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How Black Male Athletes Are Redefining What It Means To Empower Women

They’re helping women get out of environments where they live in fear.

Photo via AP; illustration by Tyler Hoehne.

My father's in prison for killing a woman. I was raised by a notorious pimp from the South Side of Chicago.

Up until age 13, I, like millions of other young brothers, not only thought this was the norm but that I was on a fast track to repeat the doomed lineage of black men who would retire to a jail cell — or else to take solace in the misguidedly celebrated back alleys of ghetto folklore.

I can vividly remember the black eyes my momma and aunts wore like mini chocolate pancakes stuck to their faces as the scent of expensive cologne tap-danced in my nostrils, polluting my young mind with the fascination of fine threads and hot cars.

But today, some black athletes are changing the narrative to ensure that black women are supported, protected, and empowered.

In recent years, the Lean In campaign has expanded to become one of the many organizations that encourage men in sports to stand next to women in their fight for equality. Steph Curry, of the Golden State Warriors, and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers have all joined the Lean in Together fight, which commits to the process of opening doors for women.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]What does it truly mean for black athletes to empower women? To some, it means ensuring their momma and sisters are removed from environments where they live in fear. [/quote]

James is motivated by the love and value system set in place by his mother, who was 16 when she gave birth to him. In a 2014 tribute to her, James shared his mother’s impact on his life:

“The truth is that everything I’ve learned about being a parent to my boys — 9-year-old LeBron Jr. and 6-year-old Bryce — I learned from my mother. Everything I know about being loving and caring, and sacrificing and showing up and being present in my children’s lives — I learned all of that from her example.”

In the James family, this energy to give back to the community is contagious. His wife Savannah operates the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education, which helps students from struggling Ohio schools succeed. In 2015, the foundation also spent millions of dollars to send Akron kids to college, providing the support that was sometimes out of reach for their families.

Black women have not only been the foundation of the black community — they’re the backbone of society too. According to a 2010 study by the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 72% of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock.

For black athletes raised by single moms, giving back to the women who raised them isn’t just an Instagram moment — it’s an obligation. When a player signs that contract, the proudest moment of his life is buying his momma a new house.

As a kid, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson of the Portland Trail Blazers watched his single mother work as a dietary supervisor and bartender to keep the lights on. With an absent father, who was in and out of jail, Hollis-Jefferson embraced his role as “the man of the house.”

He was able to thank his mother for her sacrifices by surprising her with a new home, buying it practically before the ink on his NBA contract dried.

“It’s every kid’s dream to one day get their mom out of the situation that they’re in. It’s very touching for us to be able to do it,” Hollis-Jefferson told the New York Post. “Instead of worrying about where your mom is going, what she’s doing, it puts you at ease knowing she has a place of her own, and that she has somewhere to lay her head at night. It’s pretty special.”

A mother’s unwavering support fosters the determination, ambition, and courage needed in the everyday struggle of “making it.” They offer love as thick as former NBA All-Star Allen Iverson’s mom’s trademark red lipstick and bejeweled fingers — a glow reminiscent of a modern-day Nefertiti — her voice sometimes echoing courtside: “That’s my baby!”

What does it truly mean for black athletes to empower women? To some, it means ensuring their momma and sisters are removed from environments where they live in fear.

The great American poet the Notorious B.I.G. said, “Either you're slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.” This brilliantly illustrates the journey of some young black athletes who spend years practicing their finger rolls on crates and dodging cars in the city streets like linebackers with only one goal: getting momma out the ghetto.

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