Take a Page From Athletic Philosophy to Solve Black-White Academic Gap

With college football’s bowl season starting, ESPN has recently published an article titled “Bowl-bound student-athletes getting better in the classroom.” The article provides an in-depth look at the academic progress of the players from the 78 teams competing in bowl games this season. Much of this analysis consists of addressing graduation rates for the football players attending these schools. These numbers are then contrasted with the results from previous years.

As one could probably decipher from the article’s title, there have been some significant improvements when it comes to the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of student athletes who play football. The GSR for these teams participating in bowls is 77%. This is up from 75% in 2016. All bowl teams had a GSR of at least 50%. This feat was not achieved by the bowl teams from a season ago.

But an area of concern for these athletes continues to be the gap in academic achievement between blacks and whites. Although the difference has narrowed, there is still a 16 point advantage in graduation rates of white football players over black ones. The number of these schools with GSRs displaying a 30 percentage point gap between whites and blacks who play the sport is also on the decline. However, eight of the 78 teams still have this kind of disparity.

Although we can see positive trends when it comes to the academic achievement of black athletes, we should also account for what has been the source of the continued divide between black student athletes and those of other races. What factors still persist that are causing these results? How do we identify them? What, if anything, can be done to remedy this situation?

For one possible solution, let’s look to the other institution that categorizes these young men as student athletes to begin with. That is, let’s observe the success of blacks in the realm of football. After all, there are now more blacks playing Division One Football than any other race (blacks comprise an even larger percentage of NFL players). This is despite only about 13% of the US population being black. Clearly the problem of a lack of black competitiveness in academics is non-existent on the football field. But why is this the case? Is it because there is some government funded organization that dumps extraordinary amounts of money into making black kids into great football players? No, the reason lies in the demand for excellence that blacks place upon themselves to be great at their sport. It is the responsibility that these blacks take to perfect their skills that lead to being able to compete on this kind of level. Therefore, the solution to the academic deficiencies that black students face is through a desire for personal greatness.

The articles’ author then shares a quote from a discussion he had with famous civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. As far as black student athletes were concerned, Jackson stressed that,

“The collegiate ‘student-athlete’ must continue to maximize both sides of that title by pursuing excellence both in the classroom and on the playing field. Although the academic progress that has been made is encouraging, there is still much work to be done in bridging the achievement gap, and ensuring that African American student-athletes are receiving maximum benefit from their educational experience to prepare for a successful life and career after college. Not every athlete will be a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round draft pick or a Hall of Fame player, but every student has the opportunity through their collegiate experience to prepare, equip and empower themselves for a meaningful and impactful future.”

Certainly this is not a bad sentiment with regards to these black students. But has Jackson really put this philosophy into practice? After all, if he truly desired excellence from black students in academia and thought they were capable of it, wouldn’t he reject a mindset of victimization and policies which give any kind of preference to blacks? Creating a victim culture and applying favoritism to any race implies that excellence is beyond their grasp or at least not achievable without the assistance from those of Jackson’s ilk and the policies that they favor.

Once again, the reason for the frequent achievement of excellence by blacks on the gridiron has nothing to do with any kind of race-based favoritism or victimhood. Rather, it is the perseverance and responsibility taken by these athletes which propels them to this status. It therefore can be said that blacks have been able to accomplish these feats by applying a very anti-Jackson philosophy to their approach. A similar path put forward on academics would certainly yield better results than the one that these types of black leaders have been peddling since they rose to prominence.