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Madness Beyond March

Madness Beyond March

The sports world is one of many windows into American life at which to view race relations. And many people, particularly African Americans, do not like what they see. On one hand, athletics, like the entertainment industry, has been the ticket to fame and fortune for relatively few young Black men and women. It is one tiny facet of American society where the appeal of Black athletes sometimes transcends race and ethnicity, class, gender and culture.
Some sports legends like Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos used their high-profile status to protest the Vietnam War and racial inequities here and abroad, just to name a few causes. Others may make their “contributions to society” a little less public. Ronald Roach’s “What Ever Happened to the Conscientious Black Athlete?” poses the question of whether the Black community is expecting too much from our sports stars, who in actuality, say sports scholars, are not trained to be “leaders” (see story, pg. 20).
But there is a dark side to the wide world of sports — where a significant number of Black athletes do not graduate from college; where colleges and universities make millions from revenue-producing sports such as basketball and football; where approximately half, and in the case of basketball more than half, of the players are Black. For the schools it’s most often a win-win situation regardless of whether the athletes graduate or are drafted to the pros. For the Black college athlete that neither graduates nor is drafted, it’s hardly a win-win situation. What those players leave with are memories.
Long before the NCAA basketball finals in March, Black Issues received a number of opinion pieces about the lack of Black head coaches and athletic directors on the college level.
It is an issue many of our readers are concerned about. And with televised games, it’s hard not to notice the number of Black head coaches versus the number of Black players. How can there be so few Black coaches and so many Black players, you wonder. With all the former Black college athletes in the ranks, at some point there should be a trickle down effect with those former players becoming coaches and athletic directors. But as you will read in Pamela Burdman’s article “Old Problem, New Solution?” a number of Black assistant athletic directors and coaches on the college level have been “assistants” for many years without ever being recruited to be a head athletic director or head coach (see story, pg. 24). Black assistant coaches in the professional leagues often suffer a similar fate.
Black athletes have proven themselves on the field and on the court, and in this year’s Final Four (men’s basketball), two of the four teams had coaches of color, Indiana University’s Mike Davis and Oklahoma’s Kelvin Sampson, which is not a bad representation. Black coaches have demonstrated their coaching abilities as well, but they are the fortunate few and still not enough opportunities are made available to African Americans interested in the administrative or corporate side of athletics.
Just like we witnessed Halle Berry receiving her historical Academy Award for best actress last month, it may be a generation or two before Black head coaches and athletic directors are commonplace and not a rarity. History also has proven that if anyone is up for the long haul, African Americans wrote the book on perseverance.
One of the reasons we’ve brought this edition to you for the last 10 years is that these student-athletes, who are nominated by their schools, will not be exploited by anyone. They enjoy athletics and in many instances it pays for their education.
But like the program’s namesake, Arthur Ashe Jr., they’ve figured out a way to use their athleticism to transcend stereotypes and make lasting contributions.
They are indeed Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars. 

Hilary Hurd

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