Dumbed Down: What the UNC Scandal Tells Us about African-American Male Athletes Educational Interests

One of the most disconcerting aspects of my interactions with African-American males as History Professor are the relatively common occurrences of them being unmotivated, uninspired, and anti-intellectual. Now rest assured that I have heard all of the excuses that this segment projects into the universe; (1) school is not interesting, (2) all they are teaching us are things that we learned already, (3) who wants to learn about white people all of the time. The litany of complaints and gripes from African-American males goes on-and-on and on-and-on like an Erykah Badu song. However, in regards to the real problem of African-American males opposition to intellectualism, they routinely display through action what their brains are ironically not developed enough to verbally express.

Hence, the recent revelations regarding academic misconduct at the University of North Carolina is not surprising, yet nevertheless disappointing. My personal disappointment flows from several loci, (a) this is yet another case of African-American male athletes unc3willingly surrendering unprecedented educational opportunities, (b) the misconduct emanated from the African-American Studies department, (c) these athletes were able to secure several national championship for the University of North Carolina during the period in question (1993 -2011).

Although many expect a person such as myself, an educated African-American male, to rant and rave about this being yet another case of a white institution exploiting Black athletes and giving them nothing in return for their athletic prowess, those persons are going to be woefully disappointed at my perspective.

One of the methods that I was able to financially provide for myself during my graduate school tenure at THE Ohio State University was by securing employment at my alma mater’s Student Athlete Support Services Office. While working in this endeavor, I learned much about not only life, but also personal responsibility. I learned that there were droves of African-American male athletes who were socialized to believe that their lone utility to the world was their athletic prowess; in many of their minds, they were at THE Ohio State University to major in football, not an academic discipline. More than a few of these young men had been directed exclusively toward athletic endeavors from the moment that they displayed a propensity for sports by parents, family members, and coaches. In time, academic endeavors, arguably the most important aspect of their maturation into adulthood became an afterthought.

I can recall innumerable conversations with African-American male student-athletes regarding the need for them to pursue their educational endeavors with the same intensity and prowess that they displayed on any given Saturday. I desperately attempted to impress upon them that they were solely responsible for earning an education, not the institution that offered a scholarship in exchange for their athletic talents.

The reality that the aforementioned fraudulent academic behavior at the University of North Carolina occurred within the African-American studies program accentuates the reality of how far African-American males, and African-Americans in general, have strayed from their right minds. Put simply, it appears that a dysfunctional culture that we witness on a continual basis has trumped traditional goals and aspirations among Black males. It is perversely absurd to consider that the very discipline, African-American studies, that holds the most utility in regards to not only researching and advancing pedagogy to reach said Black male student-athletes, but also possesses the power to politicize, and thereby uplift the minds of the alluded to population, and the generations that follow them, is ‘not just knee deep’ in this ridiculous scenario, they are up to their neck in it.

So it is without any reservation that I cast significant shame upon the University of North Carolina, the African-American studies department, and the North Carolina Tar Heel student-athletes who eagerly pursued what they erroneously viewed as an opportunity to slide through the system instead of pursuing their education with the same vigor that they unc2applied to the development of their prodigious athletic skills. The alluded to African-American male student-athletes fail to realize that the University of North Carolina, similar to every other university in existence, received their end of the bargain when they received several National Championships as a result of their athletic performance, while the alluded to student-athletes earned little more than fleeting, receding memories of athletic events that are long forgotten by those who cheered them on. You, meaning the African-American male student-athletes, decide who received the better end of that deal.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III


One thought on “Dumbed Down: What the UNC Scandal Tells Us about African-American Male Athletes Educational Interests”

  1. I once had a friend whose son went to a state university on full athletic scholarship. They gave him carte Blanche, apartment housing, a food stipend, the works. She, being a long time teacher, appeared to place little emphasis on his scholastic preparedness. At year four, he opted to extend his eligibility. I thought this was a good then, right? After five years of mediocre field time, a pregnancy scare where the toddler was tested and found to be not his and no real attention to academics, he returned home to pursue his future as … a Home Depot stocker. What a waste. She refuses to speak on this opportunity to do what was intended, educate. I often wonder if she thought that someone would just hand him a real job based on having received a degree … in what? Who knows. It’s sad but typical.

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