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.
I was sitting in front of my TV set flipping through one channel after another, and I found something that both intrigued and concerned me: An ESPN special about the image of the black athlete. I was curious to see what they had to say about black athletes, especially males, since that’s something I think about nearly every single day of my life.
The panel consisted of Jalen Rose, John Calipari, Randy Shannon, Spike Lee, Robin Roberts and others. I was hopeful that the panelists would not succumb to the temptation of taking the paternalistic viewpoint that black male athletes are somehow destined to be ignorant and need to be told what to do. For example, unlike any other sport, men’s basketball and football are the only ones in which there are age limits before the athlete can become a professional. The reasons for these regulations are driven primarily by the argument that the men are too young to go out and support their families by doing what they do for the NCAA without being compensated.