Friday, February 22, 2008

Why I Don’t Like Mike

I have to admit it when it comes to basketball, I love Michael Jordan. I thought he was the greatest player in the history of the game. Of course with sports, you’re only as good as your last game and someone will come along and eclipse Mike. As much as I enjoyed watching Mike with the ball, I am beginning to not like Mike the businessman. I have always been concerned about the fact that he markets his $200 sneakers to kids who could probably use that money for more important priorities or the fact that his marketing campaign led to the beatings and untimely deaths of some his more unfortunate young customers. But the latest campaign has caused me more concern than the previous ones and I can no longer remain silent.

As a person I have never been particularly impressed with Mr. Jordan. I have always felt that in order to maintain his marketability he has avoided issues he could have brought his enormous star power to bear on and had some impact. This of course is his business and is a place where we differ in philosophies. In his latest ad campaign to sell more of these over-priced sneakers, Mr. Jordan is telling the youth that they to can become legendary. In the ad Mr. Jordan is doing a voice-over as faces of current and maybe future athletic stars are being shown. In his narration Mr. Jordan is saying that if you look into their eyes you can see their determination and their drive to be the best and of course part of that drive will include a pair of his sneakers. Here is where I take issue with this ad, it is continuing a narrative young black men can no longer continue to aspire to. The fairytale road to riches through athletics for black youth must be halted. There was a time in America when it was a necessary avenue, because there were so few other options for blacks in our society. Today that is no longer the case and yet the myth continues at the expense of our youth.

A recent survey by the Center for the Study of Sport in Society found that two-thirds of African American males between the ages of 13 and 18 believe that they can earn a living playing professional sports (more than double the proportion of young white males who hold such beliefs). Moreover, African American parents were four times more likely than white parents to believe that their sons are destined for careers as professional athletes.

Second, while the odds of African American males making it as professional athletes are more favorable than is the case for whites (about 1 in 3,500 African American male high school athletes, compared to 1 in 10,000 white male high school athletes) these odds remain slim. Of the 40,000 or so African Americans boys who play high school basketball, only 35 will make the NBA and only 7 will be starters. Referring to the low odds for young African Americans, Harry Edwards, an African American sociologist specializing in the sociology of sport, said with a bit of hyperbole: “Statistically, you have a better chance of getting hit by a meteorite in the next ten years than getting work as an athlete.”

So they have a better chance of getting hit with a meteorite, or how about a better chance of ending up in prison or shot dead than making it as a professional athlete or becoming legendary. Do these facts dissuade Mr. Jordan and his friends at Nike? Of course not, there goal is to sell sneakers to kids who number one can’t afford them and number two most who buy them don’t even play a sport. The majority of kids I see wearing Jordan sneakers don’t even play sports. I play basketball if I can three times a week and have played for more than 40 years, I have never paid more than $60 for a pair of sneakers, this includes college and semi-pro summer leagues. I understand today that times are different and sneakers for some kids are a status symbol, but to those kids where this is the case they are the ones least able to afford the symbol. I don’t have a problem with kids wanting to live their dream of becoming a professional athlete, I’ve played a game for over 40 years. The problem is that it is unrealistic and against the odds for most of these kids. Why do we not have any ads for kids becoming legendary doctors, engineers, or CEO of Jumpman?

The reason is simple, these people don’t wear $200 sneakers. We continue to reinforce the get rich quick mentality to minority children. No need to study or work hard you can just become the next Lebron or 50 cent. Of course neglecting to mention that for many of them the closest they’ll ever come to either one of them is by buying a jersey or a cd. I’m waiting to see the ad campaign that promotes the realistic circumstances of our youth and our communities. Our youth don’t need anymore instruction on how to “be like Mike” the ballplayer, they need instruction on how to be like Mike the entrepreneur. Where are the commercials espousing the virtues of higher education not as a member of a sports team, but as a member of an academic team? Where is the narrative of determined kids striving not to get a pair of shoes named after them but a disease or a cure, a business, or a law firm?

With the success of Barack Obama there is no longer the need to settle and continue to reinforce the stereotypical roles for black youth. Black youth are graduating high school at a 50% rate, that’s right high school! We don’t need more sneakers, we need more educators and real role models who are not looking to exploit them to sell another $200 pair of sneakers.


No comments:

HTML stat tracker