Another year of March Madness, and another year of alarming statistics on graduation rates for black men in Division I athletics. And, more than likely, another collective ho-hum, “Get me another beer, it’s March Madness,” from the faithful.
The gap in graduation rates between black and white male basketball players is a whopping 24 percentage points.
If this were a basketball score, we’d call it a laugher. However, it’s a reflection of how we collectively value young black men.
The nonprofit National Collegiate Athletic Association deservedly receives public rebukes for missteps and gaffes, including its president’s multimillion dollar compensation package, and forcing New Mexico State University out of its hotel rooms rather than ease up to let the team fly home the next day after a loss.
But the bigger problem is the fact that the NCAA runs a billion-dollar business by exploiting amateur athleticism. Too many black males won’t play in the pros or, to be honest, graduate, but they will make the NCAA and its member schools a hell of a lot of money.
Because there is choice here, it is ludicrous to cry that Division I athletics is slavery. But the language used by coaches and fans about the athletes does remind me of words uttered by antebellum plantation owners. Indentured servitude is a flawed, but better analogy, however: A player signs, then he and his image and direction are owned by the program until (a) his eligibility is up, with or without a degree, or (b) the player is released for his scholarship.
Meanwhile, coaches earn wages that are akin to compensation packages of Fortune 1000 CEOs. And this comes at a time when public and private universities are cutting programs and not filling professorships.
Maybe the Northwestern University student-athletes have a point when discussing the need for player unionization. Their beefs ought not be dismissed as nonsense from the pandered few. The current state of men’s college basketball is a nightmare: The workers are cared for while they produce for their benefactors, but then they are marginalized and eventually sacrificed; the coach is well paid and protected; the schools rake in the money; the consumer just wants close games and highlight reels.
And almost everyone but the players considers any discussion beyond wins and losses to be white noise.
Unless the NCAA rectifies this situation, the noise of protest ought to grow louder.
Fred McKissack is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.