Smith Speaks on Black Male Athletes

Whether you are a student-athlete or just an uninterested spectator, it doesn’t take much for one to realize that sports is an important aspect of Colgate life. So when guest speaker Professor Earl Smith of Wake Forest University was invited to give a special lecture titled “The Overrepresentation of African American Student-Athletes in Division I-A Sport Programs,” its message was bound to have a strong impact on campus.

As a sociology professor, Smith’s observations and research have led him to believe that the arena of professional sports has produced a system of inequality for African American athletes. Whereas, in sports such as football and basketball, African American athletes make up the majority of players, in other competitive sports such as tennis, soccer and swimming, hardly any players are African American. Thus, society has created an overrepresentation of African American athletes in some sports and an under-representation in others.

Smith considered that within the worlds of professional basketball and football there is hardly any representation of African Americans in positions of authority. While African American athletes might dominate the field or court, Smith said, hardly any of the head coaches, team owners or business executives who profit from the sport are African American. Smith believes that this reality proves that while professional athletes are paid generously for their talent, the salaries and investments made by the tycoons of the sport are blocked off from the players.

When discussing sports at the collegiate level, Smith provided the statistic that of the 5 million students enrolled in colleges and universities, only 225,000 are African American men and of those 225,000, about half of them are on athletic scholarships. Almost all of these students are promised to obtain a first-class education and a chance to develop their talents in order to, one day, play professionally. Yet for most African American student-athletes, Smith said, this is never a reality. Smith argued that, due to scheduled practices and extended excused absences, student-athletes do not get the full academic experiences that their college has to offer to non-athletic students. Afternoon guest speakers and special lectures can coincide with training and important class discussions are missed due to travel. All of these things are opportunities that players can miss out on due to their sport commitments.

Smith went on to argue that statistically, most African American student-athletes are clustered into certain fields of study or classes and are discouraged from taking classes such as chemistry and engineering that will prepare them for a professional career. Even if African American men are 75 times more likely to obtain and excel in a profession other than professional sports, society and the education system push African Americans towards the sport arena and away from professional careers.

Smith also argued that simply being an African American student-athlete decreases one’s chance of graduating. He provided the statistic that only 62 percent of all African American student-athletes graduate within six years and that at Wake Forest specifically, student-athletes’ graduation rate is 15 percent points lower than that of the general student body.

Because most student-athletes are African American, Smith said, all of these factors create a big disadvantage for them and necessarily rob them of the opportunities that other students are offered.

The sports industry is an expensive business; one only needs to look at the prices companies pay for Super Bowl commercial slots and the millions of tax dollars spent on sports stadiums across the country. It is for this reason that Smith asked Colgate students to reexamine the social system in order and to realize the silent but important messages that sports both on the college and professional level recreate in the name of a perfect season.