Sunday, January 25, 2015

Black Male Sports Addiction and Its Negative Health Impact

by Kenny Anderson

I remember being an entering high-school Black basketball player in the early 1970’s when a popular song came out in 1973 titled ‘Basketball Jones’ by Cheech & Chong. This song got my attention because the title had ‘Jones’ in it, an Ebonic term for a fiend craving drugs particularly heroin; it was a popular word used by Black heroin addicts. The following is a verse from the song:

“Yes, I am the victim of a Basketball Jones
Ever since I was a little baby, I always be dribbling'
In fact, I was the baddest dribbler in the whole neighborhood
Then one day, my mama bought me a basketball
And I loved that basketball
I took that basketball with me everywhere I went
That basketball was like a basketball to me
I even put that basketball underneath my pillow
Maybe that's why I can't sleep at night
I need help, ladies and gentlemens.”

When I first heard the catchy song ‘Basketball Jones’ I did not understand how someone could be addicted to basketball like heroin, however when I went on to play college basketball I realized that too many Black males were addicted to basketball. After graduating from high-school in Detroit I went to a college in Kansas to play basketball, while there I met a Black male who played at the college who had just graduated. The brother had talent, I played with him over the summer, he was preparing himself for a walk-on NBA opportunity; he was invited by the San Antonio Spurs to tryout.

After not seeing this Brother for several months, I ran into him over a friend’s house where some guys were just hanging, talking, playing Chess, and listening to music, when this Brother all of sudden jumped up ran outside and started running down the street hollering someone was after him. This Brother’s bizarre behavior got my attention, I never saw this Brother again but later learned that he was admitted to the Kansas State Mental Hospital; he suffered from a mental breakdown after being cut by the Spurs.   

This Brother’s mental breakdown made it clear to me that basketball could have a tremendous negative impact on Black males health. I no longer looked at basketball as a game I loved playing with professional ambition, I began to look at the pathological side.

After playing college basketball for 2 years I left college to come home to work. Being back home I witnessed so many Black males I played basketball with and against who either never went on to college to play, played in college and left early like I did, or played all 4 years, still preoccupied with basketball; constantly playing basketball, watching it and talking about it; they could not transition from it; they were like the heroin addict who could not leave heroin alone.

Like recovering drug addicts who try to live on without drugs, Black males hooked on hoops had to make a living not playing basketball. Black ex-college basketball players had to make the transition, in most cases from pre­dominately white colleges and universities where they were privileged and had notoriety, to going back to their generally poor Black communities where they are just another struggling Black man. 

From ESPN highlights to invisibility, the basketball highs and NBA hopes are over. When college careers are over, Black basketball addicts suffer from mal­adjustment withdrawal symptoms; psycho-social malady issues. Dr. Harry Edwards has studied the impact of failure in sports and how it has affected the mental health in Black communities. Edwards stated there are a number of syndromes he’s iden­tified:

“Our prisons, for example are loaded with Black males with tremendous athletic potential. When they found out they could not make it, their ener­gies were directed toward anti-social behaviors – crime and drugs. We have all kinds of cases of depression and nervous breakdowns. We also believe there is some relationship between failure in sports and the increasing suicide rate among Black men. Many Black males whose college basketball eligibility is over, still live in a basketball fantasy world spending all of their time playing in gyms and on playgrounds; some of these men become ‘basketball bums’.”

So many of these Black males could not or did not make the transition away from basketball; they continued to play too much basketball over the years where they could have used that time going back to college to finish their degrees, enrolling into skilled trades job-training programs, or learning how to be entrepreneurs. Before these Black males realized it a lot of time had passed them by and they were well into their 30’s. Once they started coming out of the ‘basketball daze’ they found themselves with just a high school diploma, little or no job-skills, and living in Black communities that suffered from very high unemployment and poverty, offering them very few job opportunities. 

With all the problems Black males face on a day-to-day basis playing basketball or football wherever they can in the hood is a moment of freedom, expression, and recognition. Like the Black male heroin addict who feels free in his ‘nod’, Black male sports addict feels free while he’s playing in the ‘game’. Indeed, many of these maladjusted basketball junkies turned to crime, drugs, alcohol, many ended up in prison, became bums, and many of them have become television sports watching addicts. 

From ‘Active’ Sports Addicts to ‘Passive’ TV Sports Addicts

From my perspective Black male sports addiction is psycho-socially engineered where sports is highlighted as one the few means to success for Black boys in a racist society that restricts opportunities for them. Outside basketball courts, a few gyms, and vacant lots is the sole recreation available in most Black communities and a basketball or football is affordable.

Being ‘hooked on sports’ at an early age, by the time Black males finish their high-school or college sports careers too many of them become fully addicted television sports junkies. They have withdrawal symptoms no different than drug addicts. Compulsive passive sports television watching is similar to drug addiction except that the individual is not addicted to a substance. Black males compulsive television sports watching meets several addiction features:

*Television sports watching dominates Black men’s time

*Television sports watching results in Black males neglecting necessary physical activity; it impairs them from improving their health and contributes to chronic diseases.

*Television sports watching provides a satisfaction high

*Television sports watching cause withdrawal symptoms of unpleasant emotions if Black men attempt to stop watching TV so much.

What I have noticed is once Black males hit the Midlife Period (40–65)  beginning at 40 Black men increasingly become less active, inactivity increases and a sedentary ‘couch potato’ lifestyle begins to set in by sitting and watching sports on television. Being over 50 years-old myself, I personally know many Black men who watch sports on television 8-12 hours a day over the weekend. During the week days they watch sports 4-6 hours a day or more; they can watch sports on ESPN and the Big Ten Network 24-7. 

It is my belief that many Black men especially ex-athletes in an unknowing mid-life crisis excessively watch sports on television viewing younger Black male college and professional athletes because it reminds them of 'being back in the day' when they had athletic prowess; it offers them vicarious gratification often stifling them in a state of 'boy-psychology', stuck in a mind state of games instead of dealing with critical age related issues and the challenge of recreating themselves. 

Most of the time when Black men are watching all this sports on television they are eating unhealthy junk-food and fast-food; many smoke cigarettes and drink liquor too. Sitting for long periods of time lacking physical activity, along with poor diets results in many Black men becoming ‘obese’ physically sick with hypertension, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. Sitting down for long periods stops the body from using its muscles and adequately processing sugars and fats. According to a recent Australian study people who spend more than four hours in front of the television each day have a far higher risk of dying early than those who limit their viewing. 

Watching sports on television for prolonged periods is definitely bad for Black men’s hearts according to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. People who watch more than four hours per day have a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes. They also have an 80 percent increased risk from cardiovascular disease. Moreover many Black men sit and watch television to distract themselves to avoid dealing with psychological male midlife crisis issues; many Black men watch sports on television to escape being depressed. 

Black males compulsive television sports watching is not surprising when you look at Blacks excessive television viewing as a people. According to a Nielsen’s study on ‘The State of the Media: U.S. Television Trends by Ethnicity, documents that the amount of television viewing in the U.S. remains high, suggesting that the average person watched more than 143 hours of television per month. African Americans indicated the highest rate of total TV usage, African Americans watched their TVs an average of 7 hours, 12 minutes each day above the U.S. average of 5 hours, 11 minutes.

Just as the Black community must continue to address the devastating effects of Black males alcohol and drug addiction, we must also begin to address Black males television sports watching addiction. We must create self-help and counseling programs to address Black males television sports addiction so they can become more aware, active, healthy, and functional. Without intervention, too many Black males will remain addictively imbalanced and physically inactive by sports watching addiction, facing a likely future of suffering and death from chronic diseases.

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