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Diversity in Action Sports

X Games 17 attracted a diverse crowd, but there was still a lack of black action sports athletes at the competition.  That could change in the future. 

There was only a few black athletes who competed at X Games 17, but there were a number of black athletes who participated in the weekend’s festivities.  This black skater performed tricks for the crowd at X Fest.  Photo by Jason Lewis

X Games 17 created a fun environment that many black fans enjoyed, and some, like this biker, were able to actively participate.  Photo by Jason Lewis

One of the most exciting events at X Games 17 was the Skateboard Big Air, which launches competitors off of a 70’ ramp.  With the proper guidance, there could be some black skaters performing mid air tricks in this event.  Photo by Jason Lewis

Article originally published by the Los Angeles Sentinel. www.lasentinel.net

By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor (2010-2013)


By Robert Gillard III
Sentinel Contributing Writer

The world of high-profile action sports descended upon downtown Los Angeles at LA Live and Staples Center last week as X Games 17 got underway.

Even with the blazing heat, people flocked to the ESPN extravaganza, which has been held in Los Angeles for the past nine years. Fans at this year’s X Games came from all walks of life, which was reflective of the event’s diversity, with over 200 athletes from 20 different countries.

Yet with such an assortment of different cultures, a glaring item was the lack of black athletes competing.

This year’s event featured a few black athletes, including skateboarder Nyjah Huston and BMX bike rider Austin Coleman.  In the past James “Bubba” Stewart competed in moto/Supercross and Stevie Williams competed in the skateboard events. 

Huston wasn’t just one of the competing athletes, but was considered a favorite to win the Skateboard Street competition, especially after finishing second the past two years.

Huston, who is part black, made history in 2006 as the youngest X Games competitor ever at the age of 11. On Saturday he made history again, as the 16-year-old became youngest gold medalist ever in X Games Skateboard Street.

Huston began skating at the age of five, when he was much more concerned with having fun than thinking of potentially earning a living.

"When I skated I didn't even think about making a living off of this,” Huston said.  “I loved it so much and that's all I wanted to do, so I naturally became good at it."

It is this genuine love for the sport that connects Huston with so many skateboarding fans.

Adam Davis, a black fan of the X Games, never competed in action sports professionally. Yet his love of the sports is what helped him create countless friendships growing up in Minnesota.

“You didn’t see a lot of black kids skating,” Davis, 25, said while watching a skateboarding competition. “It was definitely something different. That’s what was so unique about seeing it kind of come more and more to the forefront through music and different kinds of unique platforms. It was something that brought different groups of friends together; music, skating, just the lifestyle.”

Action sports are indeed part of a unique lifestyle. From the clothes, to the lingo, to the attitude, skateboarders and BMX bikers share a common bond. What was once seen as a predominately white hobby has become globalized, while growing into a multi-million-dollar business.

"The best part of being a skateboarder is not having to have a normal job,” Huston said. “I'm 16.  If it weren't for skateboarding then I'd be out there looking for a job or how to make a future for myself.  Skateboarding allows you to make a living off of something that you love to do.  And at the same time you get to travel around the world.”

Thousands of L.A.-area black youth would love to be in the position Huston is in. Just as countless kids grow up aspiring to reach the NFL or NBA, aspiring action sports athletes wish to reach the pinnacle of their sport.

Shawn Davis is a black student at Culver City High School and he hopes to go pro one day soon. In the meantime, he was happy enjoying X Games as a fan.

“I just came here today to look at some of my idols, because that’s where I want to be in the future… Paul Rodriguez, Theotis Beasley, Shane O’Neill, David Gravette… They inspire me to do better in life,” Davis said.

The lack of blacks competing at X Games is not an indictment of ESPN, as many black athletes may not be unaware of how to go pro.

Amateur skate and bike circuit tours are one option for action sport hopefuls, according to Ned DeBary, an X Games Skateboard Press Officer.  DeBary pointed out that simply skating or riding a bike at the local park is not enough to get noticed. Another option for aspiring athletes is to communicate with others on local message boards to find out about events in their area.

In addition to the sports of X Games 17, attendants were also able to enjoy X Fest, which featured food, music, and prizes. Tomeka Bradley and her family were among the estimated 141,000 people that took in X Games over the weekend.

“All the vendors have been really great,” Bradley said. “They’ve had a lot of great things for the kids to do, to get active and to get moving.”

Bradley has also noticed the change in perception of skateboarders and BMX bikers over time.

“It’s much better,” Bradley said.  “They’re starting to get a reputation as actual athletes.”

It wasn’t always this way. For years skateboarding and BMX biking carried with it plenty of negative connotations, mainly that of being a nuisance. Black kids didn’t skate nearly as much as white kids. Somewhere along the past decade or so, things changed. With the popularity of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game series, as well the transparency of artists Pharrell Williams and Lupe Fiasco as rappers who skated, a shift occurred.

Sal Masekela grew up when there weren’t many blacks participating in action sports. The media personality began skateboarding in New York, and continued to do so after he and his family moved to Southern California.

Masekela worked his first X Games event in 1999, and has since become considered by some to be the voice of action sports.

He also offered his advice to aspiring athletes.

“At the end of the day the cream rises to the top in skateboarding,” Masekela said. “What a lot of kids do is, they go out there, have a friend with a video camera, then they film each other, they edit it, then they put it up on the web. And if you have the type of skills that resonate then people are going to want to know what your deal is. There’s starting to be kids whose careers are coming from that.”

For a long time a common complaint was about the dearth of action sports parks in black communities. However things are beginning to change.

"At Gilbert Lindsay Park (which is on San Pedro and 42nd Place) we have a course for BMXers and skateboarders,” said 9th District L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry. “It was one of the first parks to have it in South Los Angeles. And some of the other parks in South Los Angeles have skate parks.  It's great, especially for the youngsters who like to flip up in the air. It's a nice thing for them. They like it.  It's a high risk activity, but they like it, and they want to do it, so we should support it."

As far as the presence of black athletes competing in X Games and other action sports venues, the future looks promising to Masekela.

“As skate parks and facilities get built in areas where people of color live, you’re just going to see a natural progression of being able to see those kids rise to the top.”

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