In Black Boy, Richard Wright’s story of growing up poor and black in the Jim Crow South, he shares many of his experiences. Of the many frightening experiences he writes of, I will always remember his fight with another black boy, Harrison. Wright and Harrison are offered five dollars each to fight each other in front of their bosses. The boys secretly meet to plan a “fake fight”, but when they begin, they realize that they do not know how. The fight turns into a vicious and bloody battle between two boys who had been friends. But, the lure of $5 turned out to be too much, and they inadvertently turned on one another for the enjoyment of their white bosses.
When I see footage of a big-time college football or basketball game, I think of Wright and Harrison fighting in front of a white crowd for $5. Examine a contemporary college crowd and the coaches and you will see that both are predominantly white. Sure, some spectators will be of color as will some members of a coaching staff, but both will be, by far, white. Now, look on the field or court and you will see mostly black athletes performing in front of white crowds who pay to watch.
I think it not a stretch to compare Wright and Harrison’s fight with the culture we have built around some college sports. It could be argued that college athletes are not paid, but they are given the opportunity to earn a degree, but of what value is the earned degree? Is it one that will enable any star basketball player who does not use a few years to show his skill before turning pro to earn a good living and have a life of quality? What degree will the undrafted football player use to enter a life of good wage earning?
I suggest that too many colleges are enabling their “student athletes” by only paying them a chance to earn a degree of lower academic worth. A school can boast of and print its graduation rates for its athletes; but how many schools post the number of its undrafted athletes who enter graduate school to earn an advanced degree?
Not all degrees, even those from premier schools, are equal. Like Wright and Harrison, too many of our, mostly black, youngsters are being used. Black youths used and paid poorly.