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Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete
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Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  937 ratings  ·  124 reviews
From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says former New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the mul ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 11th 2006 by Crown (first published 2006)
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Sean Gibson
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reviewed for Kirkus waaaayyy back when: ...more
This is not the book I thought it would be when I picked it out. I was expecting a book about contracts, money, recruiting, and trading. Rhodes touches on all those things, but this book is primarily a history book, drawing distant and not-explicitly-stated parallels between the slave markets at the beginning and the meat markets of college recruiting at the end. The impetus of the book was partially in response to questions like the one put the the author by an elementary school student, “Who w ...more
Sep 07, 2007 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in reading it.
Shelves: sports
This book is a must read especially for those among us who claim that these Million Dollar athletes should do more in the community. While that is a valid conversation, those same people who say this, never take the time to understand the centuries old games and institutions that are at work here. Also, why isn't this book on the New York Times Best Seller List, while Tyler Perry's "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life " is? Just one o ...more
Sep 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very eye opening. Though the first two chapters lagged a bit, it immediately became interesting when the book delved into the Jockey Syndrome, and how the decimation of the Negro baseball leagues became a symbol of the negative effects of integration. "The Conveyor Belt" chapter (driving wedges between inner city kids and their families/communities for higher profits) is especially important for Black parents.

I would've given it five stars if more time had been spent on Black female athletes. I
The FountainPenDiva, Old school geek chick and lover of teddy bears
Okay, let me get this off my chest first. Only ONE chapter dedicated to the presence/contributions of Black women in sports? Really? Granted, author William C. Rhoden acknowledges his lack but it doesn't excuse it, especially because his historical scholarship of Black male sports figures was so rich and detailed. Damn right, this is not only problematic but a typical narrative when it comes to documenting and acknowledging Black women's lives. We see this erasure in mainstream feminism, and it' ...more
Vannessa Anderson
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to write a review befitting this book and came up with nothing. For me, the best way for this book to be reviewed is quotes taken directly from the book.

Forty Million Dollar Slaves is an important read if we want to understand the black athlete.

“In their failure to heed the lessons of history, today’s black athletes are squandering the best opportunities yet for acquiring real power in the sports industry.” P. 2

“Ignorance of the past makes it diffi
Sep 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Even after more than a decade, “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete” is still a serviceable book about the challenges and adversity black athletes faced throughout history and continue to face as they churn through the merciless, mostly white-owned machinations of pro-sports. Is the book insightful and interesting? Definitely. Is it a page-turner? Not really. Reading this felt a bit like a necessary chore. And, I feel like Rhoden is a little unfair in ...more
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’m late to the party on this book, as I am with so many things. The author uses as an extended metaphor the journey of the tribe of Israel to the promised land, and its shockingly effective. The author contrasts individual monetary success with individual and group negotiating power. I wish there was further discussion of how the individualist, capitalist ideals that undergird American self-perception support the former and not the latter. A society where collectivism is valued might not look l ...more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thought-provoking and a crucial read, especially in light of NFL kneeling protests. Rhoden does a great job of explaining how sporting events became as an outlet for slaves, how black athletes were systematically blocked out of sports as they rose to acclaim (Jockey syndrome), how black athletes are separated from the communities, the conveyor belt, etc. I really appreciated the stories about Kellen Winslow and his son (and Rick Neuheisel), Curt Flood, and Michael Jordan. At times I wished there ...more
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredible book. Published 11 years ago and covers the history of black athletes beginning hundreds of years ago but its message is so important even now.
Joy Messinger
[4 stars] A thorough analysis of race - Blackness specifically - and racialized class in sports. The first few chapters read like a history lesson while the last seven delved deeper into various areas of critique; it took me a while to get into the book because of this format but I think also because I am less interested in boxing and horseracing than the other sports discussed. I wish the chapter on race and gender had been earlier - thereby opening up space for a gender lens to be integrated i ...more
Corrie Campbell
Jul 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: sports, politics
I appreciated Rhoden’s detailed and moving history of the black athlete. He highlights the hardships, the atrocities and the spirit to which the black athlete excelled in the face of such monumental adversity. Rhoden took us from boxing in the early 19th century; to horse-racing mid-19th century; to the Negro Leagues in the mid-20th century; and up to the modern day athletes that we intimately know. From this point of view Forty Million Dollar Slave is an excellent book.

I also see no controversy
Ryan Mishap
Jun 23, 2011 rated it liked it
"Integration in sports--as opposed to integration at the ballot box or in public conveyances--was a winning proposition for the whites who controlled the sports-industrial complex. They could move to exploit black muscle and talent, thus sucking the life out of black institutions, while at the same time giving themselves credit for being humanitarians."

The quote above gives you a good idea of the main argument in this book that traces black athletes from slavery to modern day sports. The title a
Jan 15, 2015 rated it liked it
I learned a lot I didn't know about the history of Black athletes in the United States of America. It was a good read. It dragged sometimes but for the most part, it held my attention.

In all non-fiction books, I'm a stickler for evidence and he provided a concise list of where he got all his information in the notes and bibliography.

