More than 400 people from colleges and schools across the country came to The University of Texas at Austin to attend the fifth annual Black Student-Athlete Summit held Jan. 9-11 at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. Attendees included professional athletes, athletic directors, coaches, professors and mental health professionals—all of whom play an integral role in the success of Black student-athletes. This year’s summit, themed “The Awakening of the Black Student-Athlete, ” explored a wide range of challenges that are uniquely faced by students of color—from mental health challenges to stereotypes perpetuated by the media to the lack of diversity in high-level administrative positions.
Below is a full recap of the summit hosted by the DDCE’s African American Male Research Initiative. You can also follow the online conversation: #BlackStudentAthleteSummit.
In climbing the ranks to become the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, Serena Williams overcame many hurdles along the way. Among them: racism and body shaming. As her athletic talent and financial wealth elevated her to iconic status, Williams shed the cloak of invisibility that surrounds many Black Americans.
“To be Black in America is to be invisible unless they monetize you,” said Sherice Nelson of Mervyn Dymally Institute. “Serena was invisible. And then she became hyper-visible. . . They either make you deal with your identity all by yourself or put you out in front of everybody else. There is no middle ground.”
Keynote luncheon speaker and Prairie View Assistant Professor of health and Kinesiology Akilah Carter-Francique discussed the representation of Black women in sports. UT athletic director Chris Del Conte attended the luncheon and told audience members that sports enables people at a young age to establish their identity and “fulfill your dream.”
Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement and George W. Littlefield Professor of American History Leonard Moore delivered a powerful message to educators about challenging and uplifting Black student-athletes.
“Pursue mission over money, significance over status, and impact over impression,” Moore said to the crowd.
Duke professor Jen Fry led a discussion about encouraging Black student-athletes to apply for prestigious fellowships such as the Knight-Hennessey, Fulbright, Marshall, Mitchell and Rhodes. Fry encourages her Duke students to put aside their fears and use their leadership and team-building skills gained as athletes to pursue fellowships.
“I have met with students who said they didn’t know fellowships existed,” Fry said.
UT Austin doctoral student Latrice Sales, who spent seven years at the NCAA Sports Science Institute, addressed some eye-opening statistics regarding Black women in college athletics. Sales reported that although 31 percent of Black women play college basketball in all three divisions (the highest participation percentage for Black women in any sport), only 10.5 percent are head coaches. She also pointed out that Black women represent 1.6 percent of athletic directors compared to 15 percent for white women and 83 percent for men.
“What is the state of Black women in college athletics? Still a lot of work to be done,” Sales said.
Trinity University professor Dominic Morais and student-athlete Gavin Huse used Critical Race Theory (CRT) to determine that the NFL along with the national media describe Black and white football players in racial terms, identifying Black players by their physical characteristics and white players by their mental capabilities.
Morais said the longstanding practice results in college and high school coaches focusing more on Black players as athletes than students. Morais added that the media’s portrayal of Black athletes leads to boys viewing athletics as their only career option from a young age. He explained that in scouting reports, 87 percent of the time a NFL player was compared to a college prospect of the same race even if they did not play the same position or have the same physical attributes.
Cal-Berkeley Sports Information Director (SID) Akilah Laster is one of only nine Black SIDs out of 65 Division I Power Five conference athletic programs. The lack of diversity among professionals assigned to create publicity for their athletic programs has resulted in a negative portrayal of Black student-athletes and their families along several media platforms. Laster suggested that SIDs should equip student-athletes to tell their stories as well as reach out to internal staff members who have more interaction with student-athletes to get well-rounded portrayals of the students.
Prime U Founder Jarrod Barnes, a former student-athlete who was the only doctoral student to ever play football at The Ohio State University, discussed “hypermasculinity” among Black male student-athletes.
“It’s acceptable to be emotional, as long as it’s in the prescribed concept,” said Barnes.
He stated that coaches, whom he described as the main “stakeholders” in big-time college athletics, need to be educated in order to help their players.
