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Damario Solomon-Simmons: Report Cites NCAA’s Failure to Graduate Black Athletes


Damario Solomon-Simmons: Report Cites NCAA’s Failure to Graduate Black Athletes

Kentucky Black Grad Rates Photo

by Damario Solomon-Simmons

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.

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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 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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  1. Makeba

    February 3, 2013 at 9:18 am

    This article exposes some serious problems that have been happening to Black youth…college athletes… for a long time. The solutions offered are very good…and would be of much help toward solving the problem.

    But they need to take a look at what is happening to students in high school and the grades before that. Many African-American students have fallen behind in reading, writing, math and other basic skills. When that happens…they are not able to keep up when advanced to higher levels. But…sad to say…they often get bumped up (favored) and passed along because they can DUNK, RUN, JUMP, TACKLE, or in some way they are valuable to the school teams.

    In addition, too many Black students have become victims of low self-esteem (race esteem) produced by the lack of teaching on BLACK HISTORY. They commonly talk about “being smart=acting white.” They try to “dumb down” in order to “be cool at school.” Too often the smart Black students get ridiculed.


    *** EXAMPLE: If given a simple exam about their own HERITAGE… most of them could not give reasonable answers.


    1) What did CRISPUS ATTUCKS do that was of great significance?

    2) Name 3 products that we use today that were discovered or created by Dr. George Washington Carver.

    3) What did ELIJAH McCOY invent that changed the course of transportation?

    4) Who was DORIE MILLER and what did he do that won him high honors?

    5) Name one BLACK female writer — of the past…not living today– and briefly describe what she wrote.


    Sadly —
    IT’S A FACT, OUR PEOPLE IN GENERAL HAVE LITTLE SENSE OR KNOWLEDGE OF OUR GOLDEN HERITAGE….and could not answer 3 out of 5 of these types of questions.

    Years ago, a Professor created a “Black I.Q.” test and most White people flunked it with flying colors.


  2. J

    February 3, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Sports is great, but not everyone who picks up a ball will play in the majors. However, it is up,to the athlete to earn his degree. If not he will retunprn to the same place he left. Get your education and get conscious about the reality about life after sports. It’s left up to you. Change is good.

  3. J

    February 3, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Correction. If not he will most likely return to the same place he left. Change is good.

  4. MJ

    February 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I agree with Makeba…..

    I have tried to even try to enlighten everyone about my book Basketball Slave. I wrote this book about my father in which this happened to him over 60 years ago and it is still going on…….He was an Original Harlem Globetrotter and a pioneer in the NBA. I put this subject on the table and talks about Black History. Hey I even made it about Basketball…….

  5. Terrence the Pterodactyl

    February 7, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    It amazes me how black people continue to push their kids to play sports, thinking they’ll be the next Kobe or LeBron. Our kids are so far behind in STEM studies there will be no chance of getting high skilled technology jobs. Only way black folks will be wealthy is entertaining and being gladiators for the one percent, while the rest of us wallow in the abyss of Hoods.

  6. Adolfo Ouye

    July 8, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    C’est peut-être en effet difficile. Eux nous écrit plusieurs stratégies et aussi je vais être penning ces gens sur une page Web à un certain point. Nous sommes livre marquant votre blog avec je serai à revenir. Un grand merci

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