- Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing in Sports
Shaun Powell's Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing in Sports examines the paradoxes of African-American sports success. Concerned primarily with the misguided perceived achievement of equality through sports, Powell juxtaposes earlier black athletes' struggles for equality with contemporary black athletes' low self-worth and disconnect from their communities. He argues that wealth and notoriety have derailed the quest for community success amongst African-American athletes in general, offering affluence instead. Powell suggests that white culture's acceptance of blacks as advertising spokespersons has prompted a generation of young blacks to distance themselves from their communities in favor of mainstream, pop culture acceptance. He offers his work as a synopsis of the evolution of African-American athletes from the time of John Carlos and Tommie Smith to modern day.
Powell investigates the cultural differences between contemporary and previous generations of African-American athletes as they relate to community activism. He maintains that activism has become an afterthought and identifies the lucrative contracts and endorsement deals received by many top competitors as one reason why modern African-American athletes refrain from social activism that might tarnish their media images. Powell [End Page 481] argues that black athletes have advantages today because of activists such as Arthur Ashe, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Jim Brown. He cites Michael Jordan as the athlete who has achieved the epitome of commercial success, but who "recognized early on, even before we knighted him an icon, it's probably safe to play it straight down the middle in public and thereby reap all the benefits of that, financial and otherwise" (p. 35). Powell suggests that apathy and opportunism has undermined many of the achievements gained in the fight for equality in sports and society.
The author examines the influence of education and mass media by relating the "uniquely urban American tale" of black youths coddled and shepherded through life because of their athletic attributes, beginning as early as junior high (p. 71). At each step young black athletes receive privileges because of their athletic performances, not academic achievements. Powell blames the mass media's obsession with celebrity status rather than education for this indulgent treatment of student athletes. He asserts that college athletics programs are too often the final stop in a black athlete's career, and they are ill-prepared for life after sports. Again, he blames the media: "In the broader picture, though, the black community is overrepresented by athletes and entertainers in the mainstream media, and therefore, their visibility runs deeper" (p. 188). Powell laments that a generation of young African-American athletes' exposure to media created celebrities has promoted commercial appeal over activism.
For Powell, African-American female athletes share many of the same obstacles and angst as their male counterparts, with some exceptions. One problem black female athletes face is "funneling." According to Powell, "Black female athletes are being ghettoed into basketball and track, in which they are served well compared to other sports, in which they are aliens" (p. 230). Unfortunately, Powell neglects to connect "funneling" to "stacking," a common practice wherein black male athletes are coerced into playing positions based on racial stereotypes of African Americans' natural suitability for particular types of athletic feats: for instance, black athletes were prompted to positions of running back and wide receiver as opposed to quarterback. The common misconception was that the quarterback position required leadership skills not found in African-American athletes. He does offer the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, as an example of athletes who transcended athletic boundaries; however, outsiders can misconstrue equality for black females in sports because of the Williams sisters' high profile.
Souled Out is Powell's attempt to inspire young African-American athletes, male and female, to understand the history of their plight and not abandon activism. He admits a generation gap between black athletes of today and yesteryear but does not relinquish what he perceives is the next generation of African-American athletes of their responsibility. Considering both the role of...