Academic journal article Education

African American Student-Athletes: Academic Support or Institutionalized Racism?

Academic journal article Education

African American Student-Athletes: Academic Support or Institutionalized Racism?

Article excerpt


In fall 1990, total enrollment of African American students in institutions of higher education was only 9.2 percent compared to 80.2 percent for whites. Blacks made-up only 9.7 percent of undergraduate enrollment compared to 79.3 for whites, and only 5.9 percent of graduate students compared with 86.7 percent for whites (National Center for Education Statistics, Table 194, 1992).

Yet, African American student-athletes are over-represented in revenue-generating intercollegiate sports like football and men's basketball, with graduation rates consistently falling below their white counterparts (CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, June 17, 1992; Hatchett, 1991; USA TODAY, June 19, 1991). Through external prodding and regulation (i.e. New Jersey senator Bill Bradley's legislation for more disclosure of student-athletes graduation rates), institutions of higher education have responded by intensifying their academic support services. This essay suggest, however, that the present autonomy and power given to what Atwell (1991) calls the "athletic enterprise" which operates on most college campuses, undermines the educational mission. Academic support services may instead be aiding and abetting a racial status-quo by emphasizing more of a social desire for sports entertainment.

Sports, Racial Ideology, And Social Stratification:

It is argued here that targeting student-athletes ostensibly to provide academic guidance may in actuality serve to reinforce sports interests over educational pursuits. Such expropriation seems particularly significant (but not exclusive) on white campuses, in part because many such campus illustrate a glaring over-representation of black players (CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, June 17, 1992).

To help sustain the American "racial status-quo" (Davis, 1990, p.180), the I.Q myth (Jensen, 1969), and the promotion of sociobiology (Alper, 1978), the over-representation of young black males in revenue-generating college sports can be used to rationalize the existence of social and racial stratification. In turn, institutional patterns and policies emerge in higher education which act to absolve the comparatively lower graduation rate of black vis-a-vis white student-athletes (Wiley, 1991). Such patterns and practices can stem from what Knowles and Prewitt (1969) define as institutionalized racism.

Society's love affair with sports and the permanence of racism are not mutually exclusive. For examples; Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott's racist and anti-Semitic slurs; former baseball administrator Al Campanis' assessments about black lacking upper level management skills; and former sportscaster Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder's assessment of black genetic advantage in certain sports represent public expressions of what many may privately believed. Even so-call objective news journalism has played a major role in perpetuating racial mythology with the April 25, 1989 NBC news telecast of "Black Athletes: Fact or Fiction", hosted by Tom Brokaw who tried to justify claims of race-linked athletic abilities (Davis, 1990; Mathisen & Mathisen, 1991). And Hollywood films like "White Men Can't Jump" continue to reinforce racist folklore, racial determinism, and "racist ideology" (Harris, 1968; Omi & Winant, 1986, p. 62).

The Commission on the Study of Black Americans (1989), Hatchett (1989), Omi and Winant (1986) and others report on the declining state of American race relations in spite of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Specifically, the Commission concluded that though increased participation by blacks in sports entertainment was substantial, "Blacks are conspicuously absent from decision-making positions" (1989, p. 103).

Telander (1989) observed college sports as a participant (as a All-Big-Ten cornerback at Northwestern) and sports writer for Sports Illustrated and concluded it was corrupted from top to bottom; from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to the players themselves. …

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