by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University – Scholarship in Action
Today I took my afternoon nap thinking about the days when I was captain of my high school track team in the 12th grade. I wasn’t the star of the team and I also wasn’t an academic star (my grades were terrible). Like many other black boys across America, I’d come to identify myself as an athletic commodity rather than an intellectual one.
I remember that one of the fastest boys on our team was also like a lot of other black males: He was in special education and had horrible grades. On his report card, he’d gotten two Fs, three Ds and a C. My coach was concerned about his grades, but not because he cared about the young man. He was only worried about his grades because he thought that the kid might not be eligible for the big track meet we had coming up.
The coach wasn’t sure if a person with two Fs would be eligible to compete, so he had to do his research. He then found out that, for some reason, a player had to have three Fs to be declared ineligible. Rather than taking the young man to the side and telling him that such horrible grades would ruin his future, the coach (who was black) only had one thing to say: “Welcome to the team brother!”
Even at the age of 17, I knew there was something wrong with that picture. When I saw the boy years later after he’d become a man, he was working in a fast food restaurant, in and out of jail, and his years as a track and field star were far behind him. Seeing him after the age of 30 made me think back to that day when our coach could have intervened in a small way to let this boy know that he was headed down the path toward self-destruction. Instead, he just wanted to get him back onto the field.
Most of us know that this scenario is played out on many sports teams and in many households across America. The truth, however, is that we can stop the madness if we put our minds to it. As I think about Rocky Clark, the young man who is paralyzed from the neck down after taking a bad hit during a high school football game, I wonder if the quest for the bright lights of high school sports is distracting black men from our true purpose.
To the parents out there who care about their children’s futures, I only say this: If your child doesn’t make the grade, then sit his butt on the sidelines. There should be no ifs, ands or butts about it. What he does athletically won’t matter when he’s an adult and looking for a way to support himself. The only thing that will matter in the long-run is what he did academically and the values he was taught by those who raised him. Parents, coaches and mentors are the last line of defense when it comes to saving our childerens’ futures. We absolutely cannot let our kids down.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Watkins’ article delivered to your email, please click here.