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Jason Douglas Lewis - On the Soapbox: Black Student-Athlete’s graduation rate

Jason Douglas Lewis- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

On the Soapbox: Black Student-Athlete’s graduation rate

The universities are partially at fault for low graduation rates, but at some point personal accountability has to be taken.

Isiah Thomas is correct when he puts part of the blame for black athletes failing to graduate on the administration, but the student-athletes themselves need to be held more accountable. 


Please do not argue with the Sports Editor.  That’s like a student-athlete not picking up free books, then blaming the university for not graduating.  It just does not make any sense. Illustration by David G. Brown

Article originally published by the Los Angeles Sentinel. www.lasentinel.net

By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor (2010-2013)

In an article written by Isiah Thomas in last week’s Sentinel (article can be found at www.lasentinel.net), Thomas spoke about various reasons why student athletes, namely black student athletes, are struggling to graduate. 

Thomas pointed out that only 65 percent of African American basketball student-athletes graduated in 2013, which is a 25 percent gap between the graduation rates of white and black athletes.  He also pointed out that 21 of the 68 teams that competed in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament had black graduation rates below 50 percent. 

The numbers for black student-athletes are poor, and Thomas pointed out a number of factors to why this is an issue, such as inner city high schools not preparing black students properly for college, causing many of them to struggle from their very first semester or quarter.  That leads to another problem.  The student-athletes have to stay eligible, so they will take the easiest classes possible, even if those classes do not lead to graduation. 

Thomas pointed out that there is a “tremendous incentive for high-profile college athletes to focus on athletics rather than academics.”  This is also true.  In a HBO special on the topic of paying college athletes, a former college football player said that when he was attempting to take a tough major, his coaches discouraged him from doing it, and one coach told him that academics comes first (while holding up two fingers), and that athletics comes second (while holding up one finger).  That coach was simply towing the company like with his words by saying that these athletes are students first, but his hand gestures said it all.  They are not student-athletes, they are athlete-students, and as long as they are eligible to play their sport, it is all good with the coaching staff and the athletic department.

Thomas touched on the issue of some student-athletes turning pro early, before they complete their degree.  While this is an issue for some, the bulk of student-athletes will not turn pro, and they will not be leaving college early to do so.  Most college athletes will play out their four years of eligibility, but once their playing career is over, for too many of them, their academic career is pretty much over as well.

Many black student-athletes have obstacles in their way that have nothing to do with them.  They did not create obstacles such as a sub par high school education, or college coaches and administrators who are not pushing them to graduation to the same degree that they are pushing them to athletic excellence.  But at the same time, even with these obstacles, these black student-athletes can graduate.  The system is in place for them to do so.  At some point the black student-athlete needs to be held accountable for themselves. 

Courtney Morgan, UCLA football Director of Player Development, pointed out in a recent interview with the Sentinel that many black student-athletes are not taking advantage of their opportunities. 

“I feel like you have to graduate,” Morgan said. “They’re going to get everything out of you at a college or university, and there is nothing wrong with that. I feel like they have a product that they have to put on the field. Now your return on investment is a degree. Most schools give you every resource to get your degree. It’s just that a lot of athletes don’t take advantage of it. A lot of times, when you’re 18 or 19 years old, you don’t really see the benefit of it. Everything comes from home. It’s what your parents are putting in your head when you are nine and 10 years old. If they’re not stressing education, but they’re stressing football, then you’re going to grow up and just think football. You’re going to think that’s it.”

Many college athletes, especially African American football and basketball players, ignore the opportunity that they have, or they simply do not value it.

“A lot of schools put millions of dollars into the athletes,” Morgan said. “A lot of people want to blame the schools for using the athletes, but you’d be amazed on how many athletes don’t even go and get their books, and they’re free!”

Morgan had the same hurdles that all black student-athletes have.  He went to Westchester High School, which had a high population of inner city black students.  He went on to play football at Michigan, and he put an emphasis on graduating. 

Turquoise Thompson, a sprinter on UCLA’s track team, was recently featured as a Sentinel Student-Athlete of the Week.  She had similar hurdles as other black student-athletes, but she earned her degree from UCLA in 3 ½ years, while many students at the university take five years to graduate.  She has applied to UCLA’s graduate school as she is on the verge of turning pro, and she has a great chance of making it to the Olympics in 2016.

As a community, black people do need to expect more from these universities that are making millions of dollars off of black student-athletes.  Black people do need to put pressure on coaches and administrators to put more efforts into these kids graduating.  But at the same time, black people need to hold black student-athletes more accountable for their own actions.  Black student-athletes should be taken to task for not taking advantage of free books, or free tutoring for athletes. 

Too often the black community argues that these student-athletes should be paid, but there is not much of an outcry for them to graduate.  The four years of college should set up the next 40 years of life.  But black students-athletes do not take it upon themselves to get that degree.  The amount of money that a university could pay them would not do them much good long term.  A degree is much more valuable. 

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