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Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete Paperback


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Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete + What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States + Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, And A Dream
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307353141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307353146
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It is really on time and long overdue.
Duke Amir
I hope many more individuals will read this book it might just open up there eyes to what is really going on with our people.
Danielle Tolbert
Overall, the book provides an important perspective relevant to the black history of athletes in the various sports.
Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 83 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rhoden's aim in this finely written and very readable screed is to explore the African American star athlete's paradoxical dilemma: On one hand, he is worshipped for his athletic prowess and is lavished with millions of dollars. On the other hand, he is beholden to white team owners, white league administrators, and as such is limited to the role of a super-paid lackey.

Some reviewers object to the slavery analogy and the exodus from the plantation to the Promised Land that is heavily used in Rhoden's argument. But Rhoden is correct to point out that the slavery is both spiritual and power-based. Spiritual because too many African American athletes, Rhoden charges, are so busy micromanaging their careers that they have no sense of the broader context, of African American history (one star athlete was shocked with disbelief when he discovered that blacks were once banned from Major League Baseball). Power-based because too many blacks are relegated to "black" roles and forget the larger mission of making more opportunities for blacks in positions of privilege.

Whether or not you agree with Rhoden's analogy, I would argue that the book is nevertheless very readable and entertaining, giving us powerful narratives of how black men, starting with the emancipated slave fighter Tom Molineaux, left America to fight the English champion Tom Cribb and showed whites that blacks' athletic performance defied stereotypes about being dense, ignorant, maladroit, etc. By studying Molineaux, Ali, and other African American greats, Rhoden shows how black athletes who see themselves as symbols of black power help forge the way for other black athletes.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Dera R Williams VINE VOICE on February 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete

by journalist William C. Rhoden gives a no-holds barred, unadulterated low-down about highly paid black athletes and the juxtaposition of slavery. How did Rhoden come to the conclusion that most Black athletes are highly paid slaves? He starts off methodically detailing the history of African Americans sports dating back to the plantation when slaves were a commodity; property to be used for entertainment as well as labor. Plantation owners would stage fights between slaves from different plantations as weekend amusement. Slaves also became jockeys to plantation owners who owned horses. This became a lucrative business and Black jockeys earned huge payoffs for their owners as well as for themselves on into Reconstruction and into the early 1900s. Blacks dominated horse racing but they were literally squeezed out of the market by greed, jealousy and blatant racism.

Rhoden also details the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues and the tragedy of Arthur "Rube" Foster, who sacrificed everything in the 1930s to organize Black ownership of baseball teams and to give due respect to black baseball players who were unable to play in the major leagues. Ironically, integration saw the end of the Negro Leagues when prime players such as Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige went to the majors. Rhoden goes on to chronicle the early days of football and basketball. He recounts pioneers in both fields, including Paul Robeson of Rutgers and Raymond Chester of Morgan State and then the Oakland Raiders. It was not until the early 1970s that Southern colleges began recruiting Black football players; at one time the NBA was almost all-white.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on April 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
Many other reviewers have noted that William Rhoden's basic premise is thought-provoking and well-argued. I agree. But Rhoden makes his point with a ton of repetition and a great deal of exaggeration -- thus weakening a well-researched and deeply-felt book.

From my perspective, Rhoden's most interesting point is about the integration of major college and professional sports in the 1950s-1960s. While integration is portrayed as an almost purely beneficial act, Rhoden shows that integration in this case meant absorption of the entire black sports infrastructure -- which created some negative consequences.

However, while I agree with this line of argument, Rhoden takes it too far. He basically says that integration had no positive effects for the black community, which is preposterous. And he cites statistics that don't seem to support his contention. For example, he writes that blacks filled 10% of NCAA sports administrative positions at major colleges in the 1990s. But blacks are 13% of the population, so what's the problem? The number doesn't seem far offline to me.

Thus, Rhoden's constant refrain about the "racist sports-industrial complex" (his phrase) is a little hard to believe. Pretty much everyone at the time thought integration was a good idea. And it's far from clear that not having a great football team at Morgan State University (where Rhoden played) today is the reason that inner-city Baltimore is a hellhole. I think there are bigger factors.

So, read the book and learn from William Rhoden. But you can read the first half of each chapter and skip the second half, which is usually a rehash (often with the exact same phrases and sentences).
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