Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sad Five

It is a true rarity that you will hear me talking about sports. My lack of interest and knowledge on the subject leads me to steer clear for the very most part. But after hearing about the statements made by Jalen Rose and other members of the Fab five basketball team during and after the premier of a documentary about their run at college basketball greatness, I felt compelled to put my hat in the ring. The following is a response to Chris Webber's blog entry defending the categorization of Black players at Duke as "Uncle Toms":

It saddens me to see grown, respected, and successful Black men suggesting that there is anything at all negative about coming from an affluent background. Not only is it hypocritical, considering that their children will inevitably have the same affluent start to life that they begrudge others for having, but more importantly, the idea that we should pit inner city Blacks against suburban Blacks perpetuates the very social pressures that have divided us as a people for hundreds of years. Suggesting that Black families that stay intact, value a great education, and find success are sellouts is shameful. Clearly these statements are born of envy and perhaps even jealousy. Still, that does not make such irresponsible statements excusable by any stretch. There are young Black kids in inner-cities and suburbs all across America that will watch this "documentary" and read all the articles and see these successful, affluent, and famous Black men associating negativity with the likes of Grant Hill. Those young kids, who already idolize ball players in the first place, will hear the message that the way to get to where Chris Webber and Jalen Rose are is to have a lot of attitude and play a good game. They will hear that valuing education is not necessary. That, Chris, is the real tragedy.

Please don't allow me to suggest that I am an expert in the world of sports. I have neither the interest or the expertise to speak knowledgeably on the accomplishments of the Fab Five, Dukes recruiting practices, or on basketball in general. What I am is a psychologist. There is a saying in my field that goes "Correlation is not causation." It means that the relation of one thing to another does not necessarily speak to the cause of either. And so, I take issue with your suggestion that Duke only recruited Black players from two parent homes with the resources to send their children to private schools. It is my understanding that Duke has a relatively demanding academic program. The sports programs are, then, required to recruit students who can not only excel in a sport but also excel in a classroom. Students who have done well in school, truly value education, and aspire to graduate from college are far more likely to come from two parent homes with affluent backgrounds. That is not a judgment of character. Its a statistical fact. Its a fact that educators and social psychologists have been attempting to understand for centuries. Duke recruits students that can handle life at Duke. Those students tend to have similar backgrounds. (That same background you had, Chris.) Knocking Duke for NOT recruiting inner-city kids negates the true reason for their recruiting practices. Its narrow minded and divisive. It suggests that there is somehow something wrong with students that want to be doctors as much as they want to be ball players. It tells every little boy who dreams of being an engineer and wants to use his basketball skills to get him there that he will somehow be a sellout if he focuses on his education.

For every Chris Webber out there that goes to college with the sole intention of making it in pro sports, leaves college early, and becomes wildly successful, there are thousands of 40 year old men who are working for minimum wage (or on a corner), looking back on that golden opportunity they were given when they got that sports scholarship, and wishing they had thought about it differently when they had the chance. That is not to suggest that focusing on your dream of pro sports is wrong. Still, that dream has led many a young Black man astray. I dare you to find me a single person for whom the aspiration to excel academically caused anything but achievement. Programs like Duke understand this. They understand that discipline, hard work, education, and dedication are a recipe for success on and off the court. We, as a people, would do well to adopt that recipe in every facet of our lives. If every NCAA program adopted this policy, we would not only have far fewer financially and emotionally bankrupt former athletes who have no options after sports, but we'd also have more Black doctors, lawyers, engineers, and teachers.

Chris, you may very well know your field. You know the stats and history of your sport. But I know mine too. I dare you to look at the stats on how far behind we are in academic achievement, career success, science, mathematics, etc. Then go re-read your statements about Duke's policies. When you're done, we can talk about who is doing more damage to our race.

(The following links will bring you up to speed if, like me, you are clueless about sports.)

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