How Black Athletes Could Change College Sports

Amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, another deadly pandemic raised its ugly head for all to see.

Racism, the long-standing champion of a myriad of issues that plague the United States and the world at large, plainly expressed itself through the deaths of more Black Americans in recent months.

The inciting events

In February, two white residents pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery while he jogged in a small town in Georgia. The perpetrators, Gregory and Travis McMichael, claimed Arbery resembled a suspect of nearby burglaries. They were not charged until a video emerged in early May.

In March, officers burst into the Louisville, Kentucky, home of Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker after midnight. Thinking they were under attack, Walker shot at the officers and they returned fire, killing Taylor in her sleep. The police were serving a “no-knock” search warrant, related to a drug case in which a friend of Taylor’s was involved. Reports from both sides of the incident dispute whether officers announced their presence. Those officers have not been charged yet.

Finally, and I say that as loosely as possible, George Floyd was murdered on May 25th in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Responding to a call about a counterfeit $20 bill, officers apprehended Floyd outside of the Cup Foods store. The video seen across social media platforms showed a white officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on Floyd’s neck. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Chauvin appeared to be casual as Floyd cried for help, begging for his mother.

The pressure rendered him unconscious after a few minutes, and Chauvin’s knee remained despite yelling from nearby citizens. A video that surfaced in the aftermath displayed a physical struggle between Floyd and the four officers involved while he was in the police car. Another video showed two officers restraining Floyd on the ground while Chauvin kneed on his neck and another watched.

The aftermath

George Floyd’s death appeared to be the tipping point for America, which likely is the result of the ongoing mess that is 2020. Protests broke out in cities across the nation, in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and more. Millions called for Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman to arrest and charge the police involved.

It took days to arrest and charge Chauvin with third-degree murder and manslaughter. While many waited for an upgrade and arrest of the other three officers, tensions boiled over in other American cities.

In Louisville, seven were shot during a protest for Breonna Taylor on May 28. The next Monday, police shot and killed popular restaurant owner David McAtee during a protest. That story is still developing.

Bar owner Jacob Gardner shot James Scurlock after an altercation on the night of Saturday, May 30, in Omaha, Nebraska.

On the same day in Atlanta, six officers pulled two college students out of their vehicle near curfew time. All are now facing criminal charges regarding various levels of assault and battery.

On Wednesday, June 3, Minnesota Attorney General upgraded Chauvin’s charge to second-degree murder. He also charged Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane with aiding and abetting in the crime.

Moving forward

The protests currently occurring in America are related to the notable deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

However, this and the Black Lives Matter movement at large are addressing a larger problem. It includes not only disproportionate police brutality, but the design of a system that has oppressed, antagonized, and disadvantaged Black citizens for centuries.

As this country appears to be moving towards wholesale change, people are asking one another to take a side.

That includes public figures, including politicians, celebrities, and coaches.

The new status quo will no longer allow people who interact with, use, and benefit from black people and black culture to remain silent while blacks are treated unfairly.

Consequently, social media and the immediacy of the movement recently placed the onus on Division One head coaches to speak out in defense of their black athletes.

College football coaches, to date, are largely the most visible and at the forefront of these expectations.

And some are meeting the new standard, such as Nick Saban at Alabama, Ryan Day at Ohio State, and Tom Herman at Texas.

They answered the call and stood with the athletes, past and present, that helped them gain national acclaim. Integration of African-Americans into major (southern) Power-5 schools revealed the large amount of fresh, accessible talent.

Pioneers such as USC football’s Clarence Davis and basketball legend Charlie Scott at North Carolina helped programs win conference championships, national titles, and notoriety.

Today’s landscape represents a full circle. Schools who once refused blacks access now spend millions of dollars recruiting current black talent to try and get a leg up on their competition.

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Black prevalence in NCAA sports

According to NCAA research as of 2019, the demographics of college athletes represent a complete shift. In all of Div. I men’s basketball, 56 percent of student-athletes are black/African-American. 69 percent of their head coaches are white.

For football, nearly half of the athletes are black, while 82 percent of the head coaches are white. The majority of coordinators and assistants are white as well.

Furthermore, 45 percent of Division One women’s basketball players are black, and all of the aforementioned numbers are further concentrated the bigger you go.

It would not be a significant reach to look at the success of Power-5 schools in money-making sports like football and basketball, and look at the amount of black talent involved.

With that information available, it’s no wonder why schools and coaches would want to protect their “investments”.

Issues in protecting black players

So why is it so hard for some to stand up for their black athletes?

In the days after Floyd’s death, media asked Clemson head coach and national champion Dabo Swinney to comment on the current state of America.

His response was underwhelming, as he appeared hesitant to assert the importance of black lives. National dissatisfaction with his reply was underscored by the news that hit the following day.

In 2017, an incident occurred in which a white coach used the N-word while talking to a black player at practice. The player, D.J. Greenlee, reportedly forgave the coach but the event remained unaddressed within Clemson walls for years. Another former athlete, Kanyon Tuttle, tweeted about the incident which turned public scrutiny onto Swinney.

It reflects a commonality in which mistakes made by college coaches in berating or mistreating black athletes often are not publicly condemned and swift action is not taken.

Further south, in Tallahassee, Florida, disputes emerged over whether Florida State coach Mike Norvell individually addressed his football players during the mass protests that began across the nation.


Senior defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said the talks never happened and planned a boycott of team workouts, with the support of several teammates.

Coaches and players met and resolved their issues, but these incidents are inspiring a new wave of thought regarding college sports.

A radical change

Many Twitter users suggest that prospective black student-athletes flip the narrative and commit to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).

If achieved, the measure would certainly serve as a protest to the Predominantly White Institutions that benefit from the talents of their black athletes. Losing ad revenue, ticket sales, and ultimately a winning culture to any extent would represent significant change.

And I would imagine that parents would feel much safer if their children were in the care of someone they trusted, a person who knows their struggles and truly cares.

Of course, with any proposed form of a shift comes controversy and caution. Nothing will change overnight. We’re seeing that with the continued protests occurring in this country.

Some attribute the lack of national attention and money as the reason why HBCUs do not attract four- and five-star recruits. Which is due to another form of substantial and historical disadvantages, but that is besides the point.

Realistically, however, the decision of only a few prominent athletes to commit to a Norfolk State, Southern, or Howard would feasibly inspire other young prospects to follow suit.

One potential example of that is high school basketball phenom Mikey Williams, who teased on his social media the thought of attending an HBCU. As expected with the following of a player of his stature, this raised several eyebrows and speculation. HBCUs were quick to take action.

National exposure would not be far behind the decision of a major recruit. One look into American culture shows that where blacks make a mark, many follow.

With everything that’s happening, who’s to say a black athlete won’t pick Bethune-Cookman over Miami? Or Grambling State instead of LSU?

It just takes one.