Students? Athletes? or Both?

By Dunn, Alfred C.; Jones, Willis A. | Educational Foundations, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Students? Athletes? or Both?

Dunn, Alfred C., Jones, Willis A., Educational Foundations

A Review of The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominately White NCAA Institutions by Billy Hawkins

New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010 256 pp. Hardcover $90 ISBN 978-0-230-61517-5

The central aim of this special issue of the Journal of Educational Foundations is to confront dominant and misleading assumptions about African Americans in education. Arguably, no subgroup within the African-American community is forced to confront more salient negative stereotyping than the African-American male college athlete (Benson, 2000; Donner, 2005; Perlmutter, 2003). Fellow students and faculty members often view African-American male college athletes as little more than "dumb jocks," who are only enrolled in college to compete on the athletics field (Edwards, 1984), while the media have sometimes created perceptions of African-American male college athletes as violent and intellectually inept (McDonald, 2010). The stigmatization of African-American male college athletes as academically challenged gladiators may affect how these athletes are viewed and studied within higher education.

One of the more recent counter narratives to this dominant discourse on African-American male college athletes comes from University of Georgia professor Billy Hawkins in his book titled The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly White NCAA Institutions. The purpose of this book is to provide insight into the controversial relationship between African-American male athletes and predominately White National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I institutions. Hawkins argues that predominately White colleges and universities function like plantation systems internally colonizing (1) and exploiting the athletic abilities of African-American male athletes. In doing so, Hawkins attempts to convince the reader that the lower academic performance of African-American male athletes is the result of institutional structures and racial ideologies which can hinder the academic achievement of African-American male athletes, not the result of African-American male athletes being unintelligent and unmotivated. This goal was successfully accomplished in this book. Despite some limitations which deserve critiquing, the book does a satisfactory job of providing a systematic, academic analysis of the experiences of African-American male athletes at predominately White colleges and universities.

The book's introduction includes Hawkins's experiences as a college basketball player and how these experiences, coupled with his experiences of growing up in a small Southern town, completing a doctorate degree and working with academically "at risk" student-athletes at a predominately White institution (PWI) led him to write this book. Chapter 1 is a very brief historical overview of the African-American male athlete and his transition from primarily attending historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to attending PWIs. This chapter also introduces the reader to some of the challenges faced by African-American athletes at PWIs, including racism, social isolation, and alienation. This chapter also details many African-American male athletes' struggles to adjust to the unwritten norms established and enforced by the structural forces observed at PWIs.

As the author acknowledges, this is a very brief overview. Readers hoping to find a more thorough historical treatment of the transition of African-American athletes from HBCUs to PWIs may be somewhat disappointed with this chapter because the author never explicitly critiques the institutional structures and forces of HBCUs that may negatively influence the academic achievement of African-American athletes. For instance, more attention to how African-American athletes are perceived by their classmates, athletic coaches, and professors and descriptive statistics aimed to quantify African-American athletes' graduation rates and academic majors at HBCUs would have been useful because the chapter, as written, makes it difficult to ascertain the extent to which HBCUs impact the academic achievement of African-American athletes.

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