Laboring In The Colosseums

Ed Raymond

One of my favorite columnists over the years was Molly Ivins, a Texas gal who could puncture pompous fatheads with deadly journalistic arrows. She gained forever fame by labeling George W. Bush with two nicknames: “Shrub” and “Dubya.” She told a story about the integration of blacks in Texas college football, which probably represents the first grudging admission by diehard Texas fans that yes, blacks could match whites on the Coliseum green. In the very late sixties, the University of Texas had finally recruited one lonely black running back. At the same time, Texas A&M recruited a black linebacker. Finally, during a game, the lonely black linebacker tackled the lonely black halfback. The slow integration of the races probably started that day when a University of Texas fan from his 50-yard seat yelled for everyone to hear: “Hey, ref! Get that nigger off our colored boy!!”
In the nearly five decades since that yell, some truths have been exposed. In the major professional sports, black athletes dominate two of them with superior physical and athletic skills and ability. If they had had money to buy skates when they were young children, they would also probably dominate hockey. And Tiger Woods has dominated the white country club game of golf for almost 20 years since winning the Masters by 12 strokes when he was 21.

The Numbers Under Contract Tell The Story

Although blacks make up only 13 percent of our total population, they make up 66 percent of the 1,696 National Football League players who play on Sunday afternoons. Do the math. There are 450 players in the National Basketball Association who labor on the courts. 365 of them are black, or 81 percent! Of the 690 players in the National Hockey League, only 28 are black. What would happen if blacks actually started to skate?
   It’s interesting what is happening to major league baseball. The 30 teams have 1,200 players under contract. Over 63 percent are white, with the balance at 8.5 percent black and 28.5 percent Latino. Contrary to what Bert Blyleven says, pitchers are not the best athletes on the baseball diamond. Count ‘em up! Most pitchers are white because they can stand on a mound and throw hard, but they can’t run, can’t hit, and can’t field. Eight other players have to do that.
It may be shocking to some that the 2013 high school All-American football team composed of 22 players was made up of 20 black athletes. The 2013 high school All-American basketball team was made up of ten players—all black. With what happened to the bigoted owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the last couple of weeks, racism in sports is back in the news. Don Sterling of the Clippers has practiced “plantation-type” businesses for years. Perhaps someone should tell the five Supreme Court justices who voted to drop sections of the voting rights and affirmative action laws that, heavens to Aunt Jemima, there still is racism in this country!

National Priorities And the Role Of Money In Establishing Them

We should examine what millionaires and billionaires are doing to corrupt sports at all levels in this country. Sociopathic and psychopathic millionaires and billionaires—often using sports and sports teams as personal adult pacifiers, self-promotion, and ego builders—are ruining pro, college, K-12 and amateur sports and the education systems in the country. On top of these problems, research by the Public Research Institute says that 50 percent of Americans believe that God actually determines who wins the NFL Super Bowl. That’s an amazing number, particularly when over 20 percent have now become nonbelievers! So this country must be in a real mess. Here we have 32 billionaires trying to buy the Super Bowl trophy by employing $30 million-a-year quarterbacks to throw accurate passes to $20 million-a-year wide receivers, and half of us say the winner is up to God anyway! It’s at least worth an ironic chuckle.
And now we have five Republican members of the U.S. Supreme Court who must travel each day after sessions to the new planet just discovered that has an eight-hour day. The Fab Five certainly does not experience life on earth anymore. With their recent decision on rescinding sections of the Voting Rights Act, they said there was no discrimination in this country. I wonder what they think of the Mormon Clive Bundy-BLM affair, the Don Sterling-Los Angeles Clippers affair, and the high schools in the South with 99 percent black enrollment and a total absence of physics, chemistry, and algebra courses. A student can’t get into college without them.
Now they have come up with the decision that elected bodies of government can start meetings with prayers to God. What if God is Allah, Buddha, a Rhode Island Red chicken, or an eight-foot cobra? Or the naked girl on the altar celebrating a Black Mass? Or the Tennessee snake-handler with snakes crawling around his throat as he preaches in tongues? Does this guy lead prayers for the Tennessee Titans? It’s time the Supreme Court lives in and joins the real world. But I digress!

No Wonder Jocks Don’t Graduate

When I played college football and baseball 60 years ago in the Bright Ages, I would put in about ten hours of practice in per week during the seasons, exclusive of travel time on buses to games. The schedule allowed me to have part-time jobs and maintain a “reasonable” grade point average in a Broad English major of literature, journalism, and creative writing—and to sing in the college choir—and to take a very active role in student government. Now NCAA athletic directors, coaches, and wealthy alumni plotting to get their names on stadiums and other athletic facilities run most public colleges and universities—and some private ones.  
College and university presidents have turned themselves into fund raisers and sycophants, thus letting academics slip into poverty and obscurity. The top academic institutions, perhaps with the exception of Stanford, no longer prostrate themselves over Division I football, basketball, and hockey. Most major public institutions act as farm and minor league clubs to the NFL, NBA, and NHL.

