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The Elephants in the Room

Owners, Front Offices, and the Ugly Truth

By Blake A SwanPublished 2 years ago 16 min read
The Elephants in the Room
Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

Slaves versus the slave masters. It's not uncommon to hear that term coming from the labor class. Unless you use it in sports, people used to throw a fit. How dare we even compare the two? These are million dollar athletes living cushy and comfortable lives. It is nowhere near the same.

Considering recent events, the obvious meaning behind that comparison gets revealed repeatedly. Still, I’ll go down the entire rabbit hole of what it means to be a child entertainer. What that means for athletes in sports and we don’t even have to touch on the history of sports pre- and post-integration. We will keep it within the last decade, starting with Jeff Ireland, moving through Donald Sterling, and finishing with a Gruden and Sarver combo. Ultimately, how the revelations are revealing about the true nature of sports. A nature that is impossible to hide in the era of social media with a generation that’s not afraid to call bulls**t.

Athletes are entertainers. Child Entertainers don’t grow up well.

Children in the entertainment industry rarely end up well-adjusted adults. That’s not breaking news. We see it all the time as if it were some formula for success. Kid breaks on to the scene, steals everyone’s heart, and then they act out as they age. I actually call this phase “killing the persona” and it happens whenever your cute, cuddly entertainers want to be taken more serious. They have to make a dramatic, drastic change to let you know they aren’t the same person.

This ain’t for your kids’ energy.

Justin Bieber got all those tattoos, got into scuffles and started would be beefs. Major news organizations had daunting headlines, like CNN’s Justin Bieber’s troubled timeline. Miley Cyrus had to go a long way to get rid of the Hannah Montana, innocent Disney girl image. Rolling Stone’s has their article Miley Cyrus’ 10 Biggest Scandals. Typically, they make money off of this phase as they grow up with their primary audience. Eventually becoming a somewhat functional adult and they’ll do an apology tour. They finally made it out, but most don’t.

The world of entertainment has many casualties.

Untimely deaths from young men and women trying to make it. Most don’t come out of it well. Corey Feldman has detailed some stories beneath the surface of the entertainment industry. Growing up, I saw the spiraling out of Amanda Bynes and Britney Spears. Everyone saw how they had gone “crazy” and needed to get immediate care and attention. Checked into mental health facilities and their families handling their affairs.

Except today, we see perhaps they weren’t so “crazy.” That the trappings of being a child in an industry where everything about you is a commodity. Your own body is not your own, and you are trapped into contracts that bind you into doing what you loved at one point, to the entire handling of your financial future. Fans were appalled and said that this amounted to slavery!

Which is why I’ve selected these individuals first

Society sees them as being controlled from a young age, molded, forced into doing things they may not have wanted to do. With no control over their careers, when they’ll make money or how they’ll make money. Who they do business with and being put in positions with shady characters. I imagine for a lot of you this may hit close to home. You may have idolized or known people who idolized these entertainers.

To hear about the environment and treatment was eye opening and alarming. Which is why I have to mention them first. In order to remind you that most entertainment contracts are unfair to the entertainers. It’s the nature of the beast and there is a long history of entertainers being given the short end of the stick with their contracts and arrangements. Even if I gave you the last century of black entertainers forced into performing, beaten, killed, robbed of payments, royalties, music and art being stolen or covered for profit, and get right to the athletes.

Athletes are entertainers too.

I will speak about this until the day I die. Until it finally comes to the forefront of the conversation. Athletes are entertainers. The video above is a high school kid, featuring a logo that is now in the NBA. We forget that as entertainers, they begin as children. How many people know of their local sports athletes. The hometown start or the hometown hero? Many of you reading this might have been that hometown hero. That state champion with their picture in the paper. Family, friends, and scouts clamoring to see you play. Crowds erupting at your performance.

Perhaps your games even made it to television. Where people get paid to talk about you, your family, where you want to go to college and what you want to do professionally.

This happens before some athletes even reach high school if you consider the Little League World Series, AAU Tournaments, Pee Wee Football.

Yes, before you even reach high school, you may already be a celebrity. With television and the internet it may make you a viral sensation in one highlight. If you search social media, it won’t take long to find a video of children playing sports. Being labelled a phenom because while they can barely walk, they can put really well. Showing off an 6th grader that’s playing in high school or a high school athlete, they promise, will be the next LeBron or Steph Curry.

Do these kids understand people are making money off of them?

Most never even thought about it. They have a talent and they dream of being a star. Yet, even at their young age, people will pay to watch their talent. Videos get hundreds of thousands of likes and some won’t even credit the original video. Won’t even tag someone associated with it, but will enjoy the views. Fortunately, major companies are tagging the people they post now.

Don’t take my word for it, just look at the money pouring in after the NIL agreement.

Once athletes got the use of their name, image, and likeness, we saw many of them in college make hundreds or even sign multi-million dollar deals. Mikey Williams, a basketball player and an internet sensation, is playing in his junior year in high school. His contract with Excel Sports could be worth millions and is already having an official shoe sponsor with Puma. Which makes sense because as shoe companies can make billions off of one athlete alone.

