Billion Dollar Slaves

Billion Dollar Slaves: The double standard in sports where owners rule & players survive

“Thank you for they tuition, thank you for room & board. Most of them niggas don’t got a pot to piss in, doing 4”

— Wale, Varsity Blues

By Thomas Hester II (@thomasahester2)

Back in the 2000s Ohio State was, with the Youngstown Boys Maurice Clarrett & later Terrelle Pyror, building a football powerhouse culminating in the 2002 upset of the undefeated University of Miami.

Then under the Urban Meyer era OSU in 2014 won the CFP National Championship.

After suspending players for ‘improper benefits’ like tattoos the university still earned millions.

Ohio State officially became the first billion dollar football program back in 2015.

Players were shown how powerful they are when Missouri’s administration made a personnel change after the football team joined the protest to remove the university’s stagnant president Tom Wolfe.

If Mizzou would’ve carried out their threat of not playing each loss would’ve destroyed the season. Forfeiting each game costs them $1 million in fines, which with their $3.5 million net profit of the athletic program proves how illogical it would’ve been to risk not parting ways.


There’s a double standard in sports & business.

Owners write the narrative, players adjust.

There is a constant message of ‘gratefulness’ preached on every level of competition spreading this propaganda to the masses.

The problem with this message is it’s not only hypocritical it’s illogical because there’s no allegiance from the employers to the employees.

“By the time they have been retired for 2 years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Within 5 years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke. ”

— ESPN 30 for 30 Broke

Athletes are found, used up then discarded.

The focus is on the bottom line.

In this industry players are championed until they aren’t needed anymore.

There have been instances like Allen Iverson where after an MVP season & winning a Finals game against the dominant Lakers with a lacking 2001 Philadelphia 76ers he had to still deal with trade rumors.

Randy Moss was courageous enough to voice his opinion.

With the Patriots they went undefeated & got into the championship game.

Even with his record breaking season in 2007, adding his name to New England records,  his chemistry with Tom Brady, Moss still felt he wasn’t “wanted” because of the lack of the organization giving him a contract extension.

Terrell Owens & Chad ‘Ochocinco’  Johnson after making organizations millions, helping revive cities, when they needed a team to show they believed in those same principles by taking a chance on them they were instead spurned to obscurity, bankruptcy or the CFL.

Worse there are harsh, lasting physical consequences after the buzzer sounds.

Studies are showing the connection between head trauma & brain damage or CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

The suicide of Pro Bowler Junior Seau, Antwaan Randle El’s regret of choosing football over baseball and the NFL’s settlement of former players is telling to see how much players are truly worth versus the potential loss of revenue.

“Talented young black athletes & their families were wooed & pursued with the promise of scholarships, and often, material gifts. Black athletes had become a vital commodity in the sports industry, which necessitated a full-service delivery system to identify, prepare & carry black muscle to ‘market’.

That system is the Conveyor Belt”

— 40 Million Dollar Slaves

In the AAU era with high schoolers signing multi million dollar deals there were coaches searching for the “next”.

The “next“ Kevin Garnett or Kobe.

Coaches would go to great lengths to pursue talented young athletes especially after T-Mac’s HS coach’s $1 million provision with Tracy’s Adidas deal.

Amaré flourished signing with the Suns, Dwight Howard was the number one draft pick with the Magic but Through The FireSole Man & Lenny Cooke shows the stories of how prep-to-pros balanced the pressure.

Cooke was a fatality of the industry.

Enticing offers from agents, promising & praising him without the proper perspective or showing other opportunities, led him to spurn college as he ended up being un-drafted in the 2002 NBA Draft.

Sonny Vaccaro led the charge of getting shoes of the feet of kids through paying coaches & signing teams to contracts with those companies, first with Nike then Adidas lastly with Reebok.

The NBA shut down high schoolers getting drafted to the league in 2006 which prevented talents like Brandon Jennings, Lance Stephenson, Austin Rivers.

Instead of signing to Cincinnati or Duke, like they did, Jennings took a chance going to Italy, believing in himself, which payed off with him going #10 to the Bucks the next year.

The rules after the CBA of needing 1 year removed from high school benefitted the NCAA greatly. Schools were able to monetize off the skills of those who may never have gone prior.

Colleges like Kentucky with coach John Calipari has thrived, encouraging the ‘one & done’ mentality, showcasing the athletes talents to the league while making millions through boosters & sponsorships.

