The Gentrification of Professional Sports

The Gentrification of Professional Sports


By Jahaka Mindstorm


Like many others who were boys in the days of my youth, I was crazy about sports – especially football and basketball. Back when cable television and video games were still the stuff of science fi ction, good clean exercise was the best form of amusement we had. We didn’t need fancy uniforms or referees. We didn’t even need “orthodox” rules. We would invent our own game versions: “shoot-‘em-up” football, “Twenty-one” and “H.O.R.S.E” on the basketball courts.

Heck, you could give us a tennis ball, a tree branch and four fl attened garbage can tops (for bases) and we’d have a game of baseball exciting enough to keep the old folks slapping their knees while they gummed down boiled peanuts on their porches. When we grew a little older, those with real drive for competition would get into organized sports at the high school, or even “little league” level. A lot of people “sleep” on the importance of organized sports for young people. I guess it’s hard for those who have never been involved to truly understand the principles of disciple, teamwork and leadership that evolve from such activities.

Basketball was the biggest thrill in my ghetto-hood. You didn’t need much in the way of equipment and you could fi nd an open court almost anywhere, anytime. We would try to do some of the moves we’d seen done on TV by superstars like Julius Erving and Walt Frazier. Football was cool, too; but some of the more radical among us didn’t like the fact that all the NFL coaches and quarterbacks were white at that time. (That’s probably hard to believe for “modern” fans, as today’s NFL has a healthy number of Black and Latino coaches and some of the most exciting signal callers are people of color, but it’s the truth).

As I grew older, became a father and developed more complex concerns in life, my passion for professional sports gradually dwindled. I am happy to experience the thrill of victory and the disappointment of defeat vicariously, through (fi rst my sons, and now) my grandchildren. I did continue to enjoy watching games on television – especially when teams were fi ghting for championships. But all that has changed now. Apparently, big money organized sports no longer believes it needs to appeal to the kids who grow up to fi ll team rosters—the city kids. Professional sports need cities. Every team in every league is tied to a large municipal area (with generous TV coverage; this is how each league grows).

You won’t be seeing the Dogpatch Dragons or Macon Mudsills playing in any major league any time in the near future. Their demographics don’t support such endeavors. However, advertising that paid for televised games on national networks is apparently not good enough anymore. College football and basketball championships in recent years are exclusive to those who can afford to watch them on premium (cable or satellite) TV channels. NBA playoff games have been under the dominion of cable television for years, and this past playoff season, even the NFL had some of its early matches on premium TV.

Here’s the problem I have with this situation. A good many of the athletes who make it to the pro level are born and raised in major cities. Modern American economics has heavy pressure on many of those cities and childhood poverty is a reality that is only beginning to be acknowledged as a major problem. So in summary, professional (and college) sports is beginning to move into an area where the people who make the games possible–the kids who dream–are increasingly unable to watch the premier levels of the games they love to play. Unfortunately, this is all due to the same human fl aw that seems to ruin everything else: GREED.

It would be nothing but poetic justice if those youngsters stopped playing the games entirely, which will in a generation or two drive those arrogant organizations back to the humble originals from which they all arose. When they can no longer recruit the lean, fast hungry talent that discovers how to fl y like Michael, hit like Barry and catch like Randy, it is doubtful they will get the premium dollars from rich, fat uppercrusters trying to live their own vicarious fantasies.

Or maybe the city kids are already turning away from “real” sports and embracing digital diversions in a silent embargo. Come to think of it . . . I don’t see nearly as many lean and fast kids on the streets as I used to; or at least not trying to play sports. Wow. Now ain’t that some food for thought?



Jahaka Mindstorm: is a local journalist, playwrite, and visual artist.