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Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete Hardcover – July 11, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (July 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609601202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609601204
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,424 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.

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.

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Customer Reviews

We all can learn how to become better humans from reading about historical injustices and applying ethical practices to all.
Art Slater
The book provides some very important historical background; however, the next step is to turn the capital acquired from the sports into personal wealth .
Dr. Joseph S. Maresca
Sportswriter William C. Rhoden offers in "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" a fascinating portrait of the modern African American athlete.
Roger D. Launius

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 88 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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33 of 36 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on June 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
Sportswriter William C. Rhoden offers in "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" a fascinating portrait of the modern African American athlete. He finds that they are well compensated, but that they are forced to confirm to a longstanding meme in society, which of white dominance and control versus black subservience and servitude. In his estimation, modern "athletes have ridden the coattails of protest movements, benefiting from the sacrifices of the [Paul] Robesons and [Jackie] Robinsons and Jim Browns and Muhammad Alis, but have been content to be symbolic markers of progress rather than activists in their own right, pushing progress forward. They have been unwilling to rock the boat" (p. 217).

Rhoden finds that athletes are processed, like so many manufactured products, homogenized "to get along, they learn by inference about the benevolent superiority of the [owners] and enter into a tacit agreement to let the system operate without comment." They learn "to accept the power structure as it is. The young, talented athlete learns about the value of cultivating the far-reaching range of range of affiliations, connections, and alliances that can make the athlete's...journey smooth; he also learns about the kinds of associations and ideas that can make it quite miserable or even terminate it altogether" (p. 194). They learn early on to keep their mouths shut, uttering trite clichés and little more. That is one of the reasons why when an athlete articulates sophisticated criticism of the status quo, regardless of the purpose, it is such a delight to journalists and such a threat to owners and others in the power structure.
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