I recently saw an article on the Atlanta Post titled '5 Blockbuster Hip Hop Deals.' When I saw the title of the article, I thought about the million conversations I've had with scores of young artists who don't understand that talent isn't enough in the hip-hop industry. Not understanding business has led to the demise of quite a few artists, most of whom don't have nearly as much money as they pretend to have in their excessively materialistic videos.
But then I also thought about the fact that the black business experience can be incredibly one dimensional when it comes to conversations about wealth building. Most of the discussions about wealth in the black community start and stop with the basketball court, the football field or the studio where the rapper busts his latest rhymes. While one must certainly be proud of the achievements being made in each of these arenas, we should realize that by relegating ourselves to being athletes and entertainers, we are missing the bulk of the opportunity that exists in our great country.
First, when it comes to sports, athletes are getting the short end of the stick. NBA collective-bargaining agreements are structured to ensure that the bulk of the wealth generated by the league goes into the pockets of team owners. LeBron James is a pauper compared to the owner of the Miami Heat. It's even worse in the NFL, where the average career span is less than four years. Most NFL stars could make more money in their lifetimes by putting the energy they used to play football into going to law school, medical school or business school. Instead, too many athletes trade in their educational future and end up as 25-year-old retirees with a fifth-grade reading level. This is hardly the life of a man expected to provide for a family.
Second, entertainers are consistently misled into signing contracts that are skewed in favor of the manager, agent or record label. When entertainers don't have an education, they become the prey of those seeking to exploit them. The group New Edition, for example, after doing a world tour and having several number-one hits on their first album, came home to a royalty check of just $1.87. If entertainers and athletes are not educated about business, they are typically going to be used up and thrown out like yesterday's trash.
Generally speaking, African Americans must steer our kids away from the idea of believing that sports and entertainment are the way out of poverty. There are quite a few other professions in which you can make a great deal of money without having to be chosen as one out of a million to get there. At the top of the pile, Wall Street executives can easily earn tens of millions of dollars over a 30- or 40-year period, which would dwarf any NBA or NFL contract. In fact, a few hedge fund managers have earned over $1 billion per year, more than Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods or any other entertainer on earth. More realistically, there are surgeons who earn several hundred thousand dollars per year, entrepreneurs who earn millions with their own businesses, and attorneys who earn quite a bit of money as well. But what is the average income of the kid who throws away his education in exchange for a hoop dream? It ends up being close to zero for nearly every child in America who is NOT named LeBron James.
We must learn to be smarter than the systems that are designed to exploit us. We are destined to do more than simply dance, sing, run and jump for everyone else. Our brains are more valuable than our bodies, and we cannot allow them to be wasted.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.