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2006: SOURCE Magazine Hip-Hop & Sports

June 23, 2008

Source_20.JPGJune 2006 — HIP-HOP & SPORTS: THE STATE OF THE UNION… To say
that Hip-Hop has anything less than a pervasive presence in the
professional sports would be a gross understatement, something akin to
downplaying Reggie Bush’s speed or Vince Carter’s vertical leap. The
truth is that Hip-Hop and professional sports have evolved into
inextricably linked forces.

"Hip-Hop is an extension of the Black culture-period," says Gibril
Wilson of the New York Giants. "We live it and these guys are just
expressing it in music."

To put things in chronological perspective, when Wilson was just 5
years old in 1985, the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears recorded
"Super Bowl Shuffle." The single peaked at No. 41 on the charts, netted
a Grammy nomination and earned Walter "Sweetness" Payton, Jim "Punky
QB" McMahon and William "The Refrigerator" Perry the distinction of
being the first rapping pro athletes.

But while the NFL may have facetiously promoted the
pro-athlete/Hip-Hop phenomenon, it later flourished in the NBA. "In the
early ’90s, when you talk about who was out at the time, you talk about
Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Too $hort, EPMD and LL Cool J," says
New York Knick Jalen Rose. "Those weren’t necessarily the things being
played in NBA arenas. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t in any
videos at the time."

Unlike the aforementioned players who gained prominence in the 1980s,
the new breed of NBA players took the Hip-Hop/ athlete link beyond
novelty status. In 1993, Shaq’s debut release, Shaq Diesel, was widely
accepted by both critics and sports fans, ultimately going platinum.
However, the tides would turn when Kobe’s 2000 rap album, Visions got
trashed by the public and was never widely released. Undeterred, Allen
Iverson recorded a solo album titled Non-Fiction a year later, but was
shut down when his gangsta rap-oriented single "40 Bars" leaked. The
song garnered him the chastisement of NBA commissioner David Stern and
began organized sports, railroading of Hip-Hop’s influence.

Hip-Hop has not only impacted athletes, it has also bullied its way
into the lexicon of sports commentary. ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott
has been criticized by people who think Hip-Hop vernacular has no place
in sports journalism. Luckily for his fans, Scott recognized the
importance of redefining standard sports euphemisms. "There were people
who didn’t quite understand where I was really coming from, but that’s
the culture," Scott says. "If you didn’t grow up listening to Run DMC
or The Sugar Hill Gang, then you’re not going to get the reference."

One publication that has always understood the link between sports and
Hip-Hop is the magazine you hold in your hands. THE SOURCE Sports began
as a section that profiled athletes representing Hip-Hop culture. In
1997, it blossomed into its own publication and thrived until 2001,
perfecting the blueprint for magazines like Slam and Dime. Soon the
world of sports journalism was inundated with Hip-Hop and athletes were
finally able to show who they really were on and off the field or court.

Before the traditional world of sports magazines began covering
athletes decked out with bling, THE SOURCE Sports featured cover
tandems like Stephon Marbury and Redman, and Master P and Shaq, as well
as solo covers with Mike Tyson and A.I. This type of pioneering
coverage did not go unrecognized. "A lot of times when you talk
Hip-Hop, people don’t understand that it’s more than just music,"
insists Rose. "[THE SOURCE] always provided a voice for Hip-Hop that
nobody else was tapping into."

Athletes who represent Hip-Hop, or, more specifically, who dress
Hip-Hop, fell out of graces with their corporate bosses at the
beginning of this past NBA season when the league instituted a new
dress code banning jewelry, do-rags, sunglasses, and other items
associated with Hip-Hop style. Commissioner Stern insinuated that the
new code was a response to backlash from mainstream America and would
restore enthusiasm and credibility to the sport’s damaged image.
Critics saw it as a direct attack on the players and the Hip-Hop
culture they represented. "Hip-Hop has caused the NBA to have a dress
code." Says Big Tigger, host of 106 & Park. "So it’s clearly
directed at the Hip-Hop generation and the people of our demographic."

"I think the NBA does a good job promoting their product, but I was not
a fan of the NBA dress code," Scott adds. "I think if a young man
carries himself in a professional manner, then he should be able to
wear some jewelry if he really wants."

Hip-Hope style was indeed banned by the NBA. But Commissioners Stern,
But Selig of MLB and Paul Tagliabue of the NFL must accept the reality
that Hip- Hop remains a ubiquitous presence in pro sports. Many of the
young men who populate their respective leagues were born into the
culture. It is who they are. It is woven into the fabric of their
lives. It is, in our culture of separations, divorces and annulments, a
union not to be broken.

WORDS BY MITCHELL S. JACKSON