Many after being recruited & signed were greeted with critique after critique about their style of play, dress, slang, music, etc.

The 1980s & early 1990s were the decades of University of Miami.

With Uncle Luke & 2 Live Crew’s bass music blaring from the streets football’s ‘The U’ led by personalities like future HOF’ers Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, empowered by coaches like Jimmy Johnson, dominated on every aspect of the game matching swagger & brashness with their undeniable talent.

Players like high stepping Deion ‘Prime Time’ Sanders and shooter Randall ‘Thrill’ Hill were discouraged for their celebration style. The NCAA enforced an infraction for ‘excessive celebrations’ with a 15 yard penalty.

Racism is abound blatantly & discretely when particularly African American athletes are in the spotlight.

While Michigan was reaping all the benefits of having the ’Fab 5’ at their school taking in millions from merchandise, advertisements, shoe contracts former NBA stars, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, in addition to slur filled hate letters, weren’t able to see any of that money under the defense of the flawed concept ‘student-athlete’ coined by NCAA’s executive director Walter Byers.

Byers himself privately fueled by his distaste of “ghetto run-and-shoot basketball” remarked the basketball players recruited by UNLV played a “fast city-lot of basketball without much style”.

NCAA has punished stars for selling ‘memorabilia’ including autographs while having them sign over their rights to their names & likeness, not getting compensation for the series of NCAA video games.

The same NCAA denied Northwestern players an opportunity to unionize while extending their deal with CBS & Turner Broadcasting through 2032 for billions.

Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, wrote an arguably ‘coded’ letter after LeBron James decided to leave Ohio after 7 seasons.

Accusing him of being a coward and narcissistic, that the title ‘king’ was arrogantly self professed many claimed Gilbert sounded like a scorned lover.

When LeBron left back in 2010 to take his talents to South Beach he was crucified in the media by fans & analysts alike with owners echoing ‘loyalty’ proclaiming he’d never be like Kobe or Jordan.

The letter stayed on the team’s website years after.

Eventually reconciling James returned to Cleveland bringing ~ $500 million to their economy.

That paled in comparison to former owner Donald Sterling’s voicemails about keeping black people away from his games complete with a plantation mentality of providing “food, clothes, cars, and houses”.

Though Sterling was subsequently banned’ from the NBA & forced out of ownership he still made billions through the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer.

“What Abe Pollin did to Michael Jordan was a microcosm of what the NBA is doing to black athletes in general & phasing them out because they are no longer need, as they once were…Jordan was used for his muscle then discarded.”

— 40 Million Dollar Slaves

When Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls he linked with the Wizards with dreams of ownership.. But after coming out of retirement for 2 seasons substantially increasing the revenue and the worth of the Wizards he was fired by Abe Pollin.

His Airness bounced back, buying out the Bobcats from BET’s Bob Johnson, becoming a billionaire from successfully rebranding the playoff seeded Charlotte Hornets.

There are stories of heartbreak and stories of triumph.

Though Mike Vick is working toward financial freedom NBA champion Antoine Walker, whose career income was $100 million, declared bankruptcy because of bad money management & gambling is now debt free.

Magic Johnson is parlaying his celebrity raising awareness of HIV, building movies theaters & now partly owns the LA Dodgers.

Jamal Mashburn has flourished owning more than 80 businesses from restaurants to dealerships.

NBA’s Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, after a career of never comprising, secured his financial future with the set up of his Reebok trust.

Stephon Marbury found solace in China after his career in the NBA, becoming a mega star complete with 3 championships, his Starbury shoe line, and own museum about his life & basketball career.

After a lifetime resigning with Nike, Maverick Carter confirmed rumors of the LeBron’s legendary billion dollar deal.

NBA announced a 9 year, $24 billion TV deal which means players salaries will go up substantially.

It is important for athletes to realize their worth & how important their talent is to the leagues.

In addition to injuries and other expenses, players have to be aware of some letting players go to prevent having to pay deserved pensions.

The average career in NFL is only 3-6 years, NBA is 5 and MLB/NHL is ~6 years.

They need to be well informed educating themselves through proper financial literacy, self care with health, learning to fight for upward mobility in actual ownership positions after their careers are done.

Well informed talent prevents from being just another ‘billion dollar slave’.

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