|Fred McKinney, president and CEO of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.
No one group of professionals within the African American community should be held responsible for the conditions impacting all African Americans. There has always been a debate about whether “progress” is initiated by individuals or requires group solidarity. No matter how you come out on this debate, there is widespread recognition among African Americans that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
The issue of personal responsibility to the economic advancement of the group is of great relevance when it comes to minority professional athletes. This is true not only because of their potential to leverage their wealth to create economic bounty for themselves and others, but also because of the frequent cases of opportunities lost.
Now that the 2010 NBA season has come to a crashing conclusion for Boston Celtics fans, it is an appropriate time to take a closer look at this powerful form of entertainment that creates hundreds of millionaires, some temporary — some permanent, and the impact these professionals have on the communities from which they come. The size of the contracts professional athletes sign in all of the major sports would place them among the largest minority businesses in the country. Yet unlike businesses in general, minority professional athletes seem to be unable to sustain or increase their wealth after their short sports careers are over.
I think it is timely and appropriate for minority business development professionals to engage more minority sports professionals in significant ways to develop connections with established minority businesses in order to create lasting wealth. This is not a new concept. It is one that some African American professional athletes have already used to their advantage and the advantage of their employees, shareholders and the communities where they work.
For example, Earvin “Magic” Johnson has created a business that controls billions of dollars. Dave Bing before him created a significant company that supplied the automotive and construction industry with steel. Gayle Sayers, Herschel Walker and a few others have discovered that starting and operating a business is the primary way for sustaining and growing wealth. At the same time, we too frequently hear about cases like Antoine Walker, who during his playing days earned more than $100 million, only to find himself all but bankrupt today. Why is it that Johson was able to leverage his sports career and Antoine Walker was not?
I have thought about this question a great deal this year. In fact, this past April the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council (GNEMSDC) held a conference featuring the achievements of certified minority businesses owned by former professional athletes, including Johnson, Herschel Walker and Sayers. What we learned from these athletes is that playing professional sports must be viewed as a means to an end and not the end. We learned that preparing for a life after professional sports starts in college and in some cases before.
We also learned that the management companies that dominate and control the contracts that minority professional athletes sign are primarily interested in their own bottom line and not the long term future of their often very young and impressionable clients. We learned that the teams and leagues that hire these young men care very little about exposing these wealthy young men to minority entrepreneurs who have established lasting successful businesses in the communities where they work. We learned that the achievements of Johnson, Herschel Walker and Sayers are, indeed, exceptions and unfortunately not the rule.
I believe that organizations like the GNEMSDC can help young professional athletes establish relationships with other minority entrepreneurs and with corporations that are often willing to expend large sums of money with minority professional athletes, while they are not willing to invest with other minority businesses. So the solution is to bring minority athletes who have access and resources together with minority entrepreneurs who have business experience and industry intelligence.
There are many benefits of establishing and formalizing these types of relationships. The athletes benefit by creating sustainable wealth. The minority business community benefits from having high level marketing and resource support. And the community at large benefits by the establishment of businesses that can employ and train minority workers. So while this basketball season is over, just think about the long term impact a Rajon Rondo could have by making an assist with one or two Boston area minority firms.