This week, in honor of March Madness, I want to focus on collegiate athletics. Specifically I want to focus on an article from last fall in The Atlantic by noted historian (and biographer of Martin Luther King, Jr.) Taylor Branch (http://tinyurl.com/43s7pzm) and a recently released report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (http://tinyurl.com/834m6of). Each of these articles focus on the differentiation between white male athletes and their Black male counterparts. They also identify some of the positive things taking place with Black male athletes.
For example, while there is a 20% gap in the graduation rates between Black and white male football players (which is identified as the “Graduation Success Rate” or GSR), the overall GSR for non-Black athletes is 40% and for Black athletes, 60%. This seems to be a positive result that we can take away from athletic participation. The key, of course, is to identify what Black student athletes receive that their same race non-athletic counterparts do not. Perhaps it is the mentoring and tutoring programs athletes receive, the rigor (or lack thereof) of course selection, or group think in which being successful on the court or field translates to wanting to be successful in the classroom. What is known is that while we can celebrate the differentiation between the Black athletes versus the non-athletes on campus, the numbers (40% versus 60%) are still extremely anemic.
As we take a breather from watching the games and examining our brackets hoping for the team we're rooting for to win, perhaps we should also examine the culture of collegiate athletics which breeds what Branch describes as an environment in which the “United States is the only country in the world that hosts big-time sports at institutions of higher learning.” Why do we celebrate “March Madness” far more vigorously than May madness, otherwise known as Graduation? Why is it that everyone is getting paid in college athletics, save for perhaps the swim coach, except the student-athletes? Should we go so far as Branch and infer, either explicitly as he does, or implicitly as most do, that high profile college athletics is nothing more than a “plantation” mentality, meaning the athletes are the only ones not receiving compensation for their efforts?
More importantly than the idea of whether or not college athletes should get paid beyond their scholarships, which I believe they should, the question we should be thinking about as we watch the excitement of the NCAA Men’s Tournament is, how many of these young men (specifically young Black men) will be turning their tassels and throwing their hats in the air sometime in May (or a May sometime in the near future)? Only one team can cut down the nets at the end of the Tournament, one team gets the confetti and their “One Shining Moment,” hopefully more than that will receive their “One Shining Moment” walking across the stage and receiving their degree less than two months from now.