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Candid Race Talk Launches College Sports Symposium

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —  Expert panelists speaking during the opening sessions of a two-day academic conference on college sports and race detailed how lucrative sports competition — men’s basketball and football — have led many to ask whether student-athletes in those sports are exploited for their talent while others profit immeasurably. That many, if not most male athletes in Division I basketball and football are African-American, was frequently mentioned.

The “Losing to Win: Discussions of Race and Intercollegiate Sports” symposium at Wake Forest University has brought together nearly 50 panelists from all walks of academia, law and athletics, including coaches, administrators and athletes, to discuss historic and contemporary dimensions of big-time college sports, while highlighting the racial components of those issues.

The subject matter is not new. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has long been challenged over such issues, especially as new studies by the NCAA and others have shown that Black athletes are graduating far less frequently than their White teammates.

The gathering at Wake Forest is distinguished by the sheer scope of academic expertise and the breadth of backgrounds of the presenters. The first panel centered on racial statistics and concern for student-athletes, while the second focused on racial inequities in college and professional sports hiring.

Michigan State University law professors Robert A. McCormick and Amy C. McCormick presented their argument that top-tier Division I athletes are employees of their schools as much as they are students, and should be paid accordingly.

Amy McCormick said the term “student-athlete” was invented by the NCAA to convince the public that athletics were of secondary importance, when in fact  the athletes’ spend much of their in-season time practicing and competing.

Keynote speaker Dr. Richard Lapchick framed the conference by touting sports as a catalyst for social change, citing his work with the NBA’s “Basketball Without Borders” charity as an example. A civil rights advocate, Lapchick is the chairman of DeVos Sport Business Management, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports and the executive director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports at the University of Central Florida.

Lapchick has also been a lifetime advocate for gender and racial equity in sports. He challenged conference attendees to continue their quest for fairness and honesty in college athletics, especially where racial issues are involved.

Dr. David K. Wiggins, a professor and director of the School of Recreation Management at George Mason University, opened the forum with a history of the involvement of Blacks in college sports from the late 19th century to the present day.

Wake Forest law professor Ahmed Taha added additional statistics about the financial side of college athletics and the benefits to the university of sporting success — free publicity, increased applications and boosts in fundraising.

Speaker Rodney K. Smith, the president of Southern Virginia University, challenged the NCAA to be more transparent about student graduation rates and enforce strict punishments against schools who do not meet graduation requirements. He noted that the 2011 Bowl Championship Division national championship game featured two teams — Auburn University and the University of Oregon — with among the nation’s lowest graduation rates, both overall and specifically for athletes of color.

The conference concludes today with featured speaker Rodney Rogers, a former basketball star at Wake Forest.

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