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Why Have So Many Football Players Been Adopted by White Families?

I never saw the movie “Blind Side,” (the story about Michael Oher’s adoption into his white Coach’s family) but I heard it was a really good film. When I ran across this Slate article profiling other black athletes who have been adopted by white families my interest was piqued, but at the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Slate didn’t have to work too hard to find these stories, from Jeremy Maclin to Demarcus Cobb,  examples of white families adopting black male athletes abound. The Slate article is full of links to story after story. Now that I’ve had some time to peruse the many links, a month later I can finally articulate what bothers me.

Four questions: 1. Is this a phenomena limited to black male athletes or are white families adopting black male teenagers who aren’t possible high dollar college or NFL prospects. 2. Are those players who leave their black homes to go to white ones able to maintain a positive perception of black people and black identity? 3. Do the white families who adopt these boys see them as an end or as a means to an end? 4. Are black coaches, who, of course are lesser in number, taking in black male athletes as well? Conversely, are white male athletes being adopted by school staff, white or black?

I don’t have answers to these questions but I would speculate that given the circumstances surrounding how these boys come to live with the families’ of their coaches and other instructors, odds are this is mainly an athletics related occurrence and happening almost exclusively between an athlete who is black and a family that is white.

It bothers me that the majority of these boys, unlike Oher, are leaving their caretakers’ homes to live with these families as teenagers after their athletic potential as already been discovered.

“…all of these narratives hit the same uplifting marks: Black athlete meets white family, flourishes on account of the added support, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Why do white families take in black athletes? Consider the case of Ross Chouest and Clarence Moore. The Louisiana natives, the former white and the latter black, became summer basketball teammates as middle-schoolers in the mid-1990s. Ross’ father Gary, the owner of a private offshore oil firm, is one of the state’s richest men. Moore’s family, by contrast, was struggling to hold it together, with Clarence’s mother in very poor health and his father legally blind. Given those wildly disparate circumstances, the Moores and the Chouests decided it would be best for Clarence to move in with his teammate.

As a 1999 Cox News Service story relates, Clarence “swapped his Kmart clothes for Hilfiger and Polo” and “focus[ed] on jump shots and schoolbooks” rather than his chaotic home life. After they started bunking together, Clarence and Ross teamed up to win a state basketball title. The best buddies-turned-brothers then joined up at Georgia Tech, where Clarence was a key member of the Yellow Jackets’ 2004 Final Four team.”

Obviously, the ideal solutions would be to support the parents in taking care of their sons better rather than taking them in yourself. That’s not always feasible but even when it is, such as in the case of Chouest, it isn’t pursued. In many cases the boys’ families were already destroyed by drugs and abuse, still that highlights my concern that the only black men society is interested in saving have to be good with a ball.

It’s hard to lament these adoptions because the men overall seem to be better for it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t or shouldn’t make us a little uncomfortable.

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