William C. Rhoden is the only black sports reporter in his newsroom, and he is intent on bringing the plight of the black athlete to the forefront of the industry.
Rhoden, a New York Times columnist of 30 years, delivered a speech Feb. 22 on the exploitation and other struggles black athletes have faced throughout sports history.
The lecture title, “40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete,” shares its name with a book Rhoden wrote in 2006.
He incorporated internet videos into the presentation, detailing the hardships of athletes such as former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Joe Gillam.
A wildly talented young star in the 1970s, Gillam endured so much racial pressure as a black starting quarterback that he spiraled into heavy drug use. Soon after, he succumbed to his addiction and dropped out of the NFL, never to play another game in the league.
“Many young black people seem to have lost their way,” Rhoden said, worrying that they are “too focused on the here and now” and have “dropped the thread that joins them to the struggles” of earlier black athletes.
This notion was driven home by the event’s low attendance. Du Bois College House Dean Patricia Williams — whom residents call Miss Trish — said she expected more than the 45 or so people that came to the event.
“I wish a lot more Penn students could attend,” Nursing graduate student Melissa Nelson said.
The Du Bois House Council held the event in the College House’s multipurpose room.
Rhoden urged current black student athletes not to neglect the past as they move forward in their careers.
Wharton sophomore Amanda Langhorne agreed. “We all have a history of some sort,” Langhorne said. “If we just focus on our future and don’t look back, we make mistakes.”
The attendees welcomed Rhoden with warm applause and lauded his oratory skills.
Mens basketball coach Jerome Allen showed high praise for Rhoden. “I’ve read [his] book three times. It’s essential. It changed my life,” he said.
He also added that Rhoden’s book is an important teaching tool for Penn’s young black athletes.
“This day and age, it is important for [these students] to have an appreciation and understanding for things that were done to create opportunities for [them],” Allen said.