Playing College Football in 2020 Would Continue to Devalue Black LivesRoundup
tags: racism, sports, NCAA, football
Eddie R. Cole is associate professor of higher education and organizational change at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the author of The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom (Princeton University Press, 2020).
The debate over proceeding with football has been fierce, with arguments often pitting the fact that players, whose well-being would be at risk, don’t get paid against the devastating impact of lost revenue from upending such a profitable fall ritual.
But the uprisings this summer make it clear the racial dimension to this conversation is just as important. Black men account for more than half of all Power 5 college football players despite representing less than three percent of the undergraduate student bodies on those campuses, according to a recent study. Asking them to risk their health to preserve revenue for universities would simply be an extension of the long tradition of devaluing of black lives in American higher education.
Most elite universities benefited from slavery, something for which many institutions are starting to atone. Yet, the direct disregard for black lives on campus is also a product of recent history, shaping how universities developed following World War II. While the G.I. Bill contributed to a postwar college enrollment boom, black veterans were denied the full benefits of the bill. And for as much has changed over the past three-quarters of a century, the same racial dynamics remain on many campuses today.
The desegregation of all-white universities in the South gave a glimpse of how black lives were devalued in higher education. At the University of Alabama in June 1963 the university’s admission of two black students — Vivian Malone and James Hood — garnered global attention as approximately 400 journalists were in Tuscaloosa as segregationist Gov. George C. Wallace took his defiant, largely symbolic, stand against desegregation.
Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” is a well-documented, watershed moment in U.S. history. Yet, it wasn’t just Wallace who didn’t want black students on campus. University leaders and trustees also introduced purposeful obstacles to desegregation.
The day after UA’s desegregation, Gessner T. McCorvey, president pro tem of the board of trustees, said, “I just hope and pray that these Negroes have sense enough to conduct themselves in a way that will not be offensive to our people.” McCorvey also told university President Frank A. Rose and other senior administrators that, if civil rights activists decided to protest by blocking airport runways or railways, he would tell black leaders that their plan would “result in the railroads of America having the ‘best-greased’ rails of any railroads in the world.”
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