I received a phone call from a friend of mine who teaches elementary school. She told me that she’d spent the week excited about the fact that some college basketball players were coming to her school to eat lunch with the kids. She thought that her inner city students would gain from the chance to be mentored by the men they saw on TV.
Was she ever wrong. The men who came to her school left a less-than-favorable impression: Their chopped up speaking skills made her wonder if they’d gotten past a fifth grade reading level, some of them didn’t even know if they were Juniors or Seniors in college, and most of them barely knew their major (which was usually General Studies or one of those other “interesting” majors that happen to be chosen by half the basketball team).
As my friend described her situation, I thought about how far too often, collegiate athletics becomes nothing more than a virtual wasteland for African American men. Stuck on hoop dreams that will never materialize, many of these men throw away any chance or desire to obtain a meaningful education, and simultaneously buy into a culture of self-indulgent, counter-productive behavior that ends up making some of them almost worthless to our community.
You know the behavior I’m talking about, which is driven by commercialized hip-hop (that’s why rappers and athletes love to roll together): “I got many hoes,” “pass the weed n*gga,” “Shawty, I ain’t been to class in like two weeks”….that type of stuff. Rather than the strong black man who leads his family and community, these men are encouraged to become the weed-smoking, pistol-poppin, club-strollin, woman-gettin playa who grows old sittin in his girlfriend’s living room in his drawz playing Xbox all day…..how deep they fall into the stereotype just depends on how much of the cultural kool-aid they choose to drink.
What’s so interesting about this behavior is that it is in stark contrast to the way these men line up like soldiers on their chosen academic plantations, running offensive schemes to precision, practicing their hearts out and displaying Einstein-like brilliance as they master complicated playbooks that are 200 pages thick. They are managed like well-trained circus animals, working to the bone to fill the coffers of an athletic overseer who stands to earn millions from the team’s next bowl-game or Final Four appearance.
Of course I’m not talking about every college athlete. Some athletes understand the game of life, and are protected from the desire to sell their soul for someone else’s economic dream. They understand the value in being both athletic and intelligent, and look forward to their futures as strong husbands and fathers.
But most of us know the brothers who “just don’t get it.” These are the men who, like pigs being led to slaughter, have bought into a lifestyle that is going to lead to their demise and the destruction of everything they love. Some of them end up in prison, some end up getting shot at a club during a “fight wit dat n*gga who was talking sh*t,” and even more end up as unemployed, uneducated, washed-up ex-NBA wannabes seeking out dead fantasies in the bottom of a bottle.
Is the NCAA partially to blame for this? Absolutely. They seem a lot more concerned when a player affects their revenue stream than they are about that player being educated or fairly compensated. But are our men to blame as well? Most definitely – in life, some of us are victims and some of us are volunteers. The players are just as happy as their coaches to sign the lopsided contracts that give away nearly all of their labor and educational rights in exchange for a little “shine,” “swag,” and “ballerability.”
Even in prostitution, there are some situations where both the pimp and the hoe are happy with the arrangement. Collegiate athletics is the perfect pimp-hoe prototype and it makes me incredibly sad. Perhaps one day we will wake up and smell the exploitation.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and the founder of ALARM, the Athlete Liberation Academic Reform Movement. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.