Simons, J. (1997, March 24). Impossible Dreams.U.S. News and World Report
, pp. 46-52.
(Download Impossible Dreams overview as a PDF)
Sixty-six percent of black males in America between the ages of thirteen and eighteen believe that they will earn a living by playing professional sports. While 80% of professional athletes in the three major sports areas of basketball, baseball, and football are indeed black, the statistics of a black male making a living from being a professional athlete are miniscule. The reality is: of black athletes who excel to the degree of playing sports in the NCAA, the odds of those athletes signing with the NBA are two hundred and fifty to one.
If over half of black males dream of being the next Michael Jordan, and only a tiny percentage actually realize that dream, what happens to the rest of these people? Harvard Medical School
psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint believes that " ‘Too many black students are putting all their eggs in one basket.’ " With so much attention focused on sports, the myriad of other infinitely more attainable opportunities are obscured; many young black males are blinded from the option of upward mobility through education. This may help explain why blacks account for 10.1% of the work force, but are largely underrepresented in the fields of medicine, law, journalism, and engineering. The notion that black children aspire to excel in sports raises suspicions about the quality of education they receive and also the societal perception of this population. Simons writes, "The black middle class is rendered essentially invisible by the parade of black athletes and black criminals on television." Black children who possess intellectual abilities are often unrecognized and feel misunderstood by other black youth. The acceptable aspiration is to become a pro athlete; any dreams of being in a non-athletic career are quickly stamped as "not cool."
Ronnie Fields was on his way to becoming the next Michael Jordan. A student at Hyde Park Academy on Chicago’s West side; his guarantee of success—a huge mural of Ronnie playing basketball along with his record of statistics—still adorns his school gym wall. Before graduating from high school, Ronnie was in a serious car accident. Although he fully recovered, his low grades prevented him from acceptance into his college of choice—DuPaul University. Soon after, Ronnie was charged with sexual assault and plead guilty to the charge. Today, Ronnie plays basketball for a minor league team. He is not the hero the mural portrays.
The case of Ronnie Fields is not isolated. Sixty percent of young black males dream his same dream, with no thought to a "back up" plan, and only a handful ever realize this dream. Many habits of our society must change. New dreams must be encouraged and allowed to come true.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- In a society that prides itself in offering equal opportunity, why aren’t black youth aspiring to anything other than sports?
- How does the media aid this dream? How does it hamper this dream?
- How does this issue contribute to the problem of racism in this country?
- Why is education involved in this problem?
- What realistic, practical steps can be taken to address this issue?
- This unattainable dream assists in keeping the black middle class at a low percentage. There is no middle ground in this fantasy; success is based on the young black man’s athleticism.
- This feeds the stereotype within the white, racist population that blacks are intellectually inferior.
- For most, professional athletic fame is an elusive dream. From the beginning, young black males are set up to fail. They aspire to something unattainable.
Heather Hancock cCYS