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Winning isn’t the only thing: Caring for black student-athletes

Summit examines issues of race in high-level college sports

Leonard Moore remembers a conversation with a college football player that sums up his motivation for the Black Student-Athlete Summit.

“A brother told me, ‘Dr. Moore, if I do well in the class, people say I must have cheated, because I’m an athlete. If I do bad in the class, the same people say I don’t belong here and I can’t compete academically.’”

Moore is a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, associate vice president of academic diversity, and a longtime tutor, mentor and advocate for black athletes. After working at Ohio State and LSU and consulting for programs across the country, Moore came to Texas in 2007 and later founded the summit, which begins its third annual gathering Wednesday in Austin.

His mission is to address the unique challenges faced by black athletes, and to address a race problem that top-level college sports, awash in money and influence, has been hesitant to confront.

“Particularly in the sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball, and track, if you think about the big-time athletic programs, you see over-representation of black athletes in the sport, but in the classroom and across campus there’s a significant under-representation,” Moore said. “You’ve got big-time athletic programs bringing a lot of inner-city kids to the university that quite frankly wouldn’t be allowed to go to that university if they weren’t playing a sport.”

This year’s conference is titled “The Black Student-Athlete in the Age of Black Lives Matter.” About 300 people are registered, including coaches, athletic directors, administrators, athletes, professors and NCAA representatives. (Follow The Undefeated’s coverage of the summit with the hashtag #BlackStudentAthlete.)

The program includes sessions ranging from athlete activism, mental health and black female athletes at historically black colleges to sexual assault, prescription drug abuse and the lack of blacks in college sports leadership. One town hall discussion is on “Thug Life: The Black Student-Athlete and Criminal Behavior.” Moore will lead a conversation about whether black athletes are academically overmatched at some predominantly white institutions.

Keynote speakers include Roc Nation sports agents Roger Montgomery and Joe Branch; Big Sky Conference Commissioner Andrea Williams; and Jamil Northcutt, the NFL’s director of football administration.

The summit concludes Friday with a workshop titled, “The Uplift: What Can We Do to Help the Black Student-Athlete? What Can Black Student-Athletes Do to Help Themselves?”

“You’re going to have scholars there, you’re going to have experts there, you’re going to have well-accomplished people that have seen a lot of things that can assist [colleges] with some of their concerns or issues,” Northcutt said.

“This is an educational venue,” Northcutt said. “This is not a place in the business of coming together to complain.”

Kevin Anderson, athletic director at the University of Maryland, attended the first two summits and is sending a staffer to the third. He said the conference has helped his school focus on helping individual athletes learn off-field lessons.

“If we meet that challenge, there’s nothing more valuable to anybody than to be a productive human being for the rest of their lives,” Anderson said. “If we do our jobs right, that’s what the end product is of our work.”

It’s easy for winning to swallow other values, including education, at the top level of college sports. Victories increase revenues, donations, applications and prestige. The summit is for those with different priorities, who can feel overwhelmed amid the pressure to win.

“These people kind of suffer in silence,” Moore said. “Our colleagues call us crazy, but I realized that I wasn’t the only one who was seeing this, what I call the hidden problem within college athletics.”

“We don’t get glory on Saturday,” he said. “We don’t get any recognition when they win, so for us, our wins come in seeing these kids develop academically or seeing improvements in their character.”

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.