a lot more because they’ve been given the opportunity,” he continues. “Whereas for my kids to get sponsorship, it’s been a major, major hassle. My kids could have been a lot further on had we been able to get some help.”
Interestingly enough, however, Toure S. Claiborne of Advantage International, the McLean, Virginia-based sports marketing company which now represents Garrison, says regardless of skill level, the dollars will come with exposure. “If you can get exposure and recognition to your household, your hometown, your chances of getting help increases,” says Claiborne, who is also Detroit Pistons free agent guard Jerry Stackhouse’s agent and business manager. “Golf is a perfect example. The kids, who are traditionally not African American, have come from backgrounds that can support and sustain a two-, three, even four-year commitment financially, to give the kids a chance to make it.”
Claiborne adds that while some businesses may take it upon themselves to finance a player for a short time, expectations are often high and winning is always the determining factor as far as longevity of support goes. And that, Claiborne says, is a risky undertaking. “I know of situations where businessmen are independently interested in helping an athlete, but oftentimes, these people are going to want significant returns,” he says. “I would stay away from the independent financier–unless it’s your parents or something [other than] blind deals like that. It’s something that would cause the athlete to feel indebted to the opportunity. It’s more of a business understanding instead of an obligation.”
Regardless of the parameters, endorsements and corporate backing have never been easy for African Americans, especially in sports where they are the exception rather than the rule. Claiborne notes that tennis legend Arthur Ashe didn’t get comparable financi
al support as his white peers until he was ranked in the top 10. “I know for athletes like Charlie Sifford [the first black player on the PGA TOUR], endorsement opportunities were null and void early on in his career,” Claiborne says. “It’s just been in the past several years–and in golf in particular–that African Americans have been able to capitalize on such opportunities.”
Choosing Alternative Routes
While things have certainly gotten better, there’s definitely room for improvement. There is no set formula, but of course, it doesn’t hurt to have game like Tiger or Venus. For big corporations, the color of money will always be green. A run-of-the-mill athlete will continue to have to look for ways to make himself known, but according to Bowen from Titleist, there are always alternative routes. “It’s up to some of the folks reading these articles to take an interest in an individual,” says Bowen, who has been at Titleist for seven years. “It’s almost like a race horse. You want to give it a chance to run. If it wins, good; if it doesn’t, fine. To some people or organizations, $20,000 to $30,000 is not a lot of money,” says Bowen.
According to Bowen, one source of income has been other professional athletes. Michael Jordan