A discussion on support services for student-athletes took a very interesting turn during the question and answer period on one of the panel discussions. Wake Forest sociology professor Earl Smith, a conference organizer, asked panelists why a large graduation gap still exists between white student athletes and black student athletes.
Donald Reed, senior associate athletic director for athlete academic services at the University of Buffalo, offered several reasons: many student athletes come to college without understanding the value of education; the conflicting messages offered to student athletes (do coaches value winning more or going to class?); and the allure of money for playing professional sports. "Especially for African America males, they put a wall up, I see it everyday. They fight it the whole way. The allure of money sucks them in. We live in a microwave era, not an oven era. The students want it quick. 'Give me what I need to get by.' That doesn't instill the value of an education."
Mary Brunk, a former manager for the Wake Forest men's basketball team and now assistant director for academic services at Georgia Tech, agreed that many student athletes see college as a means to an end. "If they can reach that end, playing in the NBA or Europe, that's enough. One of our roles is to help convey what the college experience is about, and help them get something out of it. It's more than just getting a job."
Their responses brought a quick retort from Barbee Myers Oakes, assistant provost for diversity at Wake Forest. "You're unfairly putting it all on the athletes. It's not as simple as they don’t really value an education. What are we doing to give them the skills they need?"
Both Reed and Brunk agreed with Oakes that institutions do have responsibilities to the athletes they recruit. "We as an institution admitted these individuals, we are just as accountable, if not more, than they are," Reed said. "We went into their living room and told them 'you will have an opportunity for an education,' and we take that seriously."
George Cunningham, with the Division of Sport Management at Texas A & M University, said institutions need to send the right message: "If you’re (only) valued for your athletic accomplishments, that's going to negatively impact" how student athletes feel about their academic responsibilities. -- Kerry M. King