A Rebuttal To Dr. Watkins

By Gregory Moore
Updated: July 30, 2008

SAN ANTONIO — A very good friend of mine, Dr. Boyce Watkins, recently spoke on the issue of paying college athletes.

As many of you know, I am a strong proponent for a college athlete getting an education but I’m not too thrilled about them being paid for playing a game that they were recruited to play in.

Now I’m sure Doc is going to disagree with me on a lot of these points but I think a healthy discussion about this serious topic is in order; especially from those in the Black community because it is this particular community where most of the athletes are coming from for many of the schools (talent wise) and who are being affected the most by not being paid.

First, let me give Doc his props on this topic.

This isn’t easy to talk about and with someone who has a finance background; it is quite refreshing for him to actually give some astute ideologies on the topic.

Very recently Dr. Watkins gave his platform for such a plan and I want to share that with you. In a recent e-mail that he shared with the YourBlackWorld family, Dr. Watkins said, ” I only want fairness for the athletes and their mothers. I am sick of seeing an athlete generate millions for his coach, while simultaneously watching his family struggle to pay the rent every month.”

I don’t think anyone wants to see a mother or family have to struggle to make ends meet but Doc and I are on opposite ends of this debate because I don’t see college athletes as the bread winners of their families.

In the fifteen years that I have covered professional sports, I have seen Black athletes come and go. I have seen those who make really good money screw it up, go broke and become desolate.

I have seen those athletes who were mediocre as far as a pro skill set is concerned, work hard, better their game, increase their marketability and end up living quite comfortably once their playing days are over.

I have also seen college athletes struggle but also I have seen those who know that the college game isn’t for them make a beeline to the pro ranks; where they can get paid.

This is where Dr. Watkins and I part ways on this topic. From my standpoint as a columnist and sports writer on both a local and national plane, a college athlete should not be paid for going to college; his reward for helping a school win the big game is the scholarship that he is awarded.

Make no mistake about this though. Do I think that the NCAA could do a better job at changing its antiquated rules? Sure they can and Doc and I are in agreement with that. However, college athletes should not be beholden to a family to be the sole breadwinner.

To me that is just undue and unfair pressure on a young man who is probably just trying to better himself and go after his own dreams. He doesn’t need any dead weight putting undue pressure on him to get everybody else out of a hellhole that he didn’t ask to be put into.

That is where I believe that this is a sickness in the Black community. For some strange, enigmatic reason, black families who have talented athletes but who are living in poverty stricken areas think that that young man is their meal ticket to champagne dreams and a caviar oasis of the good life.

I hear about it every day. I see it happen more times than I would like to. And do you know what ends up happening? While the ride to the big house is fun, the moment the ride is over and reality sits in, these families are no better then than they were when they left their impoverished conditions.

Many black families think that if their talented child or children make it in sports, that they will get out of the ghetto.

I’m not going to try and play Dr. Greg here but people, in the 21st century being ‘ghetto’ is a state of mind; not the condition in where you live. I have been to some housing projects where it looked like a set from the Candyman movie and yet the families inside these structures live a clean, joyful and productive life.

The mother, and sometimes, father work hard to provide for their kids. The kids get their homework, help by doing chores and they bond. As situations arise to where they can move on to a better neighborhood, the core values that were already present follow them and they remain that happy family unit.

But then I have been to some very nice neighborhoods in which a family who may have material wealth, are as “ghetto” as they want to be. The children are disrespectful to the parents. The mother is disrespectful in her own right. Sloughfulness, bad language, a home that is in shambles, cars that are so jacked up that not even the “Pimp My Ride” crew can fix them and I’m not talking about ‘hoopties’, I’m talking about once clean luxury cars that have now been turned into a rolling pile of garbage.

More often times than not, it is this type of family who has a young man struggling to keep that so called lifestyle up and nobody is helping him.

That aforementioned family example usually stems from a college athlete who believes he needs to get paid to play and he has that unfathomable pressure of being the breadwinner in his family.

It shouldn’t be like that; not in college.

Paying these athletes while in college isn’t going to help them either. The problem that is before us goes far beyond coaches making millions and schools making hundreds of millions.

What we have here is an acute situation in which a generation or two firmly believe that the only way to get out of poverty is through sports. These families are not looking at the ramifications of not being prepared for life after the last whistle is blown.

If you pay a college athlete while he is in school, why give him a scholarship? And then if you are giving him a salary, are you not wiping out his amateur status?

If you check the NCAA rules manual, it clearly states that college athletes must be of amateur status. That means they cannot receive payment for playing for the school.

Now is that harsh and unreal in the 21st century?

Probably but we also have to be very pragmatic about the situation here. A college athlete is there to get a semblance of a college education. I firmly believe that if a black family has a child playing for school only to try and make the pro ranks, then they are there for the wrong reason and they will not benefit from anything that is offered.

I’m sure Doc doesn’t agree but while he is looking at the financial end of things, I am looking at the academic end of it. I have way too many studies from various professors who have documented the graduation rates of Black athletes versus white or non-Black athletes and those numbers are just staggering.

Where is the culpability of getting an education fall with these athletes? Why are we willing to lower the bar of standards for them when they need to be raised higher?

I firmly believe that while there can be some type of rule change that allows these athletes some sort of financial freedom and have a quality of life that would be on par with their classmates, they don’t need to become paid employees of the school.

By the same token the families who find themselves at hardship of not being able to attend games or what not need to start living in a financially responsible manner so that they can do so.

It is not a college’s job to make sure that momma can come see Junior play every Saturday; that’s up to momma. If she doesn’t have the means or the family doesn’t have the means, then they need to find the means to make it happen.

College athletics does not need to become the socio-economic version of welfare for college athletes and their hardships. There are college students who do not play a sport who are in a hardship as well but they find a way.

It is time for us to stop trying to find an excuse for our poor economic and societal problems in the Black community and start owning up to them.

And paying our college athletes just isn’t the right message I think needs to be sent to our young people.