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Scholars meet to discuss impact of affirmative action decision on Black athletes

richard lapchik

Photo courtesy of Richard Lapchik. 

Richard Lapchik, the director for the Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sports, is pictured in his office.

Richard Lapchick was invited to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in South Africa for his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement on May 10, 1994 — a day where he said he realized the power of athlete activism.

Following the inauguration, Lapchick said he and Mandela went to the Zambia vs. South Africa soccer match, instead of the diplomatic parties held in Mandela’s honor, because of the powerful sports boycott that assisted in ending apartheid in the country.

Lapchick, now the director of the Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sports and professor emeritus at the University of Central Florida, said stories like these give him hope that student-athlete activists can have an impact in a collegiate world post-affirmative action.

On July 19, scholars from UNC, University of Massachusetts Boston, Virginia Commonwealth University, Central Florida and Virginia State University gathered for a Zoom discussion of the “High-Stakes Issue: College Sports Without Affirmative Action.”

In response to the June 29 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC that struck down affirmative action, the webinar’s leaders examined the implications of the ruling on college athletics and what athletes can do in the wake of this decision.

UNC Professor of Law and Wade Edwards Distinguished Scholar Erika Wilson said that if predominantly Black athletes are being admitted to schools with no race-conscious admissions practices, it sends a message about the role of Black students on campus: to labor as athletes, while not being considered and valued as a full student.

“This is significant because athletics has long been a door for Black students to get into universities they otherwise may not have gotten into,” she said. “The end of race-conscious admissions will certainly — at a place like UNC, depending on which direction the administration decides to go — influence the entire environment for African American students."

Joseph Cooper, the chair of sport leadership and administration at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said at predominantly white universities, Black student-athletes are highly visible as the face of athletics, while simultaneously invisible and under-supported in mental health resources and representation in coaching and athletic departments.

“There's layers to the trauma that Black people experience,” he said. “Just because you put a uniform on and you perform well and maybe you earn a little bit more money or a little bit more visibility and you might have more Twitter followers, it doesn't heal the wounds fully.”

The ruling also has an impact on historically Black colleges and universities, chair of the educational leadership department at Virginia State University, Michael McIntosh, said. He said HBCUs will likely see an increase in enrollment, but these schools cannot stand in the gap because they are underfunded and lacking the same programs as predominantly white colleges, like study abroad programs.

For every $1 a predominantly white university receives, HBCUs receive 59 cents, McIntosh said.

Cooper said that organization is critical to stand up for admissions equity. Student-athletes are in a unique position, he said, because they can strategically leverage their influence and economic impact. He suggested that Black college athletes from HBCUs and historically white colleges band together in activist efforts. 

Tomika Ferguson is the assistant dean of student affairs and inclusive excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University and a former student-athlete. She said college presidents need to have courage to ensure universities remain equitable.

“If there is no courage at the top, there will be no resources at the bottom," she said.


@dthsports |

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