Conceptual Artist Connects the Past with the Present

Hank Willis Thomas
Emeka Ochiagha
May 16, 2021

Hank Willis Thomas saw the way Black athletes were being treated in college sports – especially how they don’t get paid but the colleges make bank. He realized that this issue had much deeper roots and was eerily reminiscent of slavery. His powerful photo series explores just how deep the connection truly is.

Many of America’s elite colleges were built by enslaved people. 400 years later, their descendants are still working for free on top of the same land, making millions of dollars for white folks! The parallels don’t stop there.

There’s also cotton. Jerseys are made out of cotton, and these white institutions make brand deals with major apparel companies and use their Black athletes to sell the merchandise. The athletes are “branded,” and turn the cotton into gold.

When Colin Kaepernick protested, white folks got upset. To them, Black people are just for profit and entertainment. But when we dare speak up and assert ourselves, we cross a line! Why? Because in their eyes, we are things and not people.

It feels good to see Black people compete and win, but Thomas’ photographs show that the NCAA has a lot in common with slavery. Is it time to be honest about this and stop supporting college sports until the exploitation stops and Black athletes get their due?

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