Race and Interest Convergence in NCAA Sports
Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 17, 2012
28 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2012
Date Written: August 13, 2012
College football and men’s basketball teams, once racially segregated, are now disproportionately populated by African Americans whose labor has helped make the college sports business stunningly lucrative. At the same time, National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) amateurism rules forbid these young men from receiving any compensation beyond the cost of attending college and reserve the vast financial rewards of the college sports industry for its managers who are almost exclusively of European American descent. This regime, thus, adversely burdens African Americans who are required to relinquish the pecuniary fruits of their labor.
Of course, despite its many flaws, even this system is vastly superior to the prior regime under which African Americans were excluded altogether from participating in college sports. History demonstrates, however, that racial integration occurred not always as a result of enlightened wisdom on the part of university administrators, but instead primarily out of their commercial interests. In that sense, the racial integration of college sports fits nicely within Professor Derrick Bell’s interest convergence theory that the advancement of African Americans in society has been possible only when it converges with the interests of European Americans and not when it challenges the superior social status of the majority. Thus, while the inclusion of African Americans in college football and men’s basketball has enabled college athletic teams to compete successfully — and therefore to enjoy bountiful economic gain — longstanding NCAA amateurism rules simultaneously require those athletes to labor under a modern form of peonage where others harvest the fruits of their labor. Under such a system, the superior social and economic status of the European American managers of college sports remains intact.
Among other things the Article traces the history of racial integration in college sports and demonstrates that integration usually took place when it simultaneously served the economic interests of white-run bowl organizations and universities to field the most competitive teams and thereby to enjoy the consequent financial reward. In doing so, the Article shows that the history of racial integration in college sports closely mirrors Bell’s interest convergence theory regarding the advancement of African Americans in society generally.
Keywords: NCAA, Sports, Student-Athlete, Race, Integration, Desegregation, Interest Convergence, Athletics
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