In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that 78% of NFL players file for bankruptcy or face financial hardships two years after playing their last game and that 60% of NBA players face a similar fate within five years of retirement. Black athletes are the overwhelming majority of players in both leagues. A year ago, a University of Pennsylvania study highlighted an issue which continues to plague Black males and ultimately, our country: a significant disparity in graduation rates between Black and White student-athletes. Black males dominate the rosters in big-time college sports as well.
The Penn study illuminates the racial inequities in big-time college sports that are longstanding and pervasive. While representing approximately 2.8% of full-time undergraduate students, Black males constitute 58.4% of the football and 60.8% of basketball team in Division 1 sports. The overrepresentation of Black males is no surprise to anyone who has watched college football or men's basketball recently. Similarly, no one who has studied race in big-time college sports is surprised by the racial inequities in graduation rates.
One of the causes of the bigotry and discrimination in sports is the stereotyping of young Black males as "athletes or nothing." One of the big contributing factors to the stereotyping in sports -- and in all industries -- is the young men are steered/steer themselves into a sports track and neglect their own personal development. In many ways, sport highlights, and then minimizes, Black males in ways similar to how our response to domestic violence minimizes women.
In order to respond to the root causes of the bigotry and discrimination, and enhance the NFL's response to domestic violence and sexual abuse issues, the league (and the NBA and NCAA) needs to support the development and delivery of programming that will equip student-athletes, from a young age and over a multi-year period, to not only adopt an academic and life balance, but to model it as standout athletes; to advocate it among non-athlete peers; and to use their influence among peers to remove any obstacles to achievement in the path of a Black male or female classmate seeking to excel academically and join the ranks of the successful. The programming should also include a train the trainer aspect, with the end goal of combating the "young Blacks are only athletes" stereotyping in society.
It is shocking that these trends are so pervasive yet the American public (including institutional leaders, the NCAA, athletics conference commissioners, the NBA and the NFL, sports enthusiasts and journalists) has not done more in response to them. Why hasn't the lingering and persistent disparity in graduation rates across the board provoked the collective outrage of the American public, especially Black folk, to take a stand against the exploitation?
In contrast, the Ray Rice domestic violence incident has put domestic violence front and center on the consciousness of the American public.
There have been 56 incidents where NFL players have been "arrested for and/or charged" (not convicted) with domestic abuse since 2006. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center more than 77,000 calls about domestic violence went unanswered just in 2013 because of a lack of resources. While the NFL is not mathematically a "haven for domestic violence," and Ray Rice is not the face of domestic violence, pressure from women's rights organizations like NOW the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and No More has led to a long term commitment by the NFL to help all people affected by domestic violence.
Before the Ray Rice incident, the silence around domestic violence and sexual assault issues was deafening and deadly. The response of the media, the public, sponsors and women's rights groups to domestic violence in the NFL has been swift and undeniable. In addition to appointing four (white) women to serve as senior advisers on domestic violence issues, the NFL is providing resources to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to support their response to the issues.
Wouldn't it be just as productive if the outrage a few incidents of domestic violence involving NFL players has provoked could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many Black student-athletes?
The lack of response to the exploitation of Black student-athletes lies at the doorstep of Black leaders, the Black media and former Black athletes who appear to have accepted as normal the widespread inequities that are cyclically reproduced in most revenue-generating college sports programs.
Studies suggest that domestic violence often is caused by feelings that develop in athletes who are exploited by a system that prioritizes profits: low self-esteem, inferiority in socioeconomic and educational background, and drug abuse.
Perhaps NOW and NCADC can leverage the NFL's attention into support of programming in youth sports to equip student-athletes to develop "whole," better equipped to make sound decisions. It could be a real and powerful deterrent to future domestic violence issues in sports.
Stayed tuned for my next blogs, that will include a look at the double standard in sports, the negative (media) image and public perception of Black athletes, the failure of Black leadership in sports, and the impotency of the NFLPA.
You can contact Everett Glenn of ESP Education & Leadership Institute at 562.619.8460 or email@example.com