Black Student Athletes at Predominantly White National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Institutions and the Pattern of Oscillating Migrant Laborers

By Hawkins, Billy | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Black Student Athletes at Predominantly White National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Institutions and the Pattern of Oscillating Migrant Laborers


Hawkins, Billy, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Abstract

This study looks at the similarities that exist between Black student athletes and oscillating migrant laborers. The similarities they share are: both groups rotate between communities and work locations (campuses); both have different social and cultural settings; both are exploited economically; and both communities bear the cost for the reproduction of labor. This study concluded that this rotation may be an explanation for the low graduation and high attrition rates for Black student athletes at predominantly White National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Institutions. Considering these similarities, it was also concluded that the experiences of Black student athletes can be situated in a broader cultural context so that there can be a shift from examining the deficiencies of Black student athletes to analyzing the deficiencies of the system they are entering.

Introduction

A dramatic scene in the movie The Program shows a Black football player giving his mother a door knocker for a Christmas present and telling her that he will buy her the house for the knocker when he becomes a professional football player. Unfortunately, an injury ended his collegiate career and the chance of him buying the house for his mother.

The opportunity of providing for family or giving back to the community is a common goal for many Black student athletes. A college education is one way Black student athletes can assist their families and communities. Another opportunity for providing assistance would be in making it to the professional sport level. The impoverished conditions a large percentage of Black student athletes come from in some ways force them to use their athletic talents in hopes of improving their immediate conditions and the conditions of their families and communities. Because most Black student athletes must travel to distant colleges and universities to use their athletic abilities in exchange for an athletic scholarship (wages) and possibly an education, their relationship with these universities and colleges is similar to the rotation oscillating migrant laborers do between their residence and work locations. This article intends to situate the experiences of Black student athletes with the pattern of oscillating migrant laborers to illustrate how this rotation between two distinctively different (socially and culturally) locations can contribute to some of the negative experiences (racial isolation, low graduation rates, exploitation, etc.) Black student athletes encounter at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I institutions.

Since Black and White student athletes can be considered laborers, and thus both experience economic exploitation, they are members of the same working class or labor class. However, within this working class or labor class group, there exist lines of division based on racial categorization (mainly phenotypic characteristics) and social and cultural factors. This line of division denotes what is known as a class fraction (Miles, 1982; Phizacklea and Miles, 1980; & Poulantzas, 1973). Therefore, Black student athletes will be viewed as a class fraction within the working class. A class fraction is, "an objective position within a class boundary which is, in turn, determined by both economic and politico-ideological relations (Phizacklea & Miles, 1980 p. 6)." Phizacklea and Miles (1980) explain that:

Class boundaries mark the objectively different structural positions in economic, political and ideological relations but these relations also have independent effects within these boundaries (p. 6).

Therefore Black student athletes and White student athletes exist in the same class (labor class) and share similar experiences regarding economic exploitation, but Black student athletes are considered a class fraction because they make up a different structural position based on different economic relations (socio-economic status of family upon entering college) and politico-ideological relations (race, sport participating in, and possibly the position on the team). …

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