By William A. Foster, IV
Life is all memory, except for the present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going. — Tennessee Williams
In 1619, the Dutch introduced the first captured Africans to America. I tend to imagine that in 1819 there was an African standing around saying to himself, “I can not believe this is still happening in the 19th century.” It appears that a year on a calendar is suppose to have some magical power. In 2014, African Americans still stand around and say “I can not believe this is happening in 2014.” Again, they say this as if time has some magic power to make people behave in some way they have not been behaving for the past four hundred years. At some point you wonder if its not them who has the problem, but us who are continuously surprised by it. Do we so desperately want to get along that we ignore the rules of nature? The law of resources and power to ensure survival.
Recently, a NBA owner made some disparaging comment about African Americans. This has been more newsworthy in African America than the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide where 1 million Rwandans were killed in 100 days or 234 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped at gunpoint taking their physics exams. Let that sink in for a minute. African Americans are about to march over something a European American man said, but were virtually silent during the genocide. The team “almost” boycotted a game over a word, but ever since the Jordan-era started in 1984, African American athletes have become increasingly mute on any social issue of substance. That anyone is considering marching over this is a slap in the face for what people actually marched for during the Civil Rights Movement in my humble opinion. Rarely is it remembered that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last march was about economic empowerment and that he called for African Americans to bank in their own banks, etc.
Almost seventy years after Jackie Robinson unintentionally sealed the fate of African American ownership in professional sports the relationship between African American muscle and European American control of that labor from high school to the pros has become increasingly troubling. Today, there are 141 professional sports teams (NFL, NBA, NHL, & MLS) in America with only 1 African American owner or equal to 0.7 percent. The combined economic value of those teams is $92.4 billion according to Forbes, while African America’s ownership stake in that is 0.4 percent or the $410 million that the Michael Jordan owned Charlotte Bobcats are worth. Jordan’s Bobcats are the only African American owned professional sports team and next to dead last in value of NBA teams.
Jordan himself has been somewhat of an enigma within the African American psyche. He was once one of the investors’ that helped Spike Lee finish funding Malcolm X when the studios cut off his funding for the film. However, most of what he has been known for is the name behind the shoes that have shaped two generations of consumption by African Americans in a way that requires an entire study. I will never forget parents of African American kids in my high school allowing their children to miss the first couple periods of school in order to be the first ones at the mall to buy the shoes. Naturally, they would show up at school with these shoes for the world to see. As a result Phil Knight, the founder and owner of Nike, even in 2014 a full decade plus after Jordan’s last game still sees the company reap $2.25 billion in revenue from the Jordan brand in 2013. Michael Jordan’s “reward” for the stellar year for Nike was $90 million, which sounds great until you realize it is only 4 percent of the revenues generated. The reality is that Nike would have never been the Nike we know it to be without the Jordan brand. However, we also see why capitalism rewards the ownership of hard workers and not the hard worker. Phil Knight is worth an estimated $18.7 billion and Michael Jordan is worth an estimated $750 million or ironically enough 4 percent of Knight’s wealth.
So what is holding up more African American ownership in professional sports? Quite frankly, money, financial aptitude, and poor financial planning. Yes, despite the appearance of making lots of money. In the echelon of wealth, athletes are at best upper middle class. The top 10 earning African Americans earn only $0.07 for every $1.00 their top ten European American counterparts earn annually. In other words, the top ten African Americans earned approximately $700 million in 2012 while David Tepper, hedge fund manager, earned $2.2 billion by himself in 2013. Professional sports teams are rarely ever owned by former players. In fact, other than Michael Jordan only Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson is a former player. The latter made his wealth not in sports, but in the food industry. His company, which he started after retiring from a short NFL career in 1961, by 1995 was the largest publicly listed company in South Carolina and owned 2 500 restaurants with over 100 000 employees. Athletes simply do not make enough for a prolonged period of time to generate the kind of wealth it would take to purchase a professional sports franchise. Not even taking into the account most of these athletes make poor investments and have egregious consumption habits as noted in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary. If you did not know any better you would think they were the billionaires. The reality is professional sports owners are business tycoons not athletes. Sports teams for them are another investment in their portfolio. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, also owns prime residential and retail real estate developments around Dallas, over 100 Papa Johns’ franchises, and still has major stakes in oil and gas wells just to name a few of his enterprises. Then there is Paul Allen, the wealthiest sports owner in America with a net worth of almost $16 billion, owns both the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. He was the co-founder of Microsoft and now is a major real estate owner in Seattle along with a large portfolio of tech, media, and energy stocks.
I could see Jamal Mashburn owning a team one day given his post-NBA career business acumen. He currently owns 71 restaurants in his portfolio and I imagine he will continue to expand his portfolio with prudence. African Americans are still too dependent on entertaining to create wealth and not our brain. There still has never been an African American present on Institutional Investors’ Alpha List that tracks the highest paid hedge fund managers annually. In 2013, to make the Alpha list you needed to have earned $380 million just to make the top ten and $900 million to make the top five. Keep in mind that all African American professional athletes combined earn $4 billion annually. Did I mention David Tepper earned $2.2 billion by himself last year? One thing remains undeniable, the power is in the “briefcase” not the ball.