Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Racial Equality and Sports

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Racial Equality and Sports

Article excerpt

University of Maryland, College Park students in Dr. Damion Thomas' "Black Masculinity and Basketball" class are usually talkative. A rare exception is when Thomas steers them to the subject of the late Len Bias, a UMD basketball star whose talents captivated sports fans nationally.

Bias died from a cocaine overdose in June 1986, when Thomas' students were either too young to remember or before they were born. Their less-than-chatty demeanor also results from the other circumstances surrounding Bias' death: At age 22, he suffered a seizure while partying with friends in his dorm room less than a week after the Boston Celtics selected him second overall in the NBA Draft. Bias had one of the brightest futures any young man could dream of.

Thomas, an assistant professor of kinesiology, uses Bias as an entry point to show how sports connects people, particularly Blacks, to society at large.

For countless African-Americans, he explains, Bias' passing lives on as a seminal moment. "People ask each other, 'Where were you when that happened?'"

Thomas doesn't linger on game highlights and statistics. He wants students to consider issues of power and power relations in society, based on how Black players are treated on and off the court.

Going beyond Bias' overdose and unrealized potential, he explains how the tragedy shined a harsh spotlight on UMD athletics. In the aftermath, Maryland athletic director Dick Dull resigned and the longtime men's basketball coach Lefty Driesell was ousted. Maryland tightened its athletic department's policies to include random drug testing, a stricter admissions process and expanded academic support.

As soon as discussion shifts to broader ramifications on UMD athletics, the students resume their talkative ways, Thomas says.

"They share opinions about the university's value system, the priorities of the current (basketball) team. …

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