The Black Athlete: Athletic Cattle in a Meat Market

The Black Athlete: Athletic Cattle in a Meat Market

Omar Tyree

By Omar Tyree
NNPA Columnist

 

The NBA trade deadline for the 2014-15 season expired on Thursday, February 19 at 3 p.m., and was followed by the 2015 NFL scouting combine from Friday, February 20 through Monday, February 23. Both professional team sport leagues – along with soccer, hockey, baseball and others – execute player trades, scouting combines and official drafts to stock and restock their respective teams. But even though many professional ball players go on to make millions of dollars as highly skilled, marketed and idolized athletes, the team business interactions and policies can make them all feel like cattle in a meat market.

Imagine settling into a new home with your wife and kids in Houston, only to be traded to Sacramento, then to Minnesota and finally being shipped off to Boston, without having control over any of it. Each time you’re traded, not only do you have to deal with family arrangements, housing, school, daycare and culture in a new city and environment, you’re also forced to deal with new coaches, team philosophies, teammates, business managers and sometimes apathetic fan bases. The rabid fans may not know who you are and may not have wanted you, particularly if you replaced one of their favorite guys in an unexpected trade.

A record 39 National Basketball Association players were uprooted from their teams in trade deals recently, after a fury of management negotiations. Granted, some of these players wanted to be traded and asked for it after evaluating less than ideal situations with their clubs. However, the majority of the player “trade bait” are tossed into various team deals just to make the contract numbers match up, as if they’re disposable perks in an infomercial:

“If you buy the Ginsu knife set for only $39.95, we’ll throw in a stainless steel cooking pan, a rubber-grip spatula and a handy dandy egg beater all for free. So order now while the offer still stands.”

Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. Undesirable players have been tossed into NBA trade deals for as long as I’ve been a fan, watching Dr. J’s Afro bob across the screen in the late 1970s. Even Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were traded a few times. Nevertheless, the players all accept it as “the nature of the business.” It’s what they all signed up for and agreed to. But that doesn’t mean they have to like it. The more valuable and skilled players – and their agents – now wait patiently and strategically to play out shorter-length contracts and become “free agents,” where they’re finally given opportunities to choose their own teams, ala LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh.

Then imagine being asked to strip down to your underwear in a crowded room full of three dozen team officials, as they direct you to turn left, right, backwards and forwards so they can weigh you, measure you, poke you, pull you and appraise you, while all taking down notes to decide on whether to draft you a few months later to play American football as a member of one of their 32 ball clubs.

You’ll also be asked a half dozen and repetitive personal background questions about any and all transgressions of your college years, including the actions and associations of your friends, family and significant others, with no tolerance for you to even flinch.

So you run, jump, throw, catch, dive, squat, grunt and answer every question on demand. If you fail to impress, you stand to lose several millions of dollars. That’s the nature of the National Football League, accepted by the roughly 250 players at this past weekend’s scouting combine at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and these young men were more than happy to be there. They were the 250 chosen men from more than a hundred colleges and universities.

As the saying goes, “it is what it is,” professional athlete meat markets for billionaire owners to prod, select, assemble and trade their Cowboys, Redskins, Patriots, Lakers, Celtics and Bulls. And please don’t let me get started on Major League Baseball and their farm leagues, or the soccer clubs, where hundreds of hopeful athletes may never be “called up” to even make the meat market.

Nevertheless, millions of America and international boys continue to dream about attending those million-dollar meat markets every day, including me and my two sons. Until… we all wake up and decide to do something else with our lives.

 

Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist, who has published 27 books, including co-authoring Mayor For Life; The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. View more of his career and work @ www.OmarTyree.com.

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