WHAT IS A STUDENT ATHLETE

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May 16, 2016

The headline of today’s Blog is not by accident. Surprisingly, a great deal of thought went into composing the headline. My friend Don Esters called me last week and he was complaining about the plight of what appears to be a high incidence of illiteracy shown by many athletes, supposedly college graduates. To Don, this is most evident when they are called upon to answer interviewers’ questions.

For those who have followed my writings, first in my columns and now on my Blog, realize that I have felt for a long time that a schools’ desire for winning teams does not excuse its shirking its true responsibility of educating our youth.

A few years back, I talked to my cousin who had been a professor of linguistics at a couple of our most prestigious universities. My complaint was that I felt offended by the bastardization of the English Language exhibited by so many former athletes who have become on-air talent.

The utilization of their sports achievements and celebrity is wonderful for securing the job. Their notoriety helps garner viewers and builds ratings. I was taught Standard English both as a College English Major and as an embryo announcer.

After all, most announcers take numerous diction classes and even study speech therapy. I did! As a young announcer, I was required to follow the NBC pronunciation guide, which at the time was the gold standard) and spend hours mastering various challenges that consisted of tongue-twister tests.

I called many of the former athletes ,“deez, dem and dozers”. My cousin pointed out that my attitude was wrong. They were only products of their environment; no different than when my forefathers came over from Europe. My ancestors had accents and they had difficulty mastering the English language.

My cousin, the linguist pointed out how wrong I was to make the assessment of ignorance. It is a mistake made by many of us who are unenlightened. She pointed out that languages are made up of many Dialects. In the case of a great many of these athletes, linguists describe their speech as a Black Urban Dialect. This Dialect is completely consistent within its environment… easily understood.

However, it is not what we consider Standard English. Thus, it is often stigmatize as having no social value. The fact is that many people associate the Dialect with ignorance. Such an association is wrong and without merit.

However, I do believe the NCAA colleges and Universities are doing many of these athletes a great disservice. Not only should communication skills be taught, but also all student athletes should be taught skills that will earn them a living once their playing days are done.

As I have written before, I am a firm believer that “one and done” employed by schools such as Kentucky in the handling of its Basketball program goes against everything an accredited institute of education should be standing for. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
The NCAA Basketball tournament known as “March Madness” dominates sports headlines for an entire month and bleeds over into the next month. The athletic prowess of these young athletes is a marvel to behold. However, what is less noticed is the alarming rate that Black Athletes are dropping out of colleges across the country.
On major college campuses across the country, Black males comprise less than 3% of undergraduate enrollments. However, when we study the numbers on the revenue-generating sports—Football and Men’s Basketball, they make up somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of those teams. It appears that they are only really there to be part of the revenue-generating working class and not necessarily there to be part of the educating class as most everyone else is.
The insidious part of this is that these athletes are supposedly promised one thing for all their blood and sweat. This one item can be a transformative tool in our society. A tool that might help them get a job and a comfortable place in life after athletics.
Unfortunately, all of the incentive is really on winning and not losing on the field, or on the court. Coaches, who themselves make substantial salaries, are not necessarily incentivized to graduate players. With a $10 Billion contract for NCAA Basketball Broadcasts and the knowledge that the five top coaches of the five power conferences make an average of $2.8 million a year, it is easy to understand why this is true.
Then, there is Jay Wright. Jay, whose real name is Jerold is the coach of Villanova, a small Catholic School located in Philadelphia. His school is not a member of one of the five power conferences. Yet, little Villanova is the reigning NCAA men’s Basketball Champion… beating all those vaunted powerhouse teams from the bigger conferences.
Here’s where Jay is different. He looks on getting a degree as the most important thing; an athlete should get out of his/her college experience. All coaches give their team a pep talk about their team and the need to win. Jay goes a step further.
This year, my friend Jerry Berger saw his oldest granddaughter graduate from Villanova… and he learned something that I think is a tribute to the school and to Coach Wright. He not only gives his team the obligatory pep talk, but each year he addresses the entire incoming class. His topic is not basically about sports, or Basketball, but more importantly, it is about studying hard and getting a degree.
In my eyes, Jay Wright is not just a coach, but also an educator. He understands what an academic institution is supposed to achieve and the benefits of a good education.