April 14, 2011

Let's Continue the Conversation

Though the experts on race and college sports who gathered at Wake Forest University this week for “Losing to Win” disbanded today, Wake Forest Provost Jill Tiefenthaler said she hopes the discussions do not end here.

The responsibility for keeping the conversation going belongs to many, she said: “In a society that loves to pigeonhole young athletes, that oftentimes defines them by what they do instead of who they are, we should help them focus on a few key questions like: Who am I? Who shall I be? We offer students a rich journey of discovery when we care for them as individuals first, athletes second. When we do that, we are on the way to helping them become better people.”

Wake Forest will keep the conversation going through this blog, and the university’s Journal of Law & Policy will dedicate one issue to law review-style articles from more than a dozen “Losing to Win” presenters.

“The conversations we have here will most certainly be extended across the nation as academic leaders, researchers and athletic departments grapple with the practical and theoretical implications of college athletics – and the athletes themselves struggle with the demands and expectations placed on them,” Tiefenthaler said. -- Alicia Roberts

Follow the Money to Find the Problems in College Sports

Want to know where the problems lie when it comes to intercollegiate sports and race? Follow the money.

“The money is going to be the best way to decipher when something is not being done correctly,” said “Losing to Win” panelist Kenneth Shropshire, lawyer and professor at the Wharton School. “People of color and women are not at the end of the money trail. … We are not getting paid.”

Shropshire’s colleagues on the “Losing to Win” wrap-up panel suggested a few solutions:

 Change the rules for post-season play. To get a bowl game, a college program would have to show the NCAA that it graduates at least 50 percent of its student athletes, said Amy Perko of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

 Get college chancellors and presidents involved in developing – and implementing – the solutions. “Any reform movement within NCAA structure has been led by presidents and chancellors,” said Bernard Franklin, NCAA executive vice president.

 Set aside some of the money college sports programs earn to create support systems for at-risk recruits. “In an effort to produce better athletes … we’re now enlarging their athletic life,” said Deborah Stroman of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. When universities limit student-athletes that way, it leaves less time for them to bond with non-athletes, form relationships with professors, join social groups and gain independence.

“It always starts with this: What’s in the best interest of the athlete? … That’s whose blood’s being spilled,” Shropshire said. “The idea of shifting the money to the direction where the work actually comes from – I don’t have trouble with that.” --Alicia Roberts

More Student Reflections on Losing to Win

Wake Forest Student Steven Johns reflects on the Losing to Win Conference and the Media Panel in particular.

As a student of Wake Forest University, I was very pleased with this conference and the Media panel in particular. Thomas O’Toole from USA Today; Kevin Blackistone from the University of Maryland; LaChina Robinson from ESPN/Fox; and Frank Matthews from Diverse Issues in Higher Education, discussed the implicit biases formed by the media regarding intercollegiate athletics. The panel raised issues about the use of a certain “code” language in the media that inherently creates bias and separation in college sports.

A recurring theme in the panel discussion was the description of athletes of different race. The panel noted that the media often describes African American athletes as “naturally talented” and “athletic” while comparable Caucasian athletes are often described as “intelligent.” This “code” language emphasizes stereotypes of black and white athletes even if the labels given to these athletes are not necessarily true. Other issues raised by the panel included the issue of minority representation in the field of sports journalism and the underrepresentation of women athletics.

Not only did the panel raise awareness of the issues at hand, but they also provided necessary information that could lead to solutions. The combination of experience and knowledge that this panel brought to the conference allowed for all those in attendance to realize the problems of the current media system and the racial biases that still exist in a world that is often thought to be free of racism and segregation.

Policies Needed to Stop Race and Gender Discrimination in Sports

New policies and regulations should be enacted that are specifically designed to address the needs of African-American females, said Professor of Law Alfred Mathewson from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

“As it stands now, a woman has the right to sue for discrimination based on race or based on gender, but she does not have the right to sue on the combination of race and gender,” he said. “If she were allowed the right to sue for both, she would be entitled to damages for both.”

Mathewson also said that the Department of Education should work to define discrimination, as it applies specifically to athletes who are also women of color, and prescribe remedies for this discrimination that target high school sports. “There also needs to be equitable use of funding in public education for both men’s and women’s sports."