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Forty Million Dollar Slaves
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About the Author

WILLIAM C. RHODEN has been a sportswriter for the New York Times since 1983, and has written the "Sports of the Times" column for more than a decade. He also serves as a consultant for ESPN's SportsCentury series, and occasionally appears as a guest on their show The Sports Reporters. In 1996, Rhoden won a Peabody Award for Broadcasting as writer of the HBO documentary Journey of the African-American Athlete. A graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, he lives in New York City's Harlem with his wife and daughter.

Reviews

Adult/High School-Rhoden's provocative thesis is that today's black athletes are akin to pre-Civil War plantation slaves, because slavery had as much to do with power and control as it had to do with wealth. The big-money sports in America-football, baseball, basketball-are owned and controlled almost exclusively by white men, and yet each has a disproportionately large percentage of black athletes. They are well paid, but they have no direct power over the current and future direction of these sports. More than that, they lack any real control over their roles within these sports. The author supports his position with a well-researched and thoughtfully rendered survey of the history of the black athlete. From plantation-born jockeys and boxers of the early 19th century, to the NBA of Michael Jordan and Larry Johnson, Rhoden remains focused on prevailing structures of racism. He notes the accomplishments and frustrations of several well-known figures, including Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, and Willie Mays, as well as others who have faded from our collective memory. In doing so, he examines the damaging effects of what he calls the "conveyor belt" in the contemporary sports world, where children as young as 11 and 12 are pegged as "prospects" and viewed as potential sources of income through middle school, high school, and college. This book will no doubt spark controversy, but will also prove to be a lasting contribution to the history of race relations in America.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

New York Times columnist Rhoden offers a charged assessment of the state of black athletes in America, using the pervasive metaphor of the plantation to describe a modern sports industry defined by white ownership and black labor. The title and the notion behind it are sure to raise eyebrows, and Rhoden admits that his original title of Lost Tribe Wandering, for all its symbolic elegance, lacked punch. And Rhoden isn't pulling any of his. Rather than seeing rags-to-riches stories where underprivileged athletes reach the Promised Land by way of their skills, he casts the system as one in which those athletes are isolated from their backgrounds, used to maximize profit and instilled with a mindset "whereby money does not necessarily alter one's status as `slave,' as long as the `owner' is the one who controls the rules that allow that money to be made." Rhoden's writing is intelligent and cogent, and his book's tone is hardly as inflammatory as its name. It's possible that his title and working metaphor will turn off readers who will simply refuse to consider young men making millions of dollars playing a game to be disenfranchised. Nevertheless, this is an insightful look at the role of blacks in sports they dominate but hardly control. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

New York Times sports columnist Rhoden explores the barriers some of the nation's greatest sports figures have faced because of their skin color. He discusses the expected luminaries-e.g., boxer Muhammad Ali, baseballer Jackie Robinson, and basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain. But equally interesting are his accounts of less well-known athletes, including jockey Isaac Murphy and cyclist Major Taylor. Most significant of all are Rhoden's often biting analyses, including his declaration that turn-of-the-20th-century America possessed a "deep-rooted fear of the fair fight" where African Americans were involved. Similarly, Rhoden writes that, to their racial brethren, black athletes served as "psychological armor, markers of our progress, tangible proof of our worth." He applauds the tradition of black athletes employing their celebrity to champion causes in the fashion of Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, and Curt Flood but is less pleased with the contemporary black star's abdication of responsibility to the black community. This sometimes riveting, often opinionated account is highly recommended for general libraries.-Robert C. Cottrell, California State Univ., Chico Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Rhoden scores heavily with this Muhammad Ali of a book, one that blends autobiography with history, clarity of insight with passion. . . . A series of invaluable and irrefutable history lessons and contemporary cameos to illustrate Rhoden's thesis that even the best paid of black American athletes live a double life--highly compensated, but in a state not unlike bondage." --Arnold Rampersad, author of Jackie Robinson: A Biography and Days of Grace: A Memoir (with Arthur Ashe)

"Powerful and prophetic . . . Rhoden courageously lays bare painful truths about a fundamental reality in American life: the centrality of the excellence and exploitation of black athletes." --Cornel West, author of Race Matters

"A book that touches the soul . . . Cuts to the heart of the matter, delivering a penetrating slice of the long and often painful journey to success taken by black athletes." --Neil Amdur, former sports editor, New York Times

"Reading this work is an emotional experience. . . . Once I started I couldn't stop. Informative, engaging, and extremely provocative, $40 Million Slaves caused me to alternately shake my head in violent disagreement one moment only to find myself nodding the next." --Calvin Hill, former NFL All-Star and father of NBA All-Star Grant Hill

"A provocative contribution to the literature on race and sports . . . For anyone who cares about America's future and sport in America, it's well worth reading." --Paul Tagliabue, commissioner, National Football League

"Breathtaking in scope . . . If you want to honestly view race in America, $40 Million Slaves will give you the prism of sports as a vehicle to see how far we still have to go to really achieve equality in America. It's a must read." --Richard Lapchick, director emeritus, Center for the Study of Sport in Society; columnist, ESPN.com; and author of Smashing Barriers

"This is the best contemporary writing--and best fuel for debate--on the large role black athletes hold in American culture. Bill Rhoden is playing hardball with stars from Michael Jordan to Mike Tyson on the issue of blacks and sports by bringing history, politics, and race on the field." --Juan Williams, author of Eyes on the Prize

"Provocative and distressing--just the right combination for beginning an important conversation." --Kirkus Reviews

From the Hardcover edition.

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