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There is no time in which promises, potentiality, and pleading are more celebrated than during college football recruiting and the upcoming National Football Signing Day.  Whether it be the daily phone calls, mountains of letters, or in-home visits, college recruiters will tell top recruits just about anything to get them to sign, and usually the recruiter with the best “mouthpiece” gets the recruit to sign on the dotted line.   However, I doubt that at anytime during their recruitment are recruits told that their “free four-year ride” to pay for their college education:

 

  •  Is NOT  really free;
  • Is NOT guaranteed for four (4) years; and
  • Is NOT necessarily for a college education.

 

First, the four-year scholarship every high school football player dreams about receiving is actually a one (1)-year, renewable at the institution’s discretion, financial aid package.   Regardless of all the talk about “we are going to treat your son like he is my own” and “we stress education and getting your degree to all of our players” that coaches spew during recruiting,   once on campus, if the athlete does not perform to the level that the coach expected, the athlete runs the real risk of having his “full ride scholarship” cancelled after his “subpar” season.  Take the case of Joseph Agnew formerly of Rice University, hardly the bastion of athletic dominance, who is suing Rice after his scholarship was not renewed between his sophomore and junior years due to several injuries.  Like most D-1 scholarship athletes, Agnew had multiple scholarship offers as he graduated from high school.  However, when he got injured and couldn’t help the school and its coaches win games (i.e., earn money, prestige, and recognition), he had no protection from losing his “full-ride” scholarship.

 

Second, according to a recent ground-breaking research study, the average “full scholarship” Division I athlete actually pays about $3,000.00 annually in school-related expenses.   It’s just wrong that while head coaches enjoy guaranteed multi-million-dollar-a-year contracts and six-figure bonuses for  championships, and the NCAA and member universities bathe in multi-billion dollar TV deals, the so-called “student-athletes” are not compensated for their labor that generates the billions enjoyed by everyone else associated with the College Sports Entertainment Complex. This is truly and out rightly shameful in and of itself.  Yet, for these same athletes actually to have to pay thousands of dollars each year to the same institutions that  profit from the athletes’ talents, skills, blood, sweat and tears is absurd and a moral outrage — especially when you consider that 80% the athletes at these institutions are Black kids from poor inner-city communities whose families oftentimes can’t afford even to attend one home game, let alone subsidize their sons’ alleged “full ride scholarships.”

 

Third, while coaches receive six-figure bonuses for wins, bowl games, and championships, I am not aware of one coach in the United States who has that type of bonus clause tied to the graduation rate of his athletes.  Therefore, it is easy to understand why the top schools athletically oftentimes have the worse graduation rates for their athletes.   For example, 2010 National Champion Auburn only ranked 85 out of 120 in the graduation rate for its football players.  It’s even more egregious when you take a look at the graduation rates of Black male student-athletes whose graduation rate barely hovers over 50%.   That’s why I’m in full agreement with U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan who recommends that the NCAA penalize coaches and universities that don’t graduate their players, in the same manner that the NCAA allows those coaches and universities to benefit when the programs have on-the-field success.

 

Too many student-athletes will complete their college eligibility with no degree from their school, no pro career, and highly in debt for their schooling at the college for which they just made millions. Therefore, I call on the NCAA to:  1) immediately prohibit recruiters from telling kids they are offering them  “full-ride” four-year scholarships, 2) punish coaches and programs that continue to have dismal graduation rates, and 3) equitably share with student-athletes some of the billions of dollars generated by the student-athletes’ labor and likenesses. Lastly, recruits and their families need to make sure they understand the “fine print” associated with major college football signing day.

 

So, as you or your love one signs that scholarship today, please take heed of the three (3) important points that I always counsel my pre-college clients to consider:

 

  1. Understand and accept that — when the hoopla dies down, the rankings become irrelevant, and you have already signed on that dotted line — the coach who recruited you did so for one reason:  to help him keep his job by winning games, because the reality is that coaches are hired and fired based on “Ws and Ls” and not “As and Bs.”  Therefore, the program that you are signing with fully intends to get out of you every ounce of athletic talent and potential that you possess.