The NCAA’s “Student-Athletes”? Surely You’re Kidding!

I still remember about three years ago when it was discovered that about 90 percent of the University of Georgia’s football team was majoring in that great academic subject “sports management.” I’ll give one guess on who the instructors were in all those revealing courses. University leaders, athletic directors, and coaches should read an article by Myron Rolle in the January 18, 2014 issue of the Guardian titled “We Should Do More Than Point Fingers and Laugh at Dumb Jocks.” His article reinforces why the Northwestern University football team asked to form a union so they could negotiate terms and conditions of their “employment.”

As a high school senior, Rolle was ranked by the sports TV network ESPN as the top football prospect in the whole country. He was offered athletic scholarships by dozens of football factories and straight public and private universities. Although he was a Princeton Bill Bradley type, sang “Fiddler on the Roof” songs in high school productions, and seriously considered a medical career, he chose Florida State University. During recruitment he thought he saw players “maximizing their intellectual capital” and “accessing available resources.” But his football schedule ate up most of his time, sometimes requiring between 40 and 60 hours a week during the season. His football days started with very early classes and then lifting weights before lunch. Actual football practice started 1:45 and often ended at 5:45. Showering, watching films, and eating supper took a player to 7 p.m. Then it was study hall until 8 p.m. and sometimes watching more film until 11 p.m. Taking 12 credit hours during the season was a real load. Rolle says that many smart people struggled mightily to maintain some kind of balance between academics and sports. Many never graduated. Some decided to major in “easy” subjects. Rolle writes that he thoroughly enjoyed his college and NFL days and is now working hard to become a medical doctor. But he may be an exception to the average “student-athlete.”

And Then We Have The “Student-Athletes” At Chapel Hill

After discovering that some of their athletes couldn’t read or write after they were recruited as “student-athletes,” the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill developed 50 classes in a special African Studies Department that became very popular with a number of UNC “student athletes.” They liked them because most of the classes never met—but the “students” still got passing grades listed to keep them academically eligible. Instructors were listed for courses they never supervised or taught. When this fake department was finally discovered, the university’s chancellor and football coach were fired, and the department chair has been charged with fraud. Some of the athletes were functionally illiterate, while others read at the eighth-grade level, hardly enough to pass most college courses. This fraud began operating in 1997. Where are these hundreds of “student-athletes” now?  
In a book called “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” Richard Arum and Josips Roksa determined through research that 36 percent of regular college students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of instruction. These students studied as little as 12 to 14 hours per week. Can you imagine what an NCAA “student-athlete” has learned in his major after practicing his sport for up to 60 hours per week?

What Does Big-Time College Football Cost?

Star Tribune reporter Mike Kaszuba in a December 26, 2013 article outlined research by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on the costs of Division I football programs. In 2011 data, the latest available, the University of Minnesota spent $199,826 on each of its 85 “scholarship” football players ($6,510 for equipment alone), while spending only $20,688 on each full-time university student. Gophers come cheap. Ohio State spent $456,023 on each player, while national champion Alabama spent “only” $342,020. Alabama spent $15,664 for each academic student. USA Today reports that of the 227 Division I schools, only 22 are in the black for all sports. Student fees (some as high as $900 annually just for athletic support) and legislative appropriations paid by taxpayers make up the difference for those schools that operate athletics in the red. Many college students are totally unaware that they support athletics to the extent they do. Athletic expenses with $5 million coaches—or more—are rising at an alarming rate, while tuition keeps increasing for regular students.
What football and other athletic powers dominate the list of the ten top academic universities in the country? Recognize these names: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, Duke, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn, Caltech, and Dartmouth? Stanford is usually competitive in football and basketball, and Duke is a basketball power, but the rest? Most do not even field teams.
What can we do to create a healthy balance between academics and sports at the collegiate level? Is an athletic union for players the answer? I don’t know, but let’s limit coaches to ten hours of practice per week. If the NFL, NBA, and NHL want farm teams, let them pay to start minor leagues as baseball does. Only one percent of college football players ever play in the NFL anyway. Put coaches on the same pay scale as physics and English teachers. They don’t contribute any more—or any less—than teachers in the academic subjects. When Albert Einstein was three, he had hardly spoken a word and was considered a dolt. His elementary teachers concurred. But as an adult he came up with e=mc2 and was talented enough to play world-class violin and piano at the professional level. Who knows?

Raymond is a former Marine officer and school board superintendent and resides in Detroit Lakes.