December 5, 2012

"Diversity" in College Sports

A new report from the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, Black Male Student-Athletes and Racial Inequities in NCAA Division I College Sports, points with horror at the "racial inequities" in big-time college sports, finding it "shocking" and "astonishing" that college leaders, the NCAA, and the public at large have "accepted as normal the widespread inequities" endemic to revenue-producing college sports. Perhaps, it concludes, there would be "more outrage" if more people were aware of how much college athletic programs "persistently disadvantage" black male athletes.

The picture of this disadvantage is dramatic. Based on 2007 - 2010 data from the 76 institutional members of the six largest athletic conferences, black men were 2.8% of full-time undergraduate students but 57.1% of football teams and 64.3% of basketball teams. 50.2% of black male athletes graduated within six years, compared to 66.9% of student-athletes overall, 72.8% of undergraduate students, and 55.5% of black undergraduate men overall.

"We hear over and over again that colleges and universities just cannot find qualified, college-ready black men to come to their institutions," Shaun Harper, the report's lead author, told Inside Higher Ed, but "they can find them when they want the black men to generate revenue for them." In a "Message" that introduces the report, Wharton professor Kenneth Shropshire echoes the view that the graduation gap reveals glaring "racial inequities," that intercollegiate athletics "take advantage" of black athletes "without serious care for their personal and academic success."

One of the "racial inequities" is what thirty years ago Harry Edwards called the "dumb jock caricature" -- the "insidiously racist ... myth of 'innate Black athletic superiority' and the more blatantly racist stereotype of the 'dumb Negro.'" Because black men are so "overrepresented" in college sports, the new report finds, this stereotype "also negatively affects blacks who are not student-athletes." It is common, Harper told Inside Higher Ed, "for a black man to get congratulated for a football victory while walking across campus on a Monday morning, despite the fact that he's 5-foot-6 and skinny."

Ostensibly preferential treatment of blacks thus actually exploits them for the benefit of others. Academically under-qualified, they cluster in the bottom of their classes and fail to graduate in alarming numbers despite receiving remedial classes, targeted advising, and tutoring not available to others. Their preferential treatment in and after admission combined with academic performance far below that of their peers brands them with a stereotype of racial inferiority so pervasive it also tarnishes other blacks who needed and received no preferential treatment.

If  this indictment sounds familiar it's because we've heard it before. Shaun Harper and his co-authors, in short, eerily and no doubt unwittingly channel Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr.'s Mismatch. "Dumb Jock," meet "Affirmative Action Admit." 

Far from criticizing race-based special treatment, however, Harper insisted to Inside Higher Ed that his study "in no way seeks to suggest that there are too many black athletes." To the contrary, he wants admissions offices to recruit non-athlete black men as vigorously as coaches recruit athletes, and he wants to extend the preferential support services black athletes receive "in equal measure to black non-athletes." There is no glimmer of recognition in this report, or in the fawning Inside Higher Ed and Chronicle of Higher Education articles that highlight its complaints of "racial inequities," that there is anything wrong or even problematical in colleges bestowing special treatment on blacks because of the benefits they bring to others, whether entertaining and "generating revenue" or providing "diversity."

Comments (1)

George Leef:

As is so often the case, the report in question here uses the word "inequity" to describe inequalities. The former means unfairness or injustice. Is it really an injustice that fewer blacks succeed in graduating than other students? I think not, but the abuse of the language for political ends will continue apace.

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