New book takes a hard look at the African-American athlete's conundrum

The More Things Change...


From Slaveships to Scholarships Book Talk
Thurs. March 12
5:30 p.m.
Blue Bicycle Books
420 King St.
(843) 722-2666

When he was a young man, Charles Pinckney dreamed of being an NBA star. That didn't happen, but Pinckney's eventual career path allowed him to keep one foot in the sports world and one in academia. He's not only a professor of Africana studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but he's also president of the CIAA Faculty Athletic Representative Association, faculty athletic representative of the NCAA, and chair of the CIAA's Athletic Academic Committee.

That's a lot of acronyms, but all of that experience made Pinckney the perfect person to write From Slaveships to Scholarships: The Plight of the African-American Athlete, a new book that's just as riveting as it is disturbing.

The book draws some unsettling parallels between the life of an African American during the time of slavery in America, and the plight of the modern African-American athlete, particularly the collegiate athlete. Pinckney delves into the long, slow history of desegregation of professional and collegiate sports, and the pressure a black athlete often feels to perform for team owners, administrators, and coaches, who are most often white.

The genesis of the book came from something that John Lucas II, a star NBA player and champion tennis pro who coached and managed the Philadelphia 76ers from 1994-96, once told Pinckney.

"The players didn't like the way the owner was talking to them, so John decided to talk to the owner," Pinckney says. Apparently telling Lucas, "I can talk to them any way I want to," Pinckney says the account of the owner's attitude shifted his perspective.

"I think that was the turning point for me to really look at sports with a more critical eye," he says.

Once Pinckney became a part of the NCAA, the separation between those who ran the programs and the athletes who played for them became even more apparent.

"I became more aware once I took an active position with the NCAA," he says. "Being on the registration committee only added to the fire. I was at these conventions and seeing that you had a disproportionately low amount of African-American administrators versus the amount of African-American athletes in collegiate and professional sports."

Interestingly enough, Pinckney's book has come out at a time when the overall traditional model of college athletics seems to be on the verge of changing. There's been a lot of discussion about paying college players in some way, and though From Slaveships to Scholarships was not directly influenced by that discussion, he does put forth a potential formula for doing just that.

"My stance with that is I don't think they should be compensated directly," he says. "I think we should put the money in a trust, and as these young men move towards graduation, if they meet that goal of graduation, they'd have $40, $50, $60, maybe $70,000 in trust that they can take and get a head start on life. What's missing is financial literacy."

Pinckney says that whatever the outcome of the discussion about paying college players, the system as it is now needs a lot of work.

"Is a scholarship really a scholarship or is it a contract?" he says. "I'm of the belief that it's a contract, and the disappointment with these contracts is that these kids don't really read it and the coaches and athletic staff don't really explain what the contract is about."

The book also includes conversations with Jim Burch, the first-ever black referee in the ACC, and George Williams, an African-American track-and-field coach who has an astounding 30+ championships and has coached in the Olympics, but isn't heavy on solutions to the problem of the black athlete-as-modern-day-slave-labor, because Pinckney isn't sure there is one.

"As long as money is involved, I don't know if there's a solution," he says. "We have such a rich appetite in America for sports. You don't see kids in America going to Europe to play college basketball, you see kids from Europe coming to America to play college basketball or play tennis or run track, because there's money attached to it. You have to follow the money, so I don't know that there's ever going to be a solution to the problem."

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