College sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. The men and women who lead the teams in the most important conferences often make millions of dollars between their coaching salaries and endorsement deals. But what about the athletes themselves? Most get a “free ride” (tuition, food and board), but is that sufficient?
Given that the majority of the athletes in the major sports (read that to be football and men’s basketball) are African American, what type of recompense are they getting for their toil and sweat on the gridiron and the hardcourt? Since the overwhelming majority of these men do not make it to the NFL or the NBA, are they benefiting from being student-athletes, or are they being taken advantage of by schools and universities that make money off of their efforts and provide little in return?
It is important questions such as these that John N. Singer
addresses in his book, Race, Sports, and Education: Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Male College Athletes
(Harvard Education Press, 2019). By interviewing athletes, Singer gets to the heart of the debate about the value (or not) of collegiate athletics. Many of the subjects interviewed did benefit, but they relate how the machinery of college athletics still continues to exploit its principal workers: African American young men. Singer’s work opens the door to the voices of such individuals, and they have much to say about the current (sorry) state of things, and how the athletes themselves can work (with concerned faculty and administrators) to bring about change.
Jorge Iber is a professor of history at Texas Tech University.