LeBron James gets paid hundreds of millions for his shoes, so imagine we can all imagine how much his name, image, and likeness is worth to the company. Established and emerging brands see the enormous value of athletes. Which is why they go after them at younger and younger ages so they can establish a lucrative relationship. One that will help them grow and profit exponentially more than the entertainer.

The Path in Sports

This is a realist look at the sports industry. A multi-billion dollar industry most never get to experience. It's not meant to be cynical, it's an FYI for those who don't know.

To get into pro sports, there are a lot of gatekeepers.

Adults who have their hands in the pot and want to make sure that they get theirs. Most of them you’ll never see and never know. We usually end up with the coaches, which represent the face of the organization, followed by the agents, and if they make it high enough, the front office guys may show their faces if their owners don’t want the spotlight. Let’s go through this process for a child entertainer and how their career develops.

Athletes can be dominant for several reasons. Size, age, experience, they will usually provide an advantage early in your entertainment career. A kid with great size and speed isn’t hard to find on the field. They’re usually the one having a field day doing whatever they want. When they raise enough eyebrows, that’s when the prominent and connected coaches come looking. They will have their travel team with tryouts and they’ve heard rumblings about you.

That’s right, many kids get recruited way before they get to high school. 6th grade all-star teams are a real thing. You’ll join a roster full of talented kids and receive high-quality training if you show signs early. However, it isn’t until you reach 8th grade and high school people recognize your talent. In this age group, you will compete against athletes older than yourself. Some of them are being scouted for college and if you can compete against them, you are officially labeled as talented. From the 8th grade and on you will have high school, college, and travel coaches vying for your services.

First “Gatekeeper”: High School and Travel Coach

Many athletes encounter their first and only gate keeper in high school. The high school or travel coach holds the balance of your career in their hands. Coaches have their own agenda, a successful season, recognition that comes from winning the conference or a championship, and how many kids they can send to college. Just build a roster full of kids with talent, and you’re bound to have some success. Hopefully, you’ll win a title and then coaches come flocking for “winners” from your roster. See, coaches want to speak with coaches to learn all they can about the player. Even if they aren’t high caliber, their words pack a punch.

For a coach to mention you or not mention you is highly impactful. For a coach to not recommend you, call you difficult, or perhaps use their collegiate connections to hurt you as much as help you isn’t unheard of.

A coach can make life unnecessarily difficult. Change the scheme of the team so your efforts don’t show up on the stat sheet. Creating doubts about your talent and ability. It requires that you play ball, and play it their way. The position you play, weight you play it at, and even your actions on the court may be dictated by one person.

Which gives rise to the frequent transfers we see in high school and college. When the grown men go on a power trip, the athlete can leave and find out if it was truly the coach or if they themselves are the problem.

Grown men and women dictating the behavior of child entertainers here. What they do, eat, body shape, injury considerations, education, all can be placed on the back burner to help the team succeed. If they need you, it’s easy to keep you eligible.

Now, this is, of course, the nefarious side of the sports issue. Not every school or coach is like this, but there is an industry at play here that provides resources and funding. Look no further than the Bishop Sycamore incident this year on ESPN.

How They Profit: Bishop Sycamore

A fake team of mostly non-high school athletes in mismatch jerseys made their way on TV to play a powerhouse school filled with D1 athletes. Why? Because tons of money can be made off of sports academies. Sponsors alone can handle most of the costs and expenses. Attracting wealthy donors who are in the sports industry, and the promotion of on-site workshops, training, and sports combines. Some of these schools are better equipped than colleges. The coaches make a very comfortable salary. All you have to do is survive long enough in the system to become legit. It doesn’t matter how you get there until you broadcasts it on national TV and these young entertainers get hurt. They shouldn’t have been on the field.

Second “Gatekeeper”: College Coaches

Much like the high school coaches, college coaches control every element of their athletes’ careers. Until recently, that included when and where they could transfer. It’s fascinating to think that college coaches are also more transparent with their finances because many are employed by the state. With that in mind, we can see how lucrative their contracts and sponsorships are.

How valuable they are to the schools based upon how much the schools pay them. Or, as ESPN just reported, the half a billion dollars they've paid them not to coach.

Millions of dollars that get paid out to those who can recruit the best talent in the country. One athlete can change the destiny of a program. One big play can change the legacy of the coach and the school and yet they are the only ones who could profit off of it. Many prominent coaches spoke out adamantly against letting players get their hands into the pot.

Why? It’s not merely because they want it all to themselves.

They also want to have the power that comes with being the gatekeeper. Being able to affect the athletes’ ability to make life-changing money cashing in on that lottery ticket. If athletes gain financial freedom, their perspective may change.

There’s an old saying about what kind of athlete you would want. “Give me the kid from the streets. I don’t want the kid with the 3 car garage.” Considering recent events, that saying is one of many prominent sayings that people of color understood. That anyone paying attention to the language would understand the implications of such phrases.

Looking beneath the Masks: The Truth About Professional Sports

In college and in professional sports, there are several sayings that rear their ugly head. We can examine them first, before we break it down into context for you.

