Black Labor vs White Wealth in Collegiate Basketball

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Jackson, Titus
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Middle Tennessee State University
Abstract The purpose of this ethnographic study is to explore the landscape of college basketball from a former player’s perspective and to focus on labor and wealth in the sport. As history appears to repeat itself, my intent is to show readers this type of ideology has been around for over 400 years. Race has always been a present feature in American society, as we are structured in race hierarchy from white to dark—beginning when the first slave arrived in this country. This hierarchy story has been passed down from generation to generation in the African American community as it took passage during the beginning of slavery. As a young Black kid growing up in the south, I could identify how members of my community would both see and learn this hierarchy rather quickly. This was especially true during the 1970s when I was a kid. Reflecting on these truisms, one of the things I find most frustrating about us as African American athletes is how as a collective whole, we often underestimate our abilities and talents. We must learn to understand that we are more than just figures that can run and jump for sports. As we are doing most of the labor in college-run programs that produce revenue in the billions; we constantly see a distinction between labor and wealth as it pertains to those who are making the decisions and money. Based on my findings and experience, revenue continues to soar year after year. With so much money that is earned through college basketball, there should be no excuses for former players like me not to graduate with a meaningful degree and seek employment from the very system that is profiting from Black talent. Yet many college players do not graduate with meaningful degrees or, if they do graduate, the education behind that degree is lacking because of the culture that still exists between sports, the people in charge, and the African American athletes who are the force behind the profits. Puzzling over this conundrum led me to develop the guiding question for this study: Why do African American male basketball players continue to lag in getting a quality education and professional positions within college athletics? We keep hearing it is going to getting better; however, that rhetoric is often used as a cover-up because the issues are the same from when I played college basketball over 30 years ago.