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From Robertson to Kaepernick: The Long Fight for Equity and Fair Compensation in Pro Sports

The glitz and big money of professional sports often obscures more mundane and all-too familiar racial realities.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Roundtable's Rob Nelson, political analyst Niko House discussed race and the political economy of professional sports—from the "funneling" of Black youth into certain sports, to the lack of representation in coaching and ownership. 

The battle for fair compensation at the professional level has often intertwined with race, House noted. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were some players who knew their worth and wanted to fight for proper pay and labor rights, such as Oscar Robinson and the Black baseball player Curt Flood.

“Oscar Robinson was ostracized by the NBA for a long time, even though he was 'Mr. Triple Double' at the time,” House said. “He's the reason NBA players are so serious about getting their money now. He was like, ‘They can't do any of this without us.’ And it really changed the landscape of the sporting world.”

Some sports are clearly lagging behind others—notably the NFL. Aside from the well-known issues around Colin Kaepernick, House noted that NFL players aren’t awarded the same salaries as those in the NBA, and are signed to contracts that allow for them to be cut at any time. 

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Watch the full interview: