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Heading Straight to the Pros

Heading Straight to the Pros

I recently watched the NBA draft, and I couldn’t help it, but as an editor of a higher education magazine, it bothered me that four players just out of high school were chosen in the first 10 picks at levels higher than the players who had attended some college.
Of course, I understand these young Black men so highly rated by professional scouts, coaches and team managers represent world-class talent, and they deserve a shot at professional basketball as much as any other young man, but I worried still about the message their decisions were sending to Black youngsters. It didn’t matter to me that hundreds of young White athletes just out of high school and, in some cases, still in school, have been joining the ranks of professional hockey, baseball, soccer and tennis leagues for generations.
The irony is that the news media pays very little attention to the process by which these predominantly White sports leagues acquire young talent. The attention focused on the NBA draft is enormous, and much of it has been directed at the trend of the NBA acquiring players who in past years would have gone on to college to play.
It is possible that I’m analyzing a bit too much, but the first college graduated drafted — Duke University’s Shane Battier — was drafted at No. 6. I’ll stay out of determining who the better players are, but symbolically the end result of the NBA draft seems to indicate that the more education you have, the lower you’ll be picked in the draft.
Black Issues senior writer Ronald Roach and I debated this very issue. He says now Division IA basketball has been exposed for what it has been for some time  — “a minor professional basketball league subsidized not by the NBA but by cut-rate labor by the players, state taxpayer revenue, private university tuition, television networks and fan dollars.” He finds it disingenuous that college officials have suddenly become so interested in the intellectual and social development of these young men, particularly when the best players among them are not opting to play college ball.
I know the concern of the coaches and others who profit from the system is a pure sham. Their concern is not the intellectual and social development of these young men but the lucrative booty of basketball shoe contracts, local endorsements and other commercial interests tied to the supposed amateur teams they represent. When you look at it that way, it seems like a very wise career decision on behalf of these young players to bypass the middlemen (colleges, junior colleges) and go directly to the pros, where big money awaits.
Yet and still, I want to see these young men take advantage of a college education, and if possible, extol the value of education to their admiring fans — which includes impressionable Black, White, Latino and Asian American youngsters.
In putting together the Top 100 graduate school edition of Black Issues In Higher Education, I am conscious of the challenges of crafting a message around education that takes into account the values and the need for a highly trained professional and academic cohort.
In this edition, we have some great stories about students of color who are pursuing the highest levels of education — doctorates, medical degrees and other first professional degrees. Some of these students, particularly those on the Ph.D. track, seem to feel at times like those student-athletes who decide to skip college in favor of the pros. There are certainly some major differences. However, these students, who are already well-educated, wonder if after the often challenging pursuit of the doctorate, if they should stay in academia or go directly to industry where they have been promised they will be adequately compensated.
 It’s a tough decision, but in this edition, the numbers show that African Americans are not calling it quits after their undergraduate education is complete. In fact, the number of graduate degrees awarded to African Americans is outpacing the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to African Americans. It is reassuring to know that for many people of color, education is still priceless. 

Hilary Hurd

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