LeBron James and 50
Cent - Public Enemies #1
by Bruce H. Edwards
A New Visions Commentary
paper published October 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
Across America, bouncing basketballs
are heard a little more often. "Professional basketball
player" reigns as the top answer when young black boys are
asked what they want to be when they grow up.
A close second is being a rapper. In
local talent shows, young men believe they are stars and wait
for an agent or producer to bring them a life of money, women,
jewelry, videos and fame.
On the surface, there's nothing wrong
with playing in the NBA or rapping. Both professions have taken
many a black youth from the ghetto, made him rich and given his
family a better life. Sports and entertainment are embedded deep
in our culture. That's the problem.
Far too many young black boys think being
an athlete or entertainer is the only positive thing they can
do. Sports and music stars are their heroes... the ones who "made
it." They have it all, and they command the all-important
respect that comes from living large. It's certainly better than
idolizing a pimp or drug dealer, but these perceived limits still
hurt our community.
Black youth want to be just like LeBron
James and 50 Cent. They want riches and celebrity. They usually
don't explore other career options, and, tragically, school is
The quest for fame and fortune is a trap
door we've fallen through for generations. Sports and entertainment
stars who "make it" mistakenly symbolize the only successes
of the black community to many of our youth.
Just 43 years after the end of the Civil
War, black people still had nothing more than their freedom.
But black people could claim boxing champion Jack Johnson as
their hero. Johnson could legally hit a white man and get paid
for it. He wore fur coats and fancy suits and flashed more money
than most whites. He alone, a superstar athlete, was the symbol
of black power.
In the 1930s, when black men were hanged
from trees on a regular basis, Joe Louis was our pride and joy.
The post-depression era hit blacks the hardest, but we had the
world heavyweight-boxing champion!
When jobs and educational opportunities
for black veterans were bleak at best after World War II, Jackie
Robinson gave black America its brightest moment since emancipation.
If a black man could integrate the national pastime of baseball,
then surely we had arrived! Unfortunately, as far as mainstream
America was concerned, we arrived as a people through an athlete.
Besides athletes, who's gained more fame
in the history of black America than entertainers? In 1915, black
singer and actor Bert Williams made over $100,000. In 1963, we
watched in awe as Sidney Poitier became the first black man to
receive an Academy Award. From Duke Ellington to the Jackson
Five to Tupac and the morals-deprived Lil' Kim, entertainers
have been important symbols of black achievement in America.
At the same time, there have always been
black intellectuals who have achieved greatness in academia and
business. The list is long and distinguished, yet they only receive
token recognition. These successful doctors, lawyers, inventors,
writers, researchers and businessmen, through no fault of their
own, have escaped the title of "role model." I guess
they're not flashy, wealthy, glamorous or cool. Or, God forbid,
they might be "too white."
Which brings me back to LeBron James
and 50 Cent. I have nothing against them, but I resent that they
are being idolized while so many other great role models are
overlooked. Parents, educators and the media are complicit by
not exposing our children to things that would stimulate their
How many black boys will try and fail
to become the next LeBron James or 50 Cent? What will become
of all the years spent on jump shots and rhymes? Where is the
payoff? Saying, "I was trying to reach that star and follow
my dreams" will not feed them or open doors. If just a fraction
would aspire to other professions, the black community would
change dramatically for the better.
Playing sports builds character and promotes
teamwork. But, even with talent, only one in a million may ever
have the fame and fortune of LeBron James. The same goes for
the young man spending $75 and waiting for hours to get his rap
demo heard by a parasite producer.
Our black children need balance in thought,
balance in their habits and a much broader view of the types
of careers they can make for themselves. Our children need to
dream a diversity of dreams. They need to know they can be respected
for being something other than an athlete or entertainer.
(Project 21 member Bruce H.
Edwards is a speechwriter, poet, journalist and public speaker
living in Lexington, Kentucky. Comments may be sent to [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.
| Search | About
Project 21 | About NCPPR | What's New | Read
Our Blog | Project 21 Home |