“Tell us something we don’t know, Billy Hawkins,” might be the first reaction to the title of his highly inflammatory book that charges the NCAA with financial, physical and intellectual exploitation of black amateur athletes.
But then Hawkins, a professor at the University of Georgia, prepared delicious chunks of powerful information in The New Plantation for the readers to devour. And after reading, it becomes impossible not to form a radical opinion about the NCAA hierarchy, which is almost exclusively white, and the revenue-generating sports of the NCAA, which is overwhelmingly black. The numbers are hard to ignore:
The NCAA: 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS to televise March Madness, the postseason tournament for basketball.
The Coaches: $5 – 6 million annual salary, endless perks and national recognition.
Student Athletes: $0
Student Athletes Graduating: One-fifth of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament last year had a graduation rate of 40 percent or less.
Student Graduation Rate of Basketball Players: Less than two-thirds, the lowest rate of the 36 sports and one that’s dominated by blacks.
In The New Plantation, Hawkins says the predominantly white institutions almost own the young black men’s hides once they sign to slave, er, play for their schools.
“[The athletes are] not necessarily the property of the institutions, but the rights to athletes’ labor and the profit off of their labor makes the plantation model appropriate in examining the experiences of black male athletes,” says Hawkins.
He also delivers this knockout: “In 2008, the NCAA reported graduation rates of black male athletes in football and basketball to be 49 percent and 42 percent, respectively, over a four-year period. This number is dramatically less than those of white athletes, in spite of the fact that black athletes make up the majority of players in most revenue-generating sports.”
If we know that upwards of 80 percent of multimillion-dollar-earning NBA stars wind up broke only five years after retirement, then what happens to the black male who never graduated and who never made it to the professional ranks to begin with? Where does he go?
Worse, Hawkins points out, is the fact that black athletes in revenue generating sports are forced to fund the non-revenue producing sports dominated by white women because of Title XIX. All the while, the college game has become exponentially more profitable over the years.
“Commercialization of the programs-multibillion dollar TV contracts and multimillion dollar product endorsements has triggered the hidden agendas of the institutions, which often leads to the exploitation of the athletes’ talents and neglect of their minds,” says Hawkins. “Within this framework, where ‘winning is the only thing,’ academics will be given a ‘lower’ priority unless athletes take full responsibility in obtaining an education.”
There are powerful people who have Hawkins’ back on this. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for the NCAA to ban teams that fail to reach a graduation rate of 40 percent. That would be absolutely disastrous for the major schools. Check this out: if this measure had been applied to the last NCAA tournament, roughly 20 percent of the teams in this year’s tournament would have been ineligible to play. That would have included the University of Kentucky, who was ranked #1 in the country when the tournament started.
It’s beyond time to eradicate this pervasively corrupt and extremely exploitative system. Let’s hope that Hawkins book gets the wheels rolling in that direction. — terry shropshire