Selasa, 30 Oktober 2007

Sport of Distraction

Sports Still No Ticket Out Of The Ghetto
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, AlterNet Posted January 2, 2003.

Despite the recent acquisition of a pro basketball team by an African
American, the world of sports is no shining example of the end of racism.

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The sports world buzzed with the recent news that Black Entertainment Television
founder Bob Johnson became the first African-American to purchase a majority
ownership in a professional basketball team (the Hornets). But a few days later,
with little fanfare, the NCAA issued a report on the academic performance of
black athletes. While Johnson's acquisition was widely hailed as proof that
blacks had finally cracked the clubby, and many say bigoted, world of white
billionaire pro sports owners, for most black college basketball players the
hope of joining his team remains a cruel pipe dream.

Only a microscopic fraction of the thousands of black male college basketball
and football players will ever don a professional uniform. Even more
embarrassing, the majority of them won't graduate. The NCAA report found that
though 60 percent of athletes at Division 1 schools graduate in six years, only
slightly more than 40 percent of black male athletes graduate. For basketball
players, the figure is a dismal 35 percent. And even more embarrassing, many of
these athletes will skip through three or four years at colleges and still
emerge as educational cripples.

The low graduation rate for black male athletes comes at a time when the
enrollment for black males at many colleges has sharply declined due to the gut
of affirmative action, special education, diversity outreach programs, and
budget cutbacks. At the University of Southern California, for instance, many
black males on campus repeatedly complain that they are constantly asked whether
they are athletes. The question is not necessarily racist since nearly a seventh
of black male students on the campus are football or basketball players on an
athlete scholarship. This compares to two percent or less of the white, Asian,
and Latino males on campus.

The aspiring Michael Jordans in basketball and Emmit Smiths in football spend
countless hours mastering their dribbling or ball carrying skills with little
thought to their future after their sports days are finished. They live for the
day when they will sign megabuck pro contracts. Few ever will.

In 1994, the Washington Post did a ten-year follow-up on thirty-six basketball
players who played for Georgetown and the Universities of Maryland and Virginia
in the 1980's. Most told sad tales of failed careers, part-time jobs,
unsuccessful tryouts with NBA teams, and barnstorming tours with semi-pro or
European teams. Twenty-eight eventually got their degrees and settled into
careers as salesmen, teachers or counselors. Even though the story is repeated
by thousands of other ex-athletes, illusions diehard today. A group of black
high school athletes were told that the odds against them making a pro team were
nearly impossible. Fifty-one percent still believed that they could beat them.
The late Tennis great Arthur Ashe was deeply troubled by the slavish adulation
of athletes by many young blacks. During visits to black high schools, he was
thunderstruck by "the obsession" with sports that borders on pathology. The
sports obsession that Ashe spoke of tells much about the otherworldly
intoxication of sports. For many it blurs the line between reality and fantasy.
Coaches know this better than anyone. They wheel and deal to ram as many blacks
as they can into their school's uniforms. The name of the game is not study,
baby, study; but win, baby, win.

Major colleges have a huge vested interest in keeping their well-oiled athletic
assembly lines moving smoothly. It means hard dollars. Major NCAA universities
bag millions in revenue from their athletic programs. In the two major
revenue-generating sports, basketball and football, blacks make up respectively
fifty and seventy percent of the college players.

The message in this shameful sports saga is that black parents whose sons are
involved in athletic programs and harbor delusions of pro sport fame and fortune
must hold coaches, teachers and school administrators accountable for their
children's courses, grades and campus activities. They must make it clear that
if their sons or daughters don't perform in the classroom, they don't get to
perform on the field or the court.

Black professionals and educators must create academic self-help programs to
recycle young blacks from sports junkies to serious students. They can provide
educational scholarships for academically sound athletes and establish career
counseling, job and skills training programs.

The ultimate responsibility, though, is on the colleges that reap fortunes off
of black athletes. They must do much more to insure that their "student
athletes" graduate, or at least better prepare themselves for a business or
professional career. This means providing them counseling, tutoring and
financial assistance to encourage them to complete their studies when their
eligibility ends.

Sports can be a rewarding, even profitable experience for many black athletes.
But if NCAA Division 1 schools don't stop solely exploiting black athletes as
athletes and start educating as students, sports will never be their ticket out
of the ghetto.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion
website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of The Crisis in Black
and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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