Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why do so few African Americans play tennis professionally?

As I was covering the Indianapolis Tennis Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana last weekend I was wondering where was where was James Blake, Donald Young and. Well, in terms of African American representation Blake and Young are it. On the men’s ATP tour there are few if any up and coming African Americans to speak of in the world of professional tennis.

As I scoured the grounds viewing matches and people watching between matches I noticed there were very few African Americans.

I wondered to myself: why are so few African Americans in professional tennis?

Well, one of the key components to understand why African Americans are underrepresented is socio-economic status. Tennis is an elite country club sport. Generally it takes a great deal of money to excel professionally in tennis. One must consistently take lessons, attend camps, and if you show promise hire a coach.

Also, there’s a lack of African American prototypes at the highest levels of tennis to emulate. Yes, we have the Williams sisters on the WTA tour. Their dominance over the last decade has been exceptional but their greatness has seduced many to think there are more African Americans than what there really are. The same phenomenon exists in the other country club sport golf. There’s Tiger Woods but whom else?

Grass roots programs simply aren’t producing potential African American champions. The latter has a lot to do with the aspiring see in the media. When the NBA and NFL are 78 and 68 percent African American respectively chances are African Americans will gravitate towards those sports as youths because of the abundance of prototypes.

I also believe the root of the problem has a lot to do with institutionalized racism: it’s the rudimentary and fundamental cause for the racism that currently exists in society that has ultimately infiltrated American sport. Just like in society African Americans were systematically barred from sports participation with whites. The latter ultimately sets the stage for where we are today in terms of racism in sport, particularly tennis.

What can be done to bridge the racial divide in tennis?

I first point to the USTA. I don’t think the USTA had done enough to truly promote the game to people of color. While there is the NJTL (National Junior Tennis League) there aren’t a lot of programs designed to induce African Americans to more like James Blake and the Williams’ sisters as opposed to LeBron James and LaDanian Tomlinson.

If I were I charge I’d get Blake, the Williams sisters’ along with Richard Williams and begin a strong campaign to promote the game in Urban America. Tennis is can be cool. Youths being exposed to the African American stars on the game can surely induce participation. The prototypes aren’t plentiful but they have surely achieved enough where their voices will be heard. But there must be a willingness on all levels to commit to the cause.

What are the potential benefits?

It increases fan interest while simultaneously expanding the dream formation of aspiring African American youth. Variety is the spice of life. Variety also makes money. More money means more opportunities for everyone involved but ultimately it benefits the sport of tennis.

But then I regained consciousness. As I continued the scurry the courts watching the matches and thinking about tennis from an African American vantage point I ultimately came to this conclusion: while my thoughts are noble in theory in reality it’s currently not very feasible in increasing African Americans in tennis.


One, it will take unified effort on all levels from all people. It will be next to impossible to rally the USTA, African Americans in professional tennis, and youths to collectively rally around a common goal, ignite change and make it happen. Everyone has to want it. Personally I don’t think the inclination is there.

In my world nothing is impossible. True change starts with the first step. Man wasn’t supposed to walk on the moon, Babe Ruth’s career homerun record was supposed to endure forever, and many thought America would never have an African American president. But we all know man did walk on the moon, Hank Aaron first bested Ruth, and we have an African American as president.

Why not more African Americans in tennis?

Anything can be done but it must be accompanied with a plan, commitment, and unity.

Nothing fails but a try.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sotamayor backs down from controversial comments

President Obama selected Sonia Sotamayor to be a Supreme Court judge she’s been under scrutiny for comments she made regarding ones life experience. In a speech delivered at the UC Berkeley School of Law she suggested that a judges' life experiences and ethnic backgrounds play a role in their decision making Sotamayor stated, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Sotamayor has been backing off her statements as of late: she’s been watering her words down to make sure she gets what she wants. I wouldn’t have done that. Isn’t possible to get yours and stand in the light of truth? I wouldn’t back down. Oh well, I guess that’s just me.

Is there credence to Sotmayor’s assertion? I think there is. In the words of Goethe, "I am a part of all that I've met." Everyone’s life experience plays a part in their decision-making.

