Runstedtler, T. (2018). More Than Just Play: Unmasking Black Child Labor in the Athletic Industrial Complex. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 0193723518758458.
African Americans’ hypervisibility in sports remains a frequent point of critique. There has been a tendency to blame Black youths for their supposed “sports fixation.” Complicating this narrative of cultural pathology, I examine the foundational importance of Black boys’ athletic labor to the profitability of the sporting industries. I first trace the structural conditions (imperialism, racism, industrial capitalism) that contributed to the hypervisibility of young Black boxers at the turn of the 20th century. I then explore the contemporary conditions driving Black hypervisibility in basketball. Analyzing Hoop Dreams (1994) alongside the aggressive tactics of corporations such as Nike, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) to recruit talent at younger and younger ages, I illustrate that Black boys are performing a kind of child labor. Similar to Black boxers from a century before, Black youths’ focus on achieving success in basketball is not just a simple matter individual “choice.” It is also symptomatic of their continued political, social, and economic marginalization in the postindustrial, neoliberal United States, which sports companies capitalize on.
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