Having been inspired and energized by the President’s announcement of My Borther’s Keeper Initiative I must ask the question: what can be done to substantially increase the number of African-American college graduates? One answer is . . . athletics! And I know a perfect partner for that endeavor . . . the NCAA. Okay it is a crazy idea but I think it could work.
If your child had a choice between leaving college to join the NBA or the NFL draft and potentially make millions of dollars or stay in college to earn a degree but risk hurting his/her draft status, what would you encourage them to do? Take the money or get the degree? My advice would be to make a smart decision based on the statistically best likelihood of success because the numbers don’t lie. Maybe we need to be teaching our young African-American men and women the same thing.
The real question is not about choosing between getting a degree or cashing in on a multimillion dollar contract. That is for the rare professional ready athlete. It is about preparing young African-American men and women for a bright future. Getting a college degree can be one step toward that bright future. In order to get a college degree, first they must go to college.
Everyone likes to debate whether a teenage college athlete should stay in college or pursue a profession career. No one seems to be concerned with the thousands of young men and women who never get the chance to even attend college due to falling prey to their bad environments and making horrible decisions that serve to ruin their lives. Believe it or not the NCAA may be in a better position than the President of the United States to save some of those children from their bad environments. How? The NCAA is in a position to send ambassadors to underprivileged communities to have direct contact with young people of color where they can sell them a dream!
A dream is the first step to success. Numbers do not lie. Yes. Less than 1% of high school athletes ever make it to the professional levels of their perspective sports. Yes. Less then 2% of college athletes (baseball is the only exception with an outrageous 11.6%) make it to the professional level. The dream the NCAA can sell is moving out of poverty through education. It is not all about being a professional athlete as opposed to being a professional. Because the numbers do not lie. Anything that works to motivate young African American men and women to strive to go to college is a good thing. Plus, approximately four out of every five or three out of every four college athletes leave school with a degree. College graduates make significantly more money over the course of their lifetimes than non-college graduates. The unemployment rate for college graduates, even African-American college graduates, is significantly lower than for non-college graduates.
The bottom line is this: dreams keep you alive, focused, and energized. A dream is the first step to success, but a belief in your dream is the second and most important step in that march to success. It is easy for young African-American men or women to engage in risky, foolish, and/or criminal behavior when they do not value their future. It is easy to throw away something that no one seems to value: their lives and their future. It is a different story when they value tomorrow. The NCAA can help young men and women of color recognize the value of their tomorrow. The NCAA through ambassadors can help cultivate dreams and also show how the dreams can come true by staying away from trouble, making good decisions, developing conflict resolution skills, and taking advantage of all the educational opportunities available to them.
In Chicago, the most dangerous time for young people of color is the summer time. That is when much of the violence occurs. It has been repeatedly shown that small things like summer basketball camps have helped lower crime and steer teens away from crime. Can you imagine if the NCAA stepped up and set up summer football, basketball, and baseball camps in underprivileged areas around the country? Can you imagine how many young lives would be saved simply by placing teenagers in a positive and safe environment instead of on the streets in the middle of danger? Then factor in the effect of exposing underprivileged teens to a plan to show them how in a few short years they can go from being in grade school to playing in the NBA or on a college campus where there are no bars, guards, or judges. It also can be shown how even if they do not make it to the pros the skills and education they earn in college can translate to a financially secure and emotionally satisfying career in various different ways.
It is one thing to have a wish. It is entirely another thing to have a dream. In order to have a dream it takes faith in your ability to achieve it. Sometimes in order to have a dream it is first necessary for someone to plant the seed of faith by revealing a plan to potential success. NCAA sports camps can provide that plan. It can make a big difference to a teenager being told by a college player that is the same age as their older sibling how to use school as a tool for their success and how to make smart, strong, and good decisions to guard their future. The first key to unlocking any prison is the mind. Selling underprivileged teenagers on a future that is within their grasp is the first step to walking away from bad decisions and bad habits onto a path of good decisions and good habits. It is the truth. The numbers don’t lie.