Sports, Competition and Society

By Malveaux, Julianne | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Sports, Competition and Society


Malveaux, Julianne, Black Issues in Higher Education


Sixty-four teams from historically Black colleges and universities competed on the basis of their knowledge at the Honda Campus All-Star Classic in Orlando FL. The final four competition was as intense as the basketball classic, and Black America's best and brightest strutted their intellectual stuff as confidently as star basketball players strut their gamesmanship.

Along with Dr. Na'im Akbar and Dr. Bertice Berry, I was pleased to speak and listen at a forum for these stellar students. Afterwards, many asked why their academic prowess is not as recognized as the athletic skills of their classmates. To be sure, academic prowess and athletic ability are not mutually exclusive, as the scholar-athletes featured in these pages so aptly illustrate. But unfortunately, campus sports programs are more likely to draw dollars than honors programs Many scholar-athletes are scholars despite, not because of, athletics.

Unfortunately, sports has too strong a claim on both university and our nation's resources. Every major city covets the revenue-drawing power of a team; most cities are willing to mortgage their financial futures to pay for the costly new stadiums teams demand as a condition of their presence in a city. Campuses, too, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars recruiting athletes, but much less recruiting scholars.

I understand the reasons for the imbalance. Sports teaches, we are told, life lessons about competition, resilience and tenacity. People enjoy sports, I am told, in a way that people do not enjoy battles of the wits, and the economics reflect that. People will pay to watch athletes but they won't necessarily pay to watch debates.

Why, then, has the television version of a wit battle. Jeopardy, been able to attract advertisers and ratings over the years? I think that we simply haven't tried packaging, selling, and even supporting intellectual endeavors in the same ways that we package, sell and support sports. It is true that in a competitive society it is useful for people to learn lessons about competition. But sports isn't the only way that people can compete. The NAACP's ACTSO (academic, culture, technical and scientific olympics) program is an example of competition on a non-sports basis. The young people who compete through ACTSO are intense, committed, and crave victory as hungrily as any team in a physical contest. The All Star classics have the added advantage of teaching the team lessons so many say are important byproducts of sports play--lessons in complimentary working together and supporting others. …

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