In the aftermath of the not-guilty verdict rendered for George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, attention is being paid to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” and similar statutes in states across the country. Mega entertainment superstar Stevie Wonder has announced he will not perform in the state of Florida or any state that has a similar law. Fans in quite a few places will lose out on seeing the legendary singer perform because a large bloc of states has acted in the same manner as Florida.
Joining Florida, the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming have adopted “self-defense” laws.
While these states are unique by region and demographics, there is something they all have in common. These states have major public universities where Black athletes, even on campuses with few Black students, compete in intercollegiate athletics and drive revenue for the university. It begs the question: Should Black athletes play for universities in states where they are targets? All of these places recruit Black athletes and benefit financially from their athletic talents though many of these “student-athletes” never receive a degree. And contrary to popular belief, lucrative professional contracts are not awaiting most of these athletes.
Imagine what the University of Alabama, ‘Ole Miss or Penn State athletics would look like without Black athletes. It was only in the last 50 years that some of these universities opened their doors to Black students, let alone allow Black athletes to don the school colors on the playing field. For years many Blacks rooted against Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and their fellow southern compatriots no matter what team they were playing. Even today, the University of Mississippi holds onto its Jim Crow legacy with the playing of Dixie and its fans rebel yell. Our victory over Jim Crow produced a cruel gift. Where during segregation the best Black talent flocked to the nation’s historically Black colleges, once the barrier fell, the very places that resisted the admittance of Black students leaped at the opportunity to horde Black athletes. It still amazes me to see a Black quarterback on any white southern university’s football team because for many years coaches deemed Black players not intelligent enough to play the position. It’s why Condredge Holloway’s years at the University of Tennessee were followed by so many Black college football fans.
Now, of course, the devil’s advocates will claim that we should give these kids a pass because they are receiving a first-rate education. That might be the case but that degree, if they earn one, will provide little protection during an encounter with someone claiming their right-to-kill under a stand your ground doctrine. The very schools our young men and women are competing for in these states produce the alumni who go on to serve in the legislature who sponsor these statutes and lobbyists who push for these laws. And they yield alumni and athletic boosters who contribute to the legislators behind these laws and support the law enforcement officials who enforce them and the judges who uphold them.
It is a cruel irony that in places where these laws undoubtedly endanger all citizens, but are particularly threatening to Black youth, and Black men are no doubt in the crosshairs, it is Black athletes who are driving prosperity for public universities in many instances. We think it’s time to suggest a different choice for our gifted young athletes.
Clearly, the U.S Supreme Court in its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin sent a clear message that institutions of higher education will be held to a higher scrutiny when using race to expand diversity on campus. And many of these states are working to restrict voting rights through Voter ID laws. The Supreme Court ruling in Fisher combined with the trend of adopting “stand your ground” and Voter ID laws are a clear message to Black youth that their presence is not wanted unless they can score touchdowns or make baskets or run like the wind on a track, or perform at an elite level in some other sport. We need not be the entertainment for the oppressor.
Here is a novel idea. Since you now have a choice, when during Jim Crow you had one option, we hope more Black athletes will begin to choose historically Black colleges over white universities in these states. The history behind our HBCUs is glorious and the alumni they have produced are beyond impressive. A return “home” by Black athletes would cause many of these white universities to hemorrhage and provided a tremendous boost to Black college enrollment and revenues. We hope our nation’s historically Black colleges and universities are paying attention, and will make a concerted effort to convince our young athletes that an HBCU campus is a better life choice.