Judges rule and set precedents based on the law. Well, that’s what they should do. The law affects everyone who is under the jurisdiction of America. With regard to race it’s sometimes the preeminent factor in a case. Ones life experience surely comes into play. If one has an all white jury and judge and you are an African American facing a stiff sentence chances are you’ll get sailed up the river rather quickly. If you have a diverse jury pool and a minority as a judge that African American facing that stiff sentence may not be as severe or could be averted all together.

In “Trial of the Century” in 1994 if O.J. Simpson didn’t have Lance Itto on the stand, money and a diverse jury he’d been sailed up the river for life. When Simpson was recently convicted for trying to retrieve his property stolen from him in Nevada he faced an all white jury and white female judge: now he sits in jail. So in essence, Simpson averted prison by being found not guilty for killing two people yet he sits in jail in Nevada for trying to retrieve memorabilia stolen from him?

Diversity tends to breed variety, understanding and sympathy: this in turns lead to a more objective verdict being rendered. With respect to race it is one of the hardest things to prove in court. Those who judge race-based cases by and large are white males. In many cases the juries are as well. While the law may state one thing what others think and how the evidence is presented is another.

Bottom line: someone who is involved in a race-based case would be better served with someone who has experience that's varied as opposed to someone that’s not diverse in their thinking. A white male who hasn't been around many African Americans and other races is left to rely on stereotypical perceptions. They are left with what they see on television, read in the newspapers, and see in the movies. Often the depictions of African Americans aren’t accurate because they are largely disseminated through the eyes of whites. The same thing can be said for many of the judges and jury-pools in the court system.

Everyone is afraid to talk about race, especially our president. Some suggest talking about race will only stir things up and keep something alive that people don't want to talk about. Those who adopt the latter stance are typically from an ill-informed of whites who aren't afflicted by racism. Then you have those who are victimized by racism and want the mainstream to know the extent of its existence and how social issues still abound.

What do I think about all of this?

Isn't the essence of problem-solving remedying the problem? When one goes to the doctor because they have an ailment the doctor assesses the problem by detecting the cause. Once the cause is detected the doctor prescribes a remedy to rid the patient of the ailment. But in order for any of the latter to manifest the doctor and patient must have dialogue.

Cut the cards as you wish to deal with issues and any kind, particularly with respect to racism dialogue is needed. It won't come from the oval office for sure so it must spawn from those who seek to truly make a difference.

At the end of the day I’m not Sotamayor. I guess I have to live my truth just like Sotamayor has to live hers. But if I were Sotamayor I’d stick to my guns and not back off the comments she made in 2001. I’d tell the truth and set others free instead of acquiescing to make sure I’d get a job.

Oh well, I guess that’s just me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Steve “Air” McNair gunned down by girlfriend

I needed some time to digest what happened with slain former NFL quarterback Steve McNair before I weighed in on McNair being gunned down recently by his girlfriend in Nashville, Tennessee. Bottom line: it was a sad end to a life that pleased so many people in the realm of sports. The victim, 20 year old Sahel Kazeme and McNairs’ girlfriend lost her life way too soon as well.

When McNair was finally laid to rest he was being portrayed as a tough competitor who gave back to the community. He was characterized as someone who always laid it all on the line for his team. McNair played through injuries during his career. On the field he was one of the toughest men to ever play. Off the field sadly that toughness was no match for the four bullets lodged in his body by his enraged girlfriend.

Looking at it deeper I remember writing about Air McNair back in 1994. I felt that he wouldn't get a chance to strut his stuff as an NFL quarterback because of systemic racism.. Back in the day there were stigmas about African Americans playing quarterback. Whites simply didn’t believe African Americans were as cerebral as white quarterbacks. According to stereotype is the farther away from the ball the better the African American will perform.

Luckily he was the third overall pick of the Tennessee Titans. “Air” McNair did a lot to deflate such rumors by guiding his team to the Super Bowl in 2000. Though his team came up short he was part of what many consider the best Super Bowl ever played.

Off the field McNair was a humanitarian who gave back to the community in Mississippi where he lived and also in Nashville where he played most of his career. He also loved children. McNair sadly leaves behind four of his own in situation that obviously went wrong. He leaves behind a wife who was there for him in the good times and the bad. Sadly she has to live knowing of her husbands indiscretions that have been played out over the last two weeks for all to see.

