Jocks - Wealth vs. Power

December 18, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

Phil, in his comment on the previous post, says that as food for thought, he asks students “to chew on the class position of David Beckham.” How to reconcile the fabulous incomes of these sports stars with their subjugated structural position? True, Beckham and Barry Bonds are not exactly the proletariat of Dickensian London. But they do earn most of their money, whether on the field or from endorsements, by working for the owners. They have much wealth but relatively little power. Is the fault in our superstars, dear Beckham, in our Marxist theories, or in sport itself?

William Rhoden, a sports writer for the New York Times, argues that black athletes, even the very well paid, are still the exploited. They are Forty Million Dollar Slaves, and when they threaten to revolt or seize some small bit of power, the white establishment reacted strongly to retain control. We all know what happened to Ali when he challenged the Vietnam war, and if we’ve seen The Great White Hope, we know about Jack Johnson. But who knows about Rube Foster, who tried to form a baseball league with black-owned teams?

What’s interesting – and disappointing to Rhoden – is how few black athletes have used their wealth to move into positions of ownership. Successful musicians start their own record labels or even clothing lines (P. Diddy). But athletes, white or black, have not become brands, nor even noticeably entrepreneurs or owners. It’s Jay-Z, not some former athlete, who’s a co-owner of the Nets.

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