The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. – Lorenzo Anello
Somewhere in an alternative universe a call goes out over the hospital intercom, “Paging Dr. James! Dr. James to operating room, please.” Into the operating room walks a 6’8 250 pound surgeon African American man who smiles at his surgical team, but sternly ask, “Has the patient been prepped?” The staff acknowledges to the doctor the patient has and thus the operation begins. For the next few hours it is a battle of skill, touch, and finesse. With nerves of steel it all comes down to a final cut. The doctor steps back, takes a deep breath, and goes in for the final incision. Success! The patient is responding better than expected and the surgeon leaves the room to debrief the family. As he speaks with the family cheers and tears of rejoicing come from the crowd of family and friends gathered.
There are currently 5 005 and 1 015 African American males on college football and basketball Division 1 rosters on any given year, respectively. That means every year over 6 000 African American males believe either in the coming year or in a few years they will be eligible to become a professional athlete. The NCAA itself reports that only 1.7 percent of college football players will go on to play professionally and 1.2 percent of college basketball players will go to the NBA, respectively. That means that in any given year out of those 6 000 plus athletes, less than 100 will actually go pro. However, speaking with an ambassador at a local Division 1 program with around 100 players on their football roster just how many of his players believe they can go pro – he said at least half. Inquiring further how many really have a chance and he said maybe two. How can there be such a gulf between those two viewpoints? Warren Goldstein’s examination of William Rhoden’s book $40 Million Dollar Slaves offers us some insight, “Consequently, most black athletes lost their connection to a “sense of mission . . . of being part of a larger cause. Young athletes, in particular, dropped the thread that joins them to that struggle and became, instead, a “lost tribe,” adrift in the world of white coaches, boosters, agents, club officials, network executives — those profiting from black muscle and skill.”
African America is desperately in need of more doctors. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports there are 209 000 primary care physicians in the United States, but only 3.9 percent of that number are African American or a pinch over 8 000. An article in the Philadelphia Tribune reports, “Studies also indicate that when minority patients can select a health care professional, they are more likely to choose someone of their own racial and ethnic background.” That means at current, there is 1 African American physician for every 4 938 African Americans, but the nation as a whole has 1 physician for every 1 435 citizens in the United States. In order for African American to reach the national average, there would need to be an increase in the number of African American physicians by over 300 percent. The state of African American males in the medical field is even more acute according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education who recently reported, “A new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) finds that the number of Black males who are applying to medical school has not increased since 1978. In 1978, 1 410 Black males applied to U.S. medical schools. In 2014, the figure was 1 337. In 1978, 542 Black men matriculated at U.S. medical schools, compared to 515 in 2014.”
Unfortunately, basketball and football often detour thousands of African American males (those who do manage to escape prison) from childhood where they are warped early with promises of fame and riches with even the slightest hint of athleticism. This is not to say sports can not be a valuable part of a boys’ upbringing, but we have made it their central and primary focal point. With only 2 000 available slots to fill out all NFL and NBA rosters and even with turnover the odds of these young men finding their way onto one is virtually null. However, primary care physicians and dentist comprise 350 000 positions in the country combined and unlike athletics which is not expanding its rosters or number of teams, there is actually a growing demand for more doctors and dentist in the country. As for the pay, pro-rated until age 65, an NFL player makes a median salary of $34 200 and a NBA players makes a median salary of $144 000, while a primary care physician’s median salary is $220 000. And the economic cost to the community because of the physician shortage is $4.4 billion annually in just lost opportunity wages alone. Not including the lost wages our community suffers due to illness and poor access to primary physicians. Health is wealth takes on whole new meanings.
And it is not just the medical field that is suffering from this brain dumbing (drain). At a time when there is an acute need for Civil Rights lawyers’ in African America along with entrepreneurs, farmers, technologist, psychologist, and even those who can fill a myriad of new green vocational and professional jobs on the horizon, we are ghastly underrepresented in matters of the mind and overrepresented in matters of the body. Claims that the K-12 system fails these young boys would be correct, but then again so do the parents who are largely force their sons down these paths as they too believe it is the only option. 247Sports reports, “For the typical (AAU) program that is traveling to two national tournaments and one regional tournaments the costs end up being (approximately) $1 500-$2 000 per player.” Imagine if you will though that same $1 500-$2 000 per player being spent was on supplemental education for the boys in academic development. The current public elementary and secondary spending per student in the United States is $12 401. The use of the amount spent on them traveling alone if diverted to the aforementioned supplemental education would be an increase of 12 to 16 percent in the value of the education they receive annually and may have a significant impact on increasing the abysmal high school graduation rate for African American males which is currently 59 percent. We may not have an abundance of resources, but there needs to be a discussion and critique of how we are using what we have.
The repercussions of the dumbing down of African American males is already being felt through the social fabric of our communities. African America is the only ethnicity where females outnumber males in employment. This has consequences as it relates to marriage, crime, and a host of other social issues, but we are not paying attention to the damage we are doing to our boys often until it is too late. We are hypnotized by the LeBron Jameses as being the rule for our boys instead of realizing the exception. That most of these young men with athletic aspirations will never see a professional athlete’s paycheck and if they do the career’s are often short and communal impact is zero. We can kid ourselves into thinking that these athletes bring something to our community of value, but it is just entertainment and disillusioned opportunity. Nothing more and nothing less. Meanwhile, what happens to the thousands who do not make it, who lack the skills to do anything meaningful and substantive, to become a valuable asset to the social, economic, and political fabric of the building of African America. They fall by the wayside and we pay the brutal cost as a people, but are we not entertained?
For the same amount of money we dedicate to Pop Warner athletics, if we just took half of it and put it toward “Pop Warner” academics, STEM camps, chess clubs, and other initiatives that made little black boys feel that we value their minds just as much as their bodies we would see a paradigm shift in a generation. We lay so much blame on “others” for what is happening to our boys and take very little ownership or onus on ourselves for what is happening to them. Pimping them out for decades of their life with the hope of lottery style “winnings” instead of sustainable life and community development, then look perplexed when they and our communities lack the basic infrastructure to become viable. A wise man once said never put your destiny in the hands of others, yet we continue to do so at the expense of these young boys. We maybe entertained, but we are certainly not fulfilled.