Though McNair was deemed a family man for whatever reason McNair went outside his home to take up with another woman. Is the latter wrong? Perhaps, but we don't know the entire situation with respect to his family and his marital status. In short, who am I to judge?

We know the athletes in uniform as superstar athletes not as humans who deal with everyday life like you and I. The problems they encounter mirror those we face: difference being they often live their lives before our eyes. They have money, fame, and a sense of entitlement most of us won't ever have. The media portrays athletes like McNair as superhuman when they are mortals like the rest of us.

At the end of the day it's just sad. A young man at 36 who seemingly had it all was gunned down in such a savage manner doesn’t make logical sense. Yes, McNair is high-profile but what the many regular citizens being slain around the world that often go unnoticed? Only the high-profile gets the ink and attention from the media. Seemingly it's all about what you have and who you know in order for value to be placed upon citizens and stars. I guess throwing touchdowns for living takes precedence over a school teacher trying to educate America’s youth or the every day Joe who just tries to make it. It's twisted but that's the reality.

We may never know exactly what happened with McNair and his girlfriend, but we do know that two people departed this earth too young with more to contribute to society. While difficult it’s possible we can draw from the recent deaths of high-profile personalities to live our best life daily for we know not when we will take our last breath.

Value what you have, value your life, value now. We may have a script for how we want our lives to turn out but the Creator laughs knowing full well that his script takes precedence over ours. The universe is in charge.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson will continue to live through his music

What was supposed to be a farewell to actress Farrah Fawcett two weeks ago sadly turned into the Michael Jackson show due to his untimely passing June 25th. Over 20 thousand fans, friends, and family paid their last respects at a public viewing in Los Angeles at the Staple Center. Millions more from around the globe said their goodbyes to the King of Pop at various venues as well. Jackson left us with enough memories and music for us to keep him alive long into the future. Yes, Michael Jackson is really gone but he will never be forgotten.

Despite what the haters suggest Jackson was one of the greatest people who ever lived. He shared his craft with the world. Look at those who spoke at his public viewing and those from around the globe who said their goodbyes. The global recognition was amazing to say the least.

Jackson is in some ways is the Barack Obama of the music industry. In terms of impact one could argue Jackson was more important because he helped to open doors for the likes of President Obama to walk through. He made it easier for Obama’s ascent to the White House by showing America an African American can be accepted on a universal basis. Unlike President Obama Jackson wasn't scripted. He was a pioneer who bridged gaps, demanded inclusion of African Americans in the music industry and gave to charities religiously.

Those videos many like to watch on BET and MTV has a lot to do with the quiet strength of Jackson. No, Jackson didn't get involved in taking social stands out loud-he did behind closed doors. It was Jackson who stood up to MTV and made them play African Americans music and videos.

Jackson loved James Brown because he knew he stood on his shoulders. Jackson took the baton and catapulted music to extraordinary levels. He didn’t give speeches and crave attention like an Al Sharpton or Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson just went to the hire ups, used his clout and got it done.

Jackson lived 50 years of ups and downs but there were many more ups than downs. When he was at the apex of his career there was know one more popular at any time in history than Jackson. The only possible exception would be Muhammad Ali in his prime. Jackson’s Thriller album in 1982 forever changed the landscape of music and entertainment. What album has sold more copies than Thriller? Case closed.

Jackson is the original “MJ.” The other “MJ,”Michael Jordan just played a great game of basketball. But what has he used his platform for? What difference has he made around the world and for African Americans? Jordan used his platform to peddle shoes for Nike while Jackson used his platform to make a difference. Jackson made us feel good with his music while simultaneously making change.

Did Jackson have some issues? Probably, but who doesn’t? A segment of the media still wants to portray him as a bleached weird pedophile. To those who endorse those feelings you have a right to your opinion. But allow me to submit the following. If Jackson was so weird why did so many people hay him homage around the entire world? Other than the court of public opinion was he ever convicted of being a pedophile? If he was so weird how was he able to create masterpieces like Thriller and become the greatest entertainer of all time?

Doesn’t matter what anyone thinks now. He's gone from this earth but he'll live through his music. The preeminent trait of an artist is for one to use his craft to make a difference in the world. Seeing how Jackson was sent off two days ago without question he was a true artist. Jackson has touched with humanity with his craft like no other before or since.

