For Black Athletes, When The Game Is Over, Then What?

By Bill Stamps
Updated: March 29, 2005

NEW YORK, NY—To the avid college sports fan, March is one of the most exciting months of the year. The National College Athletic Association — better know as March Madness, The Big Dance, Sweet Sixteen and The Final Four — ends its basketball year with its national tournament. On April 4, in Indianapolis, two Division I college basketball teams will play for the national championship.

To most of the young men who are fortunate enough to play in this tournament, this will be the most exciting times in their lives. However, to the African American community, it is a bittersweet pill.

After this tournament, a small percentage of these young African American men will enter the National Basketball Association professional league and make millions of dollars. However, the majority of the African American players will not only never play professional basketball, they will not even graduate from their college or university.

What a sad indictment on a group of young men who have trained all their lives to be where they are today.

I mention this because in NCAA Division I basketball for men, most of the starting players on nearly every team are young men of color. According to the Indianapolis Star, approximately 60 percent of the players in this tournament are African American. The percentages of blacks in the NBA are even higher.

While they may account for approximately 60 percent of all players in the tournament, in three of the schools in the Sweet Sixteen — Arizona, Wisconsin and Washington — fewer than 3 percent of the non-athlete male students are African American.

Are they recruited because of their academic achievements and abilities? I think you know the answer.

These young African American men are recruited because they are exceptionally good basketball players. They can play the game like it has never been played before. When Football Hall of Famer Paul Hornung was asked what was wrong with his former university, Notre Dame, he got into a lot of trouble for saying the school needed to recruit more black athletes.

He knew what he wanted to say; he just didn’t know how to articulate it. In basketball and football I think there is little question that the African American athlete has proven himself to be worthy foe to be reckoned with. He is among the best in his class.

These young men didn’t acquire their skills by chance. Their accomplishments in basketball and football are the results of continuous training, constant practice, a mind to study and master the game and, many times, dedicated and committed parents. Many of the young African American young men you see in the NCAA basketball tournament have been playing basketball since they were six and seven years old.

Many of their parents have spent a fortune and sacrificed their own lives transporting these young men all over the country to various basketball camps and sports clinics. These young men have had the finest training their parents could afford.

However, for most of these young black men, I am not sure if the payoff is worth the effort. According to the latest NCAA statistics, black basketball players in Division I graduate at a rate of 38 percent. Far less than this enter into the National Football League. Consequently, after their college experiences, many of these players and their parents end up disillusioned. Many also end up without work, education and a career. This is sad.

Think of the endless benefits that would await these young men and many other African American men and women, if these same efforts were put in regular school activities and academics. Imagine the many careers and professions these young men could attain if they and their parents were as committed to an academic profession as they are to an athletic profession. With such dedication and commitment, think of what they could be if their heroes were in the sciences, education, law or the arts.

Sports have been a big factor in bridging the gap between blacks and whites in this country. Athletics has helped many African Americans move out of poverty. It has been many African Americans’ ticket to success. But when the last shot is made or missed in the final championship game on April 4 — what then? For the majority of them it’s the end of game — and the end of the road.

Bill Stamps of Cerritos was a supervising L.A. County probation officer before his retirement.