“Until we teach and train those who are investing in athletes, we’re not going to see positive results,” Barnes said.
Prairie View Interscholastic League chairman Robert Brown spoke on a panel of Black coaches and administrators who led their high school football and basketball teams to great success during segregation in Texas. During the panel discussion, he stated that Black schools were hit hard by integration.
“As a person and a group, we did not think we were going to lose as much as we did,” said Brown, who received the Legacy Award during Wednesday’s luncheon.
Former Mr. Universe and Mr. World bodybuilding champion John Brown delivered a lively keynote speech about the value of hard work and entrepreneurial pursuits. He is the proud father of three sons who are now accomplished scholars and athletes.
Brown’s oldest son, Equanimeous St. Brown, recently completed his rookie season with the Green Bay Packers. Brown’s middle son, Osiris St. Brown, recently completed his sophomore season at Stanford. His youngest son Amon-Ra St. Brown recently completed his freshman season at USC. All three of Brown’s sons are wide receivers.
“I had two hats when I was raising them,” Brown said. “One hat was coach and one hat was father. You have to know what hat to put on and when to put it on.”
Monique Oluyemisi Ositelu of Florida State University and Ryan Westman of New York University presented their research on the achievement gap between HBCU schools and predominately white institutions. Ositelu said HBCU male athletic programs in 2005-2006 received three times as many severe penalties for performing below the standard as non-HBCUs with the same score.
“The NCAA is disproportionally penalizing HBCU teams,” Ositelu said.
Westman added that HBCU schools are 5.8 times more likely to be penalized compared to predominately white institutions.
“Yes, it is a racial issue,” said Westman, who suggested that more funding is needed in the NCAA’s Accelerating Academic Success Program.
The first session of the day focused on how much college athletes should be involved in social activism. The conversation led to an emotional response from Arkansas State University Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Performance Pat Ivey. A former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Missouri, Ivey worked closely with the team’s football players and was there when the team announced a boycott in 2015 supporting the hunger-strike of a graduate student who demanded the dismissal of the former University of Missouri System president. Ivey wasn’t retained when new head coach Barry Odom replaced Gary Pinkel.
“There is sacrifice for student-athletes, and it’s real,” Ivey said. “You say coaches and administrators have to give our athletes support. As coaches and administrators, there are real constraints.”
Akayleb Evans, a Tulsa football player who led a session about Black student-athletes and community activism with his mother, said the degree of involvement often depends on how much support players receive from their coaches and administrators.
“I honestly feel like it all depends on who your coach is,” said Evans, who plays defensive back. “I feel like with my position coach, I have a voice.”
Guarantee games are necessary to fund cash-strapped HBCU athletic programs heavily dependent on federal funding. Based on the Resource Dependence Theory presented by University of Louisville doctoral student Brigitte Burpo, HBCU schools rely on larger Division I programs to schedule them for games so they can create much-needed revenue.
She stated that HBCU schools always play these games on the road, and HBCU schools usually lose these money-games by a wide margin. How important are these money games for HBCU schools? According to Burpo, Prairie View A&M had the highest athletic budget in 2017 at $17.8 million. Nearly 74 percent of that total was subsidized, emphasizing the need for HBCUs to seek out other revenue streams such as playing money games that almost always result in a loss but generate much-needed revenue.
The final day of the Black Student-Athlete Summit at the AT&T Conference Center was highlighted by several engaging and thought-provoking sessions and messages delivered by deeply committed athletes, educators and administrators.
Moore reminded his peers not to forget where they came from in their support of student-athletes.
“I challenge coaches; I challenge the system,” Moore said. “When you are in the position of saying something, don’t cave for fear of losing a promotion. We need men and women of integrity.”
Other speakers throughout the day discussed a variety of topics, including UT Austin Deputy to the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Dr. Darren Kelly and AAMRI fellow Robert Bennett III, who presented research citing a significant rise in the number of Black suburban males playing major-college football over the last decade.
