Black Male Student-Athletes Owe Themselves, Forefathers More

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by Floyd D. Weatherspoon

Black Male Student-Athletes Owe Themselves, Forefathers More

The tragedy of Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State University football star and NFL hopeful, has long left the front pages and lead stories on radio and TV news. Clarett was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon. However, the tragedy lingers on in the Black community, as Clarett joins the ranks of a half-million other Black males in prison or jail in America. Moreover, he joins thousands of other Black male former athletes whose dreams of playing professional sports were shattered, leaving many of them lost, without hope and without the ability to function as everyday citizens. As the glory ended, many may have engaged in criminal activities that have permanently disenfranchised them from voting, finding meaningful employment and re-entering society.

Unfortunately, far too many young Black male athletes share Clarett’s dream of playing at a Big Ten school and, ultimately, playing professional football or basketball. The dream of playing professional sports starts as early as elementary school. Coaches have a watchful eye on the schoolyard in search of the next super Black jock who will bring them and their institution fame and fortune.

It was never Martin Luther King’s dream to open the doors of major universities for Blacks to just play sports. The dream was to allow Black students to attend the educational institution of their choice, without racism. It was to gain a quality education, resulting in more Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, engineers, nurses and other professionals. Playing sports was just a collateral benefit or an avenue to receive a scholarship, but not a career goal.

Black students, especially men, must understand that there is a debt to be paid to those who have sacrificed for them to have the opportunity to vote, attend college, live anywhere in the country and to travel at will. The debt is not paid by merely entertaining White fans by playing football or basketball. The debt demands that this generation of Blacks be in a position to assist the next generation to reach even greater political and economic status.

Not to marginalize the talents of Lebron James, Michael Vick, Chad Johnson, Dwyane Wade and other successful athletes, but the Black community does not need another professional athlete. We must instill in our Black males the dream of becoming the next Ronald McNair, Reginald Lewis, Kenneth Chenault or Ben Carson. Sadly, most young Blacks have no idea who these individuals are.

Black athletes must understand that playing sports must not be the only dream to strive for, but only the collateral benefit of attending school. They must further understand that all the applause and accolades received while playing sports, especially in high school and college, are only for entertainment purposes. Understand that the applause will continue as long as the school has a winning record, because that record brings national recognition and multimillion-dollar television contracts to the school, not to mention additional bonuses for the coach.

Do not misinterpret this recognition as love for you as an individual. To fans, you are merely a jock with extraordinary athletic skills. Remember that the fans who chant your name, wear your number and ask for your autograph will turn on you as soon as you fumble the ball. You will be replaced by another Black athlete with the same talent and the same dream.

Do not pursue the goal of playing professional sports at all costs, ignoring your education and your personal and social development. Internalize that you are more than a talented jock. Remember that playing sports is only a small part of who you are. 

This dream of playing sports, which plagues Black boys, reminds me of slaves entertaining their slave-owners by boxing for tokens and possibly freedom from bondage. Black male athletes often state that they seek to escape a life of economic despair and to buy “mama” a new home or a Cadillac Escalade. But listen to “grandma,” who normally understands that obtaining a college degree is more valuable than playing sports. The slaves who sought freedom from bondage by boxing often dreamed of being able to read and write. They understood the value of obtaining an education even in the mist of bondage.

Understand that while your sports career will come to an end sooner or later, a college degree is permanent. If, by a remote chance, your dream to play professional sports comes true, ensure that you leave the game with the business savvy to make the most of your post-athletic career, like Eddie George, David Robinson and, now, Tiki Barber. Education is the key to fulfilling most dreams.

— Floyd D. Weatherspoon is a professor at Capital University Law School, where he teaches a seminar on African-American males and the law.



© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

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