As the University of South Carolina Gamecocks basketball teams get set to participate in the ‘Sweet 16” run to the final four of the NCAA National Basketball Tournament, the focus once again is cast on black student athletes. Their on-court performances translate into billions of dollars for corporate sponsors and the media. The players themselves see very little of the material wealth collegiate sports produces, few go on to play professional sports.
Last year the NCAA made over $11 billion, even more than the National Basketball Association. College sports in today’s world are an industry, a very lucrative industry. CBS and Turner Sports in 2014 brokered a $10.8 billion deal to televise NCAA tournaments over the next 14 years. Universities are profiting millions of dollars from students unable to derive any financial benefit. Since black student athletes are not profiting financially from their talents, does the black community derive any benefit at all?
Since the 1970s professional basketball has created numerous wealthy black businessmen. Among them are Julius Irving, Ervin ‘Magic’ Johnson and Michael Jordan.
In the past black athletes used their status to exercise black power in other ways.
Heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946) was an early example of the celebrity athlete. Johnson constantly flaunted the black power of his celebrity disregarding the social and economic “place” of blacks in American society. In 1920, Johnson opened a night club in Harlem. He sold it three years later to a gangster, Owney Madden, who renamed it the Cotton Club.
Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the National Baseball League. It was Robinson’s character, his use of nonviolence, and his unquestionable talent that made him successful on the baseball diamond. And it was that same character that enabled him to successfully challenge the segregation which marked other aspects of his life. He contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement and was the first black television analyst in major league baseball.
In February former NBA star and Sacramento, Cali. Mayor Kevin Johnson was in North Charleston as part of the SouthCarolinaCAN panel discussion on “The State of Black Education in Charleston and America”. We asked former College of Charleston and pro basketball standout Jermel President if black power continues to be exercised off the court as well.
Black athletes occupy a unique place in our society. Collegiate level athletes may become doctors and lawyers, but lawyers and doctors can’t always become collegiate level athletes, he responded. For many black youths athletics is a ticket to a better life. Being able to participate in paramount tournaments like the NCAA ups the ante for those individuals, he said.
The perception of the ‘dumb jock’ is a misperception, President said. Student athletes must maintain grades, avoid distractions and be reliable. They possess all the skills for successful careers outside athletics and to make positive contributions to their communities, he said. Many take advantage of the momentum their collegiate athletics provides to transition them into other areas of life.
While there are many downsides to evolving from a student athlete to becoming a productive contributor to the community, President said the most restrictive affects student athletes still in high school because they don’t get the academic preparation they need to successfully move up to the collegiate level.