  • They're so well spoken - Phrase that basically means they aren't using slang or "talking black."
  • The Meat Market - Phrase used to describe the evaluation of athletes. Which often includes them stripped down to their underwear to be inspected. Measuring their bodies down to a tee while owners and scouts watch.
  • Give me the Kid From the Streets and Not the 3 Car Garage - The implication is that the kids from the streets are hungry, gritty, would run through a wall if I told them to. The kid from the 3 car garage has options.
  • Don’t Let the Animals Run the Zoo - Phrase used often when referring to commercialized college sports, which are predominantly black. Which is like this last one -
  • Inmates Run the Prison - Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair said this during an official NFL meeting with every other owner present.

Let’s not forget that it wasn’t until recently that the conditions improved for collegiate athletes. Stories of athletes who come from poverty so severe that the only clothes they had to wear on campus were the ones provided by the athletics department.

Athletes who care about academics weren’t allowed to take the classes they needed to graduate. Ones seen as too difficult or too distracting for football.

They had a limited meal plan, and many reported going hungry at night. Again, like most college kids, they don't have the money. This was changed within the last 5-6 years.

Then this year, 2021, they finally earned the rights to their own name, image, and likeness. 

When we say that athletes are treated like slaves, they’re talking about the Jim Crowe era of American history. The creation of the prison-industrial complex and a system that keeps them on the outside looking in. Removed from participating in a system beyond labor.

The atmosphere of the surrounding industry.

Much like Britney Spears trapped under the thumb of her father, many athletes don’t have a choice. From high school to college, college to the pros, they are in a system designed to make money off of their talent. Flaunting it in front of them while they get nothing. You don't even have to come from abject poverty to be frustrated by the situation.

Imagine getting hired for a billion dollar industry for a job that will not pay you. Yet, you're so valuable to them that manager and boss got a bonus for hiring you. Then they held a press conference where they were paid endorsements to promote the fact that they hired you. Only to find out 4 years later you weren't one of the 1.6% that will get hired for pay.

They can’t live like a normal person. They are celebrities.

Some of them huge celebrities before they become teenagers. Thrown into the spotlight where they will almost always mess up, as all children do. For a child celebrity, it's just on a grander scale. Even in college, they are not in control of their bodies. If the Gate Keeper says you need to play, refusing can dramatically impact your draft stock. Which is why you discover top draft pick played the season with a torn shoulder, a busted knee, or that broken bone that never got reported.

College athletes get injections to play in college. The drugs and demands only increase in the pros. Tom Brady playing with an unannounced torn MCL, Richard Sherman did the same, and you can bet several professional athletes have and will play with significant injuries. 

The dehumanization, disregard for the athletes before or after their playing time, is the mentality of the front office, the coaches, and the owners. If you’re still not sure, let’s review the recent events in sports history.


2010 - Jeff Ireland asked a top athlete in the draft that his team would not be in position to draft if his “mother was a prostitute.”

2014 - Donald Sterling. Notoriously racists would take people back to show off “his” NBA players’ bodies in the locker room like they were livestock. Lost his team because his mistress recorded his actions and then they became public.

2011 - 2018 - Jon Gruden sent messages from his professional email with repeated racists, misogynist, and anti-gay language to an active General Manager in the NFL while also worked and covered the NFL. Sparking calls for an investigation.

2018 - Bob McNair - Had to apologize for his use of “inmates running the prison” comment made during an NFL owner’s meeting. Not the only time he’s been on the hook for racism or “racial insensitivity.”

Yesterday (11/4/2021) - Robert Sarver, an NBA owner for nearly 2 decades, accused of repeatedly using the “N Word,” misogyny and hostile work environment for women, and discriminative behavior towards employees of color. He even pantsed a 25-year-old employee in front of everyone during what was supposed to be a charity event.

What now?

It’s 2021. People are up in arms over the flaws and treatment of conservatorships. Half the country believes mandates on mask are akin to slavery. I think we can stop faking outrage over athletes using the same language to describe a much more invasive and disturbing pattern of behavior.

We have a younger generation to thank. A more blended audience compelled to share their story. Unfortunately, we must thank to social media for that.

These incidents aren’t new.

Just new to the public at large because of the networks that enable this behavior. The coaching fraternity is matched only by the ownership fraternity. Where they exchange toxic, racist, misogynist, and anti-other content openly. Showing off their players like a meat market and talking about their sexual prowess. These are actual stories that have happened and are documented and linked throughout the article.

Today, you cannot hide this behavior and as it comes out now, there are people who are still afraid of the structure as it is to speak out against it. As the athletes get younger and the coaches and owners get older, it needs to be handled before it becomes public. At least then, you can control the flow of information and the reaction. If you do nothing, then someone else will peek through that door and all the ugly truth will come flying out. 


About the Creator

Blake A Swan

NCSA Strength and Conditioning Professional certified as a CSCS, TSAC-F, and CPT. I have my FMS Certification as well, and spent over a decade working with athletes in various sports. Including youth, high school, college, Olympic and Pro.

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