Are Black athletes in college really being prepared for life after athletics? This is a question being asked by Dr. Billy Hawkins, a kinesiology professor at the University of Georgia.
Hawkins has worked in higher education for over two decades, with his teaching and research focus in sociology of sport and cultural studies, sport management, and other similar areas. He also examined the experiences of Black male athletes in college sport in the book The New Plantation: Black Athletes and College Athletics.
He recently spoke at the College Athletes’ Rights & Empowerment (CORE) conference last week at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and also was featured in this week’s Another View.
Among Hawkins’ influences is legendary sociologist and Black athlete advocate Dr. Harry Edwards, who also spoke at last week’s CARE conference. Like Edwards, Hawkins also is acutely aware of the “double lives” as a Black athlete and Black student on big-time college campuses. In a MSR phone interview before the conference, Hawkins talked about how little is discussed during March Madness about the off-court experiences of athletes “where 98 to 100 percent of the [players] are African American.”
“A large percentage [of Black athletes] may not graduate,” explained Hawkins. “My question becomes what of the quality of their educational experiences [is] enough for them to be gainfully employed? I think that gets lost oftentimes.”
Hawkins said he tries to convey that to his students, including those who play at Georgia, a member of the Southeastern Conference where sports — especially football — more often than not cast a large shadow over the entire campus in terms of importance. “I try to inform them on what’s the most important thing. I try to paint the picture as realistic[ally] as possible. That’s the best I can do because the machine is huge when you talk about the SEC and the University of Georgia, and its million dollar athletic budget.
“I try my best to share as much knowledge as I can to the students who take my class — not just Black athletes but athletes in general.”
But Hawkins noted that it’s often hard to convince a young man to heed his advice. “If you are a young 18, 19, 20, 21-year-old, the last thing you think about is keeping up with your [school] work amidst all this celebration and all of this excitement.”
He also pointed out that players in big events such as the Final Four or the National Football Championship are less focused. “I see it in football — on the week of a big game, their minds aren’t necessarily…on what I am teaching in class. They are worried about the game, because they are going to be on national television in front of their family and the world.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand how this takes away from [a] quality educational experience,” concluded Hawkins.
Dr. Hawkins also is featured in this week’s Another View as we conclude “The Shadow Side of March Madness” series.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.