 

  1. You must individually take responsibility for your education and growth as a whole person seriously and seek to maximize fully the academic and life skill opportunities that the university as a whole provides to you. This means you must take advantage of every tutor provided, computer and language lab staffed, and networking opportunity available.  Additionally, this means that you must have an active role in deciding your major and what classes you take.  In other words, pick a major and classes that interest you and provide you opportunities for a viable lifetime career/s once your athletic career is over – not just the courses that are easy or convenient to your athletic schedule.
  2. If you do not become the player that everybody thought you would become, you run the risk of losing your “full ride.”  So, always look for opportunities to excel outside of sports and be noticed for being more than an athlete. This can be accomplished by taking the lead on a class project, applying for academic- or community service-based awards, or simply taking the time to request to have lunch with the president of your university.  This will make it more difficult to get “run off” because you will have non-athletic supporters that value you for more than your on-field production.  Those relationships and allies could make the difference when it comes time to renew your scholarship.  Additionally, make sure you follow all team and university rules because you don’t want to give the coach “cause” not to renew your annual scholarship with the proverbial “player dismissed for violation of team rules” report, when in fact you committed the same “violation” as your roommate who just happens to be the star running back, but is still on the team.

 

In closing, please note that I believe having the opportunity to be recruited to play college football (or any sport) is one of the greatest honors one can receive.  Further, to be blessed to play major college football was one of the highlights of my life.  Despite the above and other negatives that come with being a pawn in the College Sports Entertainment Complex,  I believe that – with proper attention and effort — there can be far more positives than negatives in playing major college sports.  Playing for my state’s flagship university is something that I would sign up for in a heartbeat if given the opportunity (and the knees) to do it again!

 

 

 

Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.Ed., J.D., an NCAA D-1 football letter winner at the University of Oklahoma. He is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock & Associates law firm, whose personal practice focuses on Sports, Entertainment, and Diversity. He is also a professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He can be contacted at dsolo@solomonsimmons.com or www.solomonsimmons.com.

 

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Outside the fact that we now have our first Black President, no other area has had more sustained and visible growth for African-Americans over the last fifty years than the number of Black Male Student Athletes (“BMSAs”) participating in revenue-generating college sports (football and men’s’ basketball).   In fact, today, BMSAs are 57.1% of college football players and  64.3% of college basketball players, and for the last 25 years you would be hard pressed to find any top tier D-1 team where BMSAs were less than 75% of the starters.

Unfortunately for so many of these BMSAs the realization that there is life outside of sports that requires non-athletic skills gained through education does not occur until their final whistle has been blown, their eligibility is exhausted, and the athlete has not taken full advantage of the tremendous educational opportunities that their scholarship afforded them.  Therefore, the joy of seeing the great increase in access for BMSAs is tempered with the great disappointment when it comes to BMSAs academic and life skill success while attending some of the nation’s finest institutions of higher learning.

The sad scenario is the subject of a new study recently published entitled Black Male Student –Athletes and Racial Inequities in NCAA Division I College Sports (“Report”) that highlights that despite some academic reforms and the well-produced “We All Go Pro” commercials touting NCAA athletes’ graduation rates being higher than non-athletes.  The Report by the University Of Pennsylvania Center For The Study Of Race & Equality found startling and significant academic disparities regarding Black Males athletes such as:

  • Only about half of BMSAs graduated within six years;
  • 96.1% of BCS institutions graduated Black Male Student Athletes at rates lower than student-athletes overall;
  • 97.4% of BCS institutions graduated Black Male Student Athletes at rates lower than undergraduate students overall; and
  • At almost 73% of BCS institutions, graduation rates for BMSAs were lower than rates for Black undergraduate men overall.

Add in the fact that the NCAA controlled College Sports Entertainment Complex features guaranteed multi-million-dollar-a-year contracts for coaches, allows Conferences to bathe in multi-billion dollar TV deals, and universities to enter into profitable licensing and merchandising deals is all supported and made possible by the uncompensated labor of BMSAs.  It seems to indicate that the NCAA and its member institutions are benefiting greatly at the expense BMSAs, and you can understand why many argue that BMSAs experiences are akin to the “exploitation endured by internally colonized people in the system of slavery.”

Especially when it is no secret that “young Blacks are encouraged toward attempts at ‘making it’ through athletic participation, rather than pursuit of education and other viable occupations” as explained by famed sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards.   This belief in the “sports lottery,” causes many Black male athletes to single-mindedly pursue sports to the exclusion of academic interest because it the only way “to get mama out the hood.”   So, it should come as no surprise that I too had aspirations of playing in the NFL at the expense of everything else.  Fortunately, this all changed after a devastating knee injury that almost ended my career, and brought hard life lessons that gave me a new perspective about the need for education.

BMSAs are not enslaved and even have choice not to play college sports.  Furthermore, BMSAs have a personal responsibility to maximize the educational and life skill opportunities available while attending the school of their choice.  However, many BMSAs enter their university at a severe disadvantage academically because they are products of badly under resourced schools, under prepared teachers, higher rates of family and community poverty and lower levels of education, and low expectations for academic success.  Further, with so many Black males lacking the presence of a strong, positive Black male in their lives, many do not have the strong guidance and mentorship that young men need to successful develop from boyhood to manhood.   In fact, I  have personally witnessed BMSAs without the needed mentorship completely stop going to class at the end of football season due to the belief that “the league” was just a few months away and they didn’t need a degree “to rush the quarterbacks.”

