Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr assassinated in Memphis, TN by a belligerent racist, James Earl Ray. ESPN commentator, Steven A. Smith, spoke eloquently about some of today's black athletes who seem to have lost sight of Dr. King's legacy of equal rights. Smith made a stinging reference to Cincinnati wide receiver, Chris Henry, released recently following charges that he allegedly assaulted an 18-year girl. Since joining the Bengals as a third round pick from West Virginia University, Henry walked on a tight rope. Yet, sports has been the one pursuit whereby black men have eclipsed rivals. Ever since boxer, Jack Johnson, pounded the great white hope, Gentleman, Jim Corbett, African American men have marched confidently in a cocky theory of athletic superiority. Naturally, their convictions were taken for granted during the generations of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, also Evander Holyfield.
The National Basketball Association, meanwhile, became an almost exclusively black league. The Olympics, furthermore, saw African Americans like Carl Lewis, Valerie Briscoe- Hooks, Jackie Joyner-Kerse, and Michael Johnson turn the sprints into a Black Invitational meet. But oh what a difference a day makes. 40-years after the death of Dr. King, the reigning heavyweight champion of the world is white. Some of the best all round players in the NBA are of European ancestry, and African Americans are going the way of the Neanderthal in major league baseball. Football maintains a significant presence only because the NFL can rely on a feeder system of blacks from the economically stagnant South. If black men, nevertheless, are going to college for degrees, rather than recreation, that's intoxicating. For so many years, professional sports was one of the few narrow opportunities for black advancement in society. Now, nothing seems off limits...including the presidency. I've always believed America never received credit for its racial tolerance...especially from African Americans living in our dark past rather than our bright future. Two trends are apparent: more blacks are going to college; meanwhile, fewer are playing professional sports. It seems Dr. King would appreciate men and women defining themselves as professionals in all walks of life; and Stephen A. Smith, that's something Chris Henry will have to figure out for himself.