From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says former New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built.
Provocative and controversial, Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves weaves a compelling narrative of black athletes in the United States, from the plantation to their beginnings in 19th-century boxing rings and at the first Kentucky Derby to the history-making accomplishments of notable figures such as Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Willie Mays.
Rhoden makes the cogent argument that black athletes’ “evolution” has merely been a journey from literal plantations to today’s figurative ones, in the form of collegiate and professional sports programs. Drawing from his decades as a sportswriter, Rhoden contends that black athletes’ exercise of true power is as limited today as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight.
Sweeping and meticulously detailed, Forty Million Dollar Slaves is an eye-opening exploration of a metaphor we only thought we knew.