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Human Trafficking And Sports: What’s The Connection?

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Just when I think I’ve heard and read everything about the slavery that is human trafficking, something new comes along. This time, it’s the trafficking of boys and young men for sports.

NPR’s Alexandra Starr writes about teens from Nigeria being lured to the U.S. with the promise of basketball scholarships, only to end up homeless on the streets of New York City or in foster care. Then there is this:

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security raided the Faith Baptist Christian Academy South in Ludowici, Ga., and discovered 30 young boys, mostly Dominican, who had been living in the campus gym, sleeping on the floor. Apparently students had been housed there since 2013. These boys also had been recruited to America with the promise of a high school education and a shot at a college scholarship.

The obvious question is “Why?” Why would anyone go overseas in an attempt to bring these boys to the U.S.? The answer is money – which is the driving force behind human trafficking. NPR’s Starr:

Find a future star, and you stand to make a lot of money. Of course, the vast majority of recruits will not be that one-in-a million talent. And in a lot of cases, young boys seem to be treated based on what the adults in the basketball market think they’re “worth.”

Colleges will award coaching jobs and sometimes find ways to funnel cash to coaches and scouts who can steer top players to their teams. Officially, colleges aren’t allowed to pay for players, but long-time sports observers say this happens with frequency.

The AAU [Amateur Athletic Association] is a driving force behind all of this, for rookies born at home and abroad. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and virtually every other NBA star started out playing for AAU teams.

With the focus on finding talent and hitting it big financially, there is no system in place to protect these boys from being trafficked. The AAU currently has no guidelines or bylaws that bar this type of “recruiting.”

One young man, Chukwuemeka Ene, told Alexandra Starr, “It’s not slavery where they put a chain on your hand or your neck. But it’s people trying to use you.” Just as in sex and labor trafficking, human beings become commodities, nothing more than a “thing” that is a source of income for someone else.

Read “A Lesser-Known Human Trafficking Problem: Teenage Basketball Players” at NPR.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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