The Fallacy of Hip-Hop "Culture" in Sports

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IAugust 23, 2008

You can hear it on any given day: hip hop rocking the speakers at a high school gymnasium before a basketball game. It is a tradition at a Midwest college football game to go crazy to House of Pain’s, “Jump Around” to start the fourth quarter. Even America’s pastime, our oldest major sport, has taken part as the raucous sounds of Lupe Fiasco blares out of speakers from Dodger Stadium to Fenway Park.

Sports and hip-hop music seem to share this strange bond. Each has become inextricably linked to the other. In fact, since the mid 1990’s a cliché developed where every rapper wanted to be a basketball player and every basketball player wanted to be a rapper. A few even made semi-successful transitions, while others take the Shaq route and spit their rhymes at nightclubs for “fun.”

Why the connection? Sure we hear the Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” at sports venues and “The Eye of the Tiger” has become synonymous with dramatic sports moments but rock n’ roll has slowly faded from sports culture along with stir-ups, stripped socks, and the single-bar football helmet. Yet hip-hop has molded with sports culture in a more profound way than any of those ever did. Some offer reasons as to way but few are good and most are not so good, even borderline offensive.

One is the perceived relation to race. While seemingly a harmless social connection on the outside, this teeters dangerously on racism. The idea is that because hip-hop music and culture has been predominantly produced by and for black people, there is thus a connection exists to sports, a venue supposedly dominated by African-American athletes. That seems like an easy line to draw. Well, perhaps “lazy” is a better description.

This theory lacks in seemingly about every way. Hip-hop music remains run by corporations that employ plenty of non-blacks. Successful white purveyors of hip-hop like Eminem remain few and far between but so do successful black quarterbacks. Does that mean they can’t exist or are in some way incapable of being? By associating one race with something as broad as a musical genre, we pigeon-hole them and create unfair racial stereotypes.

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The “race” theory also completely misses the demographic of hip-hop. Surely the majority of the music comes from black voices but the message is not solely for black ears. White, middle-America consistently consumes enormous amounts of hip-hop music and culture.

While it remains difficult to get an exact numbers for a plethora of reasons, the Wall Street Journal in 2005 found anywhere from 60-80% of rap was consumed by white males ages 13-34.

So, since the consumers of hip-hop music are not all black, certainly all the athletes must be all black and fall into that minority hip-hop consuming culture. Again, completely off-base.

Football remains an integrated and diverse sport with athletes of all races competing equally at every position, even quarterback, a place once played solely by white players.

Baseball also has a tremendous mix of races. Just look at the All-Star rosters. This year in the National League, a white Jew from California started in the outfield alongside a 32- year- old Japanese player and 32 –year- old Dominican (who didn’t actually start the game due to injury). The AL was almost more staggering because it is so similar: a white former drug addict, a Dominican and a 34 –year- old Japanese player. That kind of diversity makes any notion of race as a vehicle for hip-hop in sports invalid.  

What really fails to give this race notion any punch is the distinct difference between the positive and negative message of hip hop culture.

Music called “gangster rap” and even mainstream “club rap” or “radio rap” have become increasingly profane and boorish. Music that was once more about social chance than Cristal and Escalades has developed into something much more basic.

However, pro sports have taken tremendous steps to separate this negative culture from its athletes. As the media continues to grow from every imaginable angle, owners have been finding it significantly more difficult to sell a high profile athlete with a history of violence or misbehavior to a fan base. There are simply too many model athletes for these companies to invest in such risky commodities.

Anyone who believes the majority of franchises would have taken a risk on Adam “Pacman” Jones simply because of his talent has been missing the message NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is sending. Making it rain at strip clubs, carrying guns, getting into bar fights, those things will not be tolerated by the NFL or its subsidiaries.

If sheriff-like commissioners like Roger Goodell and the NBA’s David Stern (the two commissioners whose sport are mostly black) have been monitoring such behavior, then how is the music getting through?

The point has always been there is more to hip-hop music than getting girls and buying cars. Those are just ancillary to the real messages in hip-hop: strength, courage, success, perseverance and hope.

When the Green Bay Packers kick-off team did the Soulja Boy dance before every kickoff, Mason Crosby didn’t stand outside of the group because he was white; he stood outside because he was the kicker (Some things never change). The rest of the unit was getting fired up by the beat of the steel drum and the fellowship that followed from doing something fun together.

That hip-hop culture (but even the so-called “gangster” elements) runs congruous with the elements of playing sports. There are adversaries almost literally trying to kill one another. There are people underestimating and downplaying you. There is posturing, bluffing, weapon stockpiling (metaphorically of course), obstacles to overcome, hope, dreams and ultimately success or failure.

The reason you don’t hear John Mayer emanating from the loudspeaker is because who cares how long we have to wait for the world to change, I want to know who is ready. That’s why Archie Eversole’s words “We ready, we ready, we ready for ya’ll” works so much better. Simple, concise, to the point and it really does get the adrenaline pumping.

It isn’t about race, culture or really anything other than a way to get jacked up for a game, a play, a possession or an at-bat. Hearing music gets you going because music has that power over people.

Rays outfielder Gabe Gross actually had Christian rock play before his at-bats with the Milwaukee Brewers but that was what uplifted him. That is what hip-hop music is really about. The more work guys like David Stern and Roger Goodell do, the more the average fan will see 99% of athletes reject the nonsense of some perverted and obfuscated hip-hop machismo having relevance in their lives but rather choose embrace the power it can have in a positive way.



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