Therefore, in addition to incorporating the recommendations suggested in the Report, the NCAA and its member institutions should adopt specific policies to accommodate and/or control for: 1) the poor K-12 academic experiences most BMSAs receive; and 2) the traumatic and negative socio-economic environments in which many BMSAs are raised such as:

  • Ensuring academic personnel working with BMSAs to have been extensively trained to work with and understand the culture of the different type of Black males (East Coast, Dirty south, SoCal, etc) who come from unique (non-White) socio-cultural backgrounds and therefore have special needs that must be met in order to become successful college students;
  • Create and support a Senior Black Male Administrator position on each college/university campus to ensure positive role models for Black male student-athletes in the same manner that each school has a Senior Woman Administrator;

 

  • Support the creation of the National Black Student-Athlete Association to create a critical mass of high achieving BMSAs through peer-to-peer networking, and opportunities for leadership and professional development for Black student-athletes;

 

  • Support a Bridge Builder Mentoring Program on each college/university campus as a mandatory program that begins immediately after a BMSA signs his scholarship and continues through graduation.

 

In closing, by implementing the above policies the NCAA can create a socio-cultural environment that will produce trust, confidence, and motivation among BMSAs that is needed to inform, inspire, and empower BMSAs towards academic success.  By doing so will yield high dividends for the NCAA, its member institutions, BMSAs, and, indeed, our Nation!

 

Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.Ed., J.D., a NCAA D-1 football letter winner at the University of Oklahoma. He is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock & Associates law firm and a professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He can be contacted at dsolo@solomonsimmons.com or www.solomonsimmons.com.

 

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miatalksballthumbA work trip to D.C. turned into so much more for Cherokee Nation communications director Amanda Clinton who lucked up on some tickets to a few of this year’s inaugural events including the Official Inaugural Ball held Monday night.

Friends in the D.C. area, as well as some contacts back home gave Clinton extra last minute tickets to such events as the Democratic Governors Association party where Will.I.Am deejayed; the Official Inaugural Ball and even to a seating area at the public swearing-in ceremony Monday.

“We could see the president but he was pretty far away,” Clinton said, and trees obscured the big screen showing the ceremony, still it was special. “It was a really special moment for me to hear his plans for the next four years. I think that was kind of emotional really.”

This year’s turnout was not the same as President Obama’s first inauguration, but “despite the big crowd everyone was friendly,” said Clinton, which was a bit of a surprise.

Something else unexpected was the brevity of Obama and wife Michelle’s appearance at the inaugural ball Clinton attended. Separate from the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball, the president and first lady made an appearance for their first dance before disappearing behind a curtain, Clinton recalled.

When the couple was announced, Clinton said there was nearly a stampede to the area where the two would dance. People dropped their drinks and food, forks, everything to rush over and watch the Obamas take their first dance as Jennifer Hudson sang Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”

This was probably one of the most memorable points of the evening for Clinton.

“The two of them are so clearly in love you can really feel it there. They shared a kiss. It was just a really sweet moment.”

And then after the dance, the Obamas were gone.

“It’s not like they’re milling about the crowd. At all.”

Inauguration Ball cameos

Clinton said that she didn’t see that many celebrities herself but did spot MC Hammer and Dikembe Mutombo. She’d heard actress Rosario Dawson was there and she and some of the people she was with were “80 to 90 percent certain” one young woman with dark hair was Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation,” but they left that mystery for others to figure out.

Inaugural Ball fashion

Clinton snapped a few pictures of some party guests.

There were both long gowns and short dresses. Your typical black-tie attire as well as some bright colors and unique styles one might not expect to see at an inaugural ball but it all worked, Clinton said.

“Every woman there had probably taken forever to get ready for the evening,” Clinton said. “And then we all had to stand out in 30 degree weather for an hour,” she added with some laughter. She’s talking about the blocks long line outside of the Convention Center Monday evening – a small price to pay to celebrate the inauguration and still one she won’t forget either.

“I’m so thankful that I could be here,” Clinton said by phone this morning ahead of her flight back to Oklahoma. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I don’t know if I ever will come back to another one.

She said of the inaugural events as a whole: “It was really important for me to go to that. I’m very into politics and really care about the direction our country is going in.

“The swearing-in was probably the most special part for me. But I’m not going to lie I’m not going to forget about standing out in the cold for a long time.”

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