Jackson’s passing should be a message to us all. For all that he amassed in fame he couldn’t take his Neverland Ranch, his vehicles, art collectibles, animals and money with him. The latter couldn’t fit in that beautiful gold casket Jackson will rest in from now on. What should matter most as we live are family, unity, friendship and enjoying every moment we can on earth. After all, we know how we arrive but we don’t know when and how we’ll depart. Why waste time?

Yes, Michael Jackson is really gone. But one thing is for certain, he won’t ever be forgotten.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jim Brown rips Tiger Woods for lack of social activism

Recently on Bryant Gumble’s HBO show Real Sports Hall of Fame football player and social activist Jim Brown was asked about why today’s marquee African American athletes are silent on controversial issues. Brown took the opportunity to say how he feels about Tiger Woods lack of activism. He stated: "You know what's so interesting about Tiger to me? He is a killer. He will run over you, he will kick your ass but as an individual for social change? Terrible. Terrible because he can get away with teaching kids to play golf and that's his contribution. In the real world, I can't teach kids to play golf and that's my contribution, if I've got that kind of power."

In a watered down response to Browns’ comments Woods suggested his work with children through his Tiger Woods Foundation speaks volumes. He also stated he wanted “to do it the right way.”

You have an established athlete and activist in Brown calling out the darling of American sports in Woods for being too passive. Whose side are you on here?

Brown was a warrior who endured many bitter cruelties. He’s faced racism much of his life. During his stellar career at Syracuse University coaches initially wouldn’t let him play football because they tried to break his spirit and they wanted him to quit. We know it didn’t work.

Off the field systemic racism didn’t allow for him to room with his white teammates when they traveled. When Brown did get to play he shined and never looked back. He should’ve won the 1956 Heisman Trophy but he didn’t. Unlike President Obama Brown couldn’t get the white vote.

In playing for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965 he’s regarded, even today, as the greatest football player who ever lived. Off the field Brown was expected to be docile and accept racism. He didn’t. He routinely spoke out and rallied African American athletes to bring about change in American sport and society. You see, back in the day the African American athlete had to do more than play their sport: they had to bridge social gaps that these spoiled, ignorant, non-appreciative African American athletes like Woods.

There’s a reason why African American athletes make the money, have the endorsements, and the vast opportunities today. There’s a reason why the likes of Tiger Woods doesn’t have to worry about “Whites Only” in society and the golf courses he now dominates. There’s a reason why he can continue to make Phil Knight rich at Nike. Because athletes like Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Bill Russell, made huge sacrifices on the field as well as off it battling racism.

On issues such as racism, discrimination, and other items that affect the African American community Wood’s has publicly uttered nothing that would indicate he has a social conscious whatsoever. He’s stands on the shoulders of those African American athletes like Brown who endured the ugliness of systemic racism and the humiliation of Jim Crow.

Shouldn’t he have something meaningful to say?

Woods is a tiger on the course but a pussycat off it. I don’t think he’s utilized his platform to promote the type of change that’s needed in African American communities across the land. Yes, his Tiger Woods Foundation has done great work with children. But I believe he should lift as well as climb in other areas. He shouldn’t be afraid to speak up because Phil Knight will cut his money off. Knight can’t play golf. He needs Tiger more than Tiger needs him.

Brown and other African American athletes obviously didn’t make their sacrifices for money and fame. They pushed for the real change that was needed and not the type of meaningless change President Obama advocates.

At the end of the day I think Woods should speak out. It’s a way he can address controversial issues and not loose his fame. It’s easy today because all he has to do is play golf. He doesn’t have to beg the PGA to take down the “Whites Only” signs at courses. Due to the work of activists in and out of sports he can play where he wants.

Granted many youngsters aren’t aware of the past struggles African Americans had to endure. But I say the likes of Woods can attack their ignorance, be aggressive off the field, and promote real change. What’s controversial today is often forgiven tomorrow. Just ask Muhammad Ali.
Whether Woods will ever stop hiding behind his Tiger Woods Foundation and reading prepared scripts that keep the masses happy remains to be seen. I for one would love to see Tiger act like more of a tiger than a pussycat when duty calls