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Our colleges: Placing athletics above academics

Julianne Malveaux | 5/27/2013, 5:34 p.m.

This proposal is as likely to be implemented as ice cubes are likely to survive 10 seconds in hell. Yet college leaders must grapple with the many ways that sports dollars and energy distort the educational experience. There are stadiums full of fans clapping for the last 3-pointer, or the winning touchdown, but little applause for the Phi Beta Kappa graduate, or the best poet on campus. These are societal values that have, unfortunately, penetrated the ivory tower.

My interest in this issue is the fact that many of the athletes are African Americans who often come from low- and moderate-income families. Many are student athletes who combine their athletic prowess with academic ability. Too many others have been recruited for their athletic prowess, notwithstanding athletic ability. Classes that do require little – not even attendance — do not advance the long-term interests of students.

When student-athletes get hurt, what happens to them? Some colleges will continue their scholarships,

others will not. Further, the likelihood of moving from the college basketball court or gridiron to a professional one is something like 1 percent. Those who aren’t drafted and don’t make it to an athletic career often languish without even basic skills to market.

I had my way, I’d ask that every college spend more on physical fitness than on student athletics. If I had my way, fitness would be as required a course as literature or history. Truly, if I had my way I would consider putting exploitive college athletics on the back burner.

I’m not going to have my way. On too many of our nation’s college campuses the sports mission has overshadowed the education mission. Kudos to Tatum for choosing the road less travelled.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.