of subscribers), and married (62.1% of total, 63.0% of subscribers); had least an undergraduate degree (76.0% of total, 79.3% of subscribers); and were current residents of the United States (97.4% of total, 98.1% of subscribers). Most respondents indicated that they were alumni of their message board’s school of focus (59.0% of total, 60.6% of subscribers). A total of 77.4% of survey participants indicated they were at least 30 years old, with subscribers tending to skew slightly older than non-subscribers. Also of note was the finding that 25.5% of all users were age 50 or older.

Let’s not send our young men where they aren’t welcomed and embraced. These are the internet addresses of message boards for the City 6 basketball programs.

St. Joseph’s Basketball – http://saintjosephs.scout.com

Temple Basketball & Football – http://temple.scout.com/

LaSalle Basketball – http://explorertown.proboards.com/

Villanova Basketball & Football – https://villanova.rivals.com/forum.asp

Drexel Basketball – http://www.caazone.com/boards/forums/drexel-dragons.7/

Penn Basketball – http://boards.basketball-u.com/showforum.php?fid/43/

Judge for yourself.

 

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