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The ‘Slave Side’ of NFL Sundays
Posted on Mar 9, 2006
By James Harris
In his new book, “The Slave Side of Sunday,” former NFL player Anthony Prior writes about the legacy of racism in professional sports. “We are not looked at as leaders, rather, just a labor force where the money is generated. Plantation capitalism is still alive today,” he tells Truthdig contributor James Harris. What follows is an uncut transcript of their conversation. (Or jump to our audio version.)
Here we sit with Anthony Prior, former NFL player. He’s played for the greats, like the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders, and he’s also spent some time in the Canadian Football League. He joins me today, though, as the author of one of the more controversial books out there. The book is called “The Slave Side of Sunday,” and you will be able to buy it [March 9]. One way to do that is through Stone Hold Books. We’ll be talking more about that as the interview goes on.
Anthony, Welcome to Truthdig.
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You say after 11 years of pro football, you’re well equipped to discuss the souls of African American players who have transcended the game to a billion-dollar market, but yet have no chance and no voice within the industry. You say the black athlete should have the right to express his concerns, whether to his team, community or his country—without suffering career suicide. Can you elaborate exactly on your meaning there?
But the conflict today is—what the conflict means is serious disagreement. The conflict is, too many black athletes believe they are going to the pros. They have this illusion that because they can run, throw or jump, they’re guaranteed an opportunity in the sports industry. This is creating a crisis, a time of severe difficulty. The crisis today is the lack of knowledge and information, on an informative basis, a spiritual basis. We have a crisis when players don’t make teams on a pro level and start engaging in crime and a [garbled] lifestyle. We have a crisis when we see grown men fighting like slaves on a plantation before the game even starts. These are moral issues that must be addressed. We have a crisis when, in 1946, the NFL was forced to integrate and black athletes have taken it to a billion-dollar-plus market, yet have no owner in the industry. We are the record-breakers and trendsetters, yet we have no guaranteed contracts in the NFL. And the owners in the NFL are guaranteed profits annually. Since the players have ignored these aspects of the game, we are not looked at as leaders, rather, just a labor force where the money is generated. Plantation capitalism is still alive today.
So, the resolution. Well, resolution means a firm decision. Every black athlete must realize when pursuing a pro sports career, his fate, his talent, his determination, is in the hands of a committee that’s holding his lottery ticket—a lottery ticket that he didn’t print. Your career is in the balance of people who never even put on a helmet. Every player must pursue sports as a hobby, and get all you can out of it before it gets all it can out of you. Because I’ve witnessed this beast, this sports institution that can take the life right out of a grown man. And I’ve seen lives destroyed, because players felt they couldn’t do nothing else but be a physical beast on the field.
So what was your hope giving it the title “Slave Side of Sunday”?
Before Malcolm X was assassinated, he was interviewed, and a reporter asked Malcolm, “If you could do anything different concerning your movement, what would it be?” I quote Malcolm X: He said, “I wish I would have woke the people up first, before I tried to organize them.”’ You cannot direct a sleeping giant, so an athlete today, he needs to be woken up. He’s sleepwalking, he’s such a powerful force that could change the entire fabric of this nation. Anytime you created a billion-dollar-plus market, you should first establish a voice. And we don’t have that today. This is what I call “mental slavery.” Slavery is not limited to bondage and chains. You got parents, preachers, teachers, coaches, fundamentally imposing these characteristics on these young black children in America, that without sports, you’re going to amount to nothing. Every black athlete we see on a professional level, he is one in 12,000. There are two things that can’t lie: That’s God and mathematics. So my objective is to go around the country and educate through sports, and let the youth know that if you don’t get all you can out of sports, and it turns around and gets all it can out of you, there’s going to be hell to pay.
In the NFL, 65% of the player force—as you know and well document in the text—are black. Six percent of the general managers are black. No—as you noted—no owners in the NFL are black. We can take a peek over at major league baseball and look at the managers over there. There are virtually none. We can look at the ownership again. There are very few, or none. And this is true of all of the leagues. Blacks have not managed to break into ownership or management. Is the NFL responsible for recruiting and maintaining a significant level of blacks in the league? Should they be held responsible for that?
I believe history explains a lot of things. From 1934 to 1945, blacks were banned in the NFL. But from there we created the Negro Football League. We were establishing ourselves, we were laying a foundation. You had a lot of black outstanding college athletes during that period that were playing in the Negro League. They didn’t care about going into the white NFL. But after WWII and the contributions of blacks in the war, it necessitated a whole new responsibility in America. A lot of blacks were speaking up, we wanted to integrate and we wanted a lot more of the American dream. So the black press pressured the NFL; the Negro League pressured the NFL, saying we want to become your competitor, so the NFL had to re-integrate, because they knew they couldn’t win. So what happened there, we lost our owners, our trophy cases, our fight songs, we lost coaches, general managers. And then came in the architect of the black athlete today, because today we’re just looked at as physical specimens. Those who prescribe your knowledge determine the range of your thinking. As soon as little Tyrone or little Pooky starts running, jumping or throwing something, the first thing we say in our minds is, oh, he’s going to get us out of this present condition, he’s going to be an athlete, he’s going to make a million dollars. But the owners of the institutions, the general managers and presidents, they’re leaving their kids’ wealth in a legacy. But my kids, with that mentality, will always have to prove themselves. So this has become fundamental. Because any time as a young black man, you don’t see black grown men in a position of leadership, you don’t feel you can lead. The only thing you see us as is a labor force, just like a slave on a plantation. And that mentality holds strong today. A lot of players feel they can’t be owners, they feel they can’t be coaches and general managers and scouts and work in the administration and make decisions, because they feel decisions have always been made for us—and against us.
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