The major-college sports landscape is shifting, as an increasing number of Black male athletes attending suburban and private high schools are moving to the forefront of college football. Research provided by Kelly and Bennett III revealed that the list of top football players entering college between 2006 and 2014 featured more Black players attending suburban and private high schools and fewer Blacks attending Title 1 high schools where at least 40 percent of the students come from low-income families.
In 2006, the ESPN 150 showcasing the top 150 football players entering college that year featured 69.1 percent of the Black players on the list representing Title 1 schools. The remaining 30.9 percent of the Black players on the list represented non-Title 1 schools.
Fast forward to 2014, where the top 150 players on the ESPN 300 list entering college that year represented a significant about-face. Eight years later, only 48.4 percent of the top 150 football players entering college that year attended Title 1 schools, compared to a majority 51.6 percent of Black players on the top 150 list who attended non-Title 1 schools.
Kelly said ESPN’s No. 1 overall football player in each of the last nine years was a Black player from a non-Title 1 school.
“The issue is not just in our states and locally, but we see a national trend,” Kelly said.
A big reason for the shift, he pointed out, is rising costs and specialization of youth sports (including AAU and club baseball).
“Who has the means and the ability to pay for opportunities like this?” Kelly said. “There’s a big investment wrapped up in youth sports to be able to pay for that. Parents are spending thousands of dollars to put their kids into travel and competitive youth sports.”
Fewer available race-based scholarships is another factor limiting the opportunity to play major college football for Black students, he noted.
“When it comes to getting into college and higher education, we’re seeing less and less availability of race-specific academic scholarships,” Kelly said. “I can’t tell you the number of times we get emails and phone calls here at UT from parents of talented Black students who say their son or daughter has a 3.9 GPA, top of the class, SAT scores, they get into UT, but they didn’t get a scholarship. With less money out there, people are trying to find other avenues to pay for college.”
Those avenues include Black families choosing to move to the suburbs for better educational opportunities. Some of that migration is the result of gentrification.
“It’s not only people who are pulled out, it’s also people who are choosing to go out,” Kelly said.
James Cooper of St. Phillip’s College in San Antonio spoke passionately about violent male behavior being perpetuated through contact sports.
“Football players identify with aggressive behavior,” said Dr. James Cooper, a former college football player who is the violence prevention coordinator at St. Phillip’s. “The training of a Division I athlete is very similar to armed forces training. Football players are conditioned to use violence as a means to solve problems.”
Also, Dr. James Cooper of St. Phillip’s College addressed the connection between violent male behavior and contact sports, and UT Austin doctoral student Javier Wallace uncovered the abuse of the F1 student visa in high school basketball.
Wallace presented research about the use and abuse of the F1 student visa in high school basketball in the U.S. Citing several specific examples, Wallace said the F1 student visa – a non-immigrant visa for those wishing to study in the states – has been used to illegally recruit talented international basketball players under the guise of education.
In one case, Wallace said a teenager from Panama was lured to the United States with the promise that he would live in a two-bedroom home. It turned out the young man was forced to live in a one-bedroom home with eight people kids in one bed.
“If a 6-foot-10 kid from Nigeria shows up in your school and you know your community doesn’t produce that, something’s wrong,” Wallace said. “If they show up out of nowhere, it’s not normal. It’s our job to ask a question.”
In 2018, Wallace said 46,656 people from around the world entered the United States using the F1 student visa.
Comparing the notion of amateurism in college sports to indentured servitude, Historical Basketball League CEO Ricky Volante called out the NCAA for benefitting financially from Black student-athletes while at the same time restricting their earning power while in school.
“In 1929, the Carnegie Commission investigated which schools were paying players,” said Volante, whose new league, scheduled to debut in 2020, will be the first college basketball league to pay its players.
The summit concluded with a closing town hall discussion about lessons learned throughout the many sessions, poster presentations and keynote speeches. Before parting ways, participants shared insights on how to implement new strategies and best practices into their colleges and institutions to better serve Black Student-Athletes. You can find more photos from the 2019 summit on the DDCE’s Flickr site.