The Common Good

The Other March Madness

Well, March Madness is now over. Every year around this time, there's a disturbing report or two highlighting the low graduation rates of African American college athletes, particularly in the NCAA basketball programs.

This year, a study by the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports exposes some of the sad facts: While they excel on the court, most black players in elite college basketball programs leave college without a diploma. And it's not just because they're skipping out early for lucrative NBA careers. In "Got Game, But No Diploma," a story featured today at TheRoot.com, we're once again hit with a sobering dose of reality. Some excerpts:

If the championship in NCAA men's basketball was based on the graduation rates of black players on the teams, it would be Duke and Villanova taking the court tonight in Detroit rather than Michigan State and the University of North Carolina....In general, white male student athletes graduate at 80 percent versus only 58 percent of their black teammates....

Michigan State had the greatest disparity in graduation rates among those Sweet 16 teams. All of its white players graduated; but only 43 percent of the black players got a diploma....

In that Root.com article, Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University, suggests that the NCAA graduation numbers are yet another tragic chapter in the lives of young African American men. "It's like they back the bus up to the black neighborhoods, load up all the good players, then spit them out in a couple of years when they are done," he says.

Debates about the treatment of African American student athletes in the big-time business of college sports will certainly continue (Should they be paid? Should they be required to stay in school longer before jumping to the NBA? Should there be greater attention paid to their academic eligibility?). But with literally billions of dollars at stake for the colleges, sponsors, TV networks, etc., I don't anticipate anything changing soon. Still, as we're watching those players run the court tonight in one of the biggest moneymaking sporting events of the year, it's important to be mindful of these issues.

Ultimately, the players are responsible for their own choices regarding their education and future success, but how complicit are we as consumers (and citizens) in enabling a system that may be doing more harm than good to the lives of these young athletes? And what, if anything, can we do to change it?

portrait-edward-gilbreathEdward Gilbreath is director of editorial for Urban Ministries Inc., editor of UrbanFaith.com, and the author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. He blogs at Reconciliation Blog. This post appears courtesy of a partnership with UrbanFaith.com.

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