"Used Goods": Former African American College Student-Athletes' Perception of Exploitation by Division I Universities

Article excerpt

Collegiate sports have opened many doors for African American males. However, serious involvement in athletics has hampered the development of the group in several areas such as academic and occupational achievement. It has been alleged that universities exploit athletes, especially African American male athletes in football and basketball. This study uses in-depth ethnographic interviews of former Division I student-athletes who are African American in order to examine the extent to which they feel that universities emphasized their education as opposed to their athletic performance and prepared them for careers off the playing field. The former student-athletes expressed feelings of being" used goods" and recount difficulties in choosing a major.

Sports have become key social institutions in American society that are connected to the economy, education, family, and other spheres of social life. Many scholars have noted that a specific set of difficulties arise for African American males in competitive athletics, especially in high school and collegiate athletics (Benson, 2000; Edwards, 1988, 2000; Harrison, 2000; Hoberman, 2000; Lapchick, 19%; Lomax, 2000; Sellers & Kuperminc, 1997; Siegel, 1996). As a means to upward mobility, educational institutions are thought to prepare students for a future beyond their halls. In terms of African American male student-athletes, there are two opposing perspectives that are employed regarding sports' role in the educational development of the group: (a) athletics may provide educational opportunities to African Americans from underprivileged backgrounds that would not otherwise be available, and (b) sports have exploited the majority of African American athletes (Sellers, 2000). Although participation in athletics is often considered a golden opportunity for African Americans, compelling evidence to the contrary has been presented for decades (Beamon & BeIL 2006; Edwards, 1983, 1988; Lapchick, 1996). In fact, serious involvement in athletics has hampered die development of African American males in several areas, including academic and occupational achievement (Lomax, 2000).

For decades, Edwards (2000) has researched me nexus between sociology and sports, particularly, how sports have affected me African American family and community. He suggested tìiat the overemphasis on sports participation has drained Black talent away from omer areas of economic and cultural success and argues that the push toward athletics as seen within Black families is hindering the social and cognitive growth of African American youth (Edwards, 1983, 1988, 2000). Furthermore, the mass media constantly deluges society wHh images glorifying African American men who are successful by employing avenues connected with sports and reinforces the stereotype of African American males as exclusively athletically talented (HaIL 2001).

Collegiate student-athletes, particularly, African American male student-athletes, often have lower career maturity, an impaired aptitude to devise educational and career plans, with selfesteem and an identity based on athletics (Baillie & Danish, 1992; Blann, 1985; Harrison & Lawrence, 2003; Kennedy & Dimick, 1987). African American male student-athletes in football and basketball also have lower academic achievement, stronger expectations for a professional sports career, and are socialized more intensely toward sports dum their White counterparts (Beamon & BeU, 2002, 2006; Edwards, 2000; Eitle & Eitle, 2002; Hoberman, 2000; Pascarella, Truckenmiller, Nora, Terenzini, Edison, & Hagedorn 1999). Pursuing athletic achievement in an obsessive manner and doing so to the detriment of educational and occupational aspirations is described in an Edwards's study as a triple tragedy for African Americans:

One, the tragedy of thousands upon thousands of black youths in the obsessive pursuit of sports goals that the overwhelming majority of them will never attain. …