I give it 3.5 stars because he really did breeze over the female aspect. Also, some of the chapters were a bit long for my taste. Still it was a good read and extr
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
At times I felt the book wasn't as in depth as I'd like it to be but overrall I throughly enjoyed a brief look into the difficulties faced by African-Americans in sports that many currently believe they have always dominated. Raised excellent questions about the roles of African-American superstars and was quite thought-provoking - further making me wonder if you can ever truly dismantle racism in any capitalist society. Recommended.
Tippy Jackson
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
The story of Michael Jordan being shut out from ownership after coming out of retirement for the wizards was something I was completely unfamiliar with and I found it appalling. Also, this book offered an interesting perspective on the famous Jackie Robinson story and his role in baseball history. Well written and interesting, even for very non-sports following people like me.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Easily the best sports book I've ever read. There is So much history that I did not know of or took for granted. This changed my whole perspective regarding how I view our athletes and how they undermine their true worth.
Scott Martin
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't have grand designs when I found this book (looking for a new audiobook to listen to while waiting on some other holds), but sometimes you can be really surprised when you aren't looking for anything. This book dives into the role of the black athlete in American society, but whereas such figures are seen as positive forces and entities that demonstrate a way ahead in navigating the racial divides of this country, Rhoden is not so quick to affirm that position. To him, the black athlete ...more
Jul 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
Race is a touchy subject. The pretense of any argument about it is kind of a Catch-22. If you're white you're not allowed to comment or your opinion is of no value, which means only the minority groups get to discuss it. How are we supposed to move forward when only one group gets any say? I'm pretty sure that's how we got here in the first place. 40 Million Dollar Slaves by William C. Rhoden is a book about the black athlete and all the problems they still face today. To properly discuss the bo ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a book that has been sitting on my book shelf for years. My husband read it back when it first came out (about 15 years ago), but it did not grab my immediate interest. However, now that I can no longer borrow "real" books from the library, I thought I'd give this one a shot.

I found the beginning to be a little slow. It went deep into the history of the black athletic experience from the early 1800s up to the civil rights era. Some of the history was familiar while some of it was totall
The writer presents a provocative look at how athletes, and black athletes in general, have been exploited in the multi-billion dollar per year industry of sports. A term he continually uses throughout the book is "these athletes should be grateful for the opportunity," as echoed by the owners who make way more money off of the talent of these athletes and fans who pay to see them, is called into question. Being grateful for what actually? If athletes are performing a service for the owners who ...more
Shayn Blackwell
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Quick read. I am not much of a sports person outside of basketball, so I appreciated that this book wasn’t filled with sports jargon or anything like that. Rather, it was filled with lots of history including the origin of sports during slavery and the earliest successful black athletes that made a name for themselves before we had professional leagues. Rhoden does a decent job of connecting historical patterns with the sports industry today and gives hope that today’s athlete can empower themse ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the best books I read this year. I got introduced to this book by a recommendation from a previous book I read. It was I Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education by Mychal Denzel Smith. I noticed my reading had been selective when trying to understand certain things. I came into this with an open mind and letting it provide context instead of me making it what I thought it should be. A lot of information in this book has been very well researched ...more
Juan Cortes
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a fantastic read that, at first, I was hesitant while reading. When I was reading the book, I was against the idea that someone who is paid an exorbitant amount of money could ever be considered since wealth can lead to power. However, after Rhoden's explanation that the systemic racism instilled in sports from it's origins, the power structures in place that consistently prey on low income African American communities, and the lack of leadership opportunities for African Americans in t ...more
J.V. Speyer
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-reads
Forty Million Dollar Slaves gives a history of Black athletes in American professional sports. Rhoden discusses his topic from the perspective of power and influence: who has the power in each situation? Who benefits from the use of Black muscle?

Some of the insights were a little uncomfortable. That was okay with me. I’m not Black, and I’ve probably been guilty of watching professional sports with some of the attitudes expressed in Forty Million Dollar Slaves. I probably didn’t realize it at the
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow. This was everything I wanted this book to be. It was historical but not boring, interesting, informative, and boy, did I learn a lot. I feel like I can speak on subjects I didn't think I knew enough about before. So why only 4 stars? This book was DENSE. it took me a while to get through, especially the more historical parts at the beginning. But the first hundred pages did lay a necessary framework for the rest of the book so I did not regret it. Another thing: the chapters were not too lo ...more
Braden Wildi
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
After reading this novel I would have to give it a rating of 4 stars out of 5. I feel like this book was worth reading because it does a great job of explaining what is was like being a black athlete going through the system to get to the pros. It also shows the hardships the athletes faced whether through racism and discrimination or the decision they made. On top of that the novel also tell the stories of well known athletes that are still known and what they went through to get where they are ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic. I can't believe only 500+ reviews exist for this book. Bill Rhoden, a sports writer whom I greatly respect, takes you on a educational tour of the black athlete's history in America in several genres, from boxing, to baseball, to football, and even cycling (I learned something new there). He speakers to how white oppression and racism keeps real success and real power for the black athlete in an arms reach. This book was a revelation. It was written in 2006, but it is st ...more
Diana Griffing
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A passionate view into what it means and has meant to be a Black athlete in America. Disillusioning the 'inspirational' tales of Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, and delving into the complexities of existing in a white world in a country founded on white supremacy. While celebrating victories of athletes, this book explores how sports has only desegregated the talent, while coaching, planning and management continues to be dominated by white people profiting off of the dreams of African America ...more
Kimberly Juarez
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book was really interesting and informative. I learned a lot about African American Athletics during the time 1990s, from how the sport began to its downfall. Forty Million Dollar Slaves shares a perspective of what the African American community went through to become professional athletes and why they cared deeply for their role in society. I really enjoyed how the author Willam C. Rhoden used a lot of examples of African Americans and how they impacted their community, it was engaging. I ...more
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