Leaders of the Pack: Why “Majority” athletes are the Minority

Thomas Robinson & Jayla, True Hoop TV (2012)

Thomas Robinson & Jayla, True Hoop TV (2012)

Statistics show that white collegiate athletes graduate a greater percentage than blacks. Critics say this is due to black athletes’ One-and-Done mentality. However, many black athletes are forced to take on heavy responsibilities. Growing up fatherless, having mixed priorities between sports & academics, and parenting are responsible causes that critics overlook.

The One-and-Done mentality comes from seeing past athletes commit to a college team for exactly one season before they decide to drop college and pursue a professional athletic career. Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley are common examples of One-and-Done athletes who had no interest in college. Rose, Mayo and Beasley are only a few basketball players of many that justify what critics say and what statistic show about the graduating rate for black student-athletes. They are also “players who only played one season of college basketball because they had to,” (Beaulieu 74) due to an NBA rule change in 2006 that stated all athletes must commit to a year of college play before joining the league. The above rule change is known as the “One-and-Done Rule” (1) and without it, it is assumed that many black athletes would have skipped out on going to college.

(Picks 1-5 and number 7 are all athletes who stayed in college for 1 year before leaving for the draft. Of the 6 total players, 5 of them were young African American athletes- 83.3%).

Critics make a solid argument, but fail to dive into the more intense factors that affect these athletes completion of college. However, with reasoning, it is unfair to let the outcome of a few reflect what can be said about others alike. While some may say that black and gifted athletes are forgoing a college degree in exchange for the pros, others who have the inside scoop are discovering the hidden reasons. I, myself examined a select few reasons, such as responsibilities and priorities.

Athletics scheduling is the biggest cause of young black athletes having mixed priorities between academics and sports. Commonly, black athletes rank sports over academics because coaches “arranges aspects of the life of the student athlete such as meals, housing, schedules, time usage, and team bonding activities and to some extent study times. Schedules by coaches on student athlete time creates an environment of athlete to athlete intensive interaction and thereby could negate any faculty efforts to academically impact the student athletes effectively” (Njororai 55). Wycliffe W. Simiyu Njororai claims that regardless of the pressure exerted on black athletes, they still have potential to be successful both in and outside of the classroom. However, if they are put into situations where athletic excellence is the sole focus then those athletes will fail to receive proper college education. Sports demand a lot, but we can agree that life itself demands way more. 


Heavy responsibilities, like parenting are not revealed through statistics and percentages of graduating rates. Raymond McElrathbey, a former football player at the University of Clemson became a parent far too soon. When he was 18 years old, McElrathbey life changed dramatically. During the peak of his teen years, McElrathbey had to fight for custody of his younger brother, because his mother was addicted to drugs and his father left the family a while back. It was at that moment, in which Raymond McElrathbey became a parent for his younger brother, Fahmarr. McElrathbey stated, “I’m chasing the dream, but not trying to make my siblings’ lives a nightmare. I know I need to be there more, just for guidance purposes” (Hiskey 1). It’s quite the story for a college freshman, as life threw McElrathbey a curve ball. Stories of McElrathbey and Thomas Robinson are hidden reasons not mentioned when talking statistics.

Thomas Robinson was unable to graduate from the University of Kansas due to the sudden deaths of his mother and grandparents, which happened all in a span of 25 days. With Robinson’s father never being a part of the picture, he had sole responsibility of being the man of the house. While away at school, Robinson had to figure out how to care for Jayla. Forced into parenthood, he could not fulfill his athletic and academic responsibilities and Jayla was unable to live on campus with her big brother because her father wanted custody. Jayla’s father was just released from a 4-year jail sentence and requested custody. Prior to the tragedies and worries, the 6’10 Kansas basketball recruit was motivated to complete his undergraduate degree, which is evident in the fact that he had already gotten halfway through college and was excelling through his sophomore year. Here’s Thomas Robinson’s story…

My writing is not to take any success away from what white athletes accomplish in college. It is to reveal to critics and college graduation percentages among races that there are many undiscovered reasons why a handful of African American Division 1 athletes are not graduating at the rate of their white counterparts. According to Timothy Best, “White folks were socialized to believe that anyone can ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and succeed if only they would try hard and commit to the adage that success comes to all who believe in the American way of life.  Work hard and prosper” (Bess 1). Bess identifies that privileged whites are exposed to the idea that everyone has equal opportunity if they work hard. Bess also states, “It is as though white America forgets the privileges accrued to them simply by virtue of being white” (1).

It is evident that there’s a “They Say, I Say” to this, but at the end of the day in NCAA Division I athletics, black athletes are considered the Majority because they are the most highly recruited prospects and at the top of every coaches recruiting board. On the other hand, they are as well the Minority because they are at the bottom of graduation charts. In college basketball alone, “white players show a 91 percent graduation rate, which is up 7 percent. Black players have a graduation rate at 59 percent, up 3 percent from last year’s study” (1).


Beaulieu, Daniel Ryan. A Framing Analysis: The NBA’s “One-And-Done” Rule. Tampa Bay: USF Scholar Commons, 2012. Print.

Bess, Timothy. “The Privilege of Being White.” Red Room. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.

ESPN. 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2013 <espn.go.com>.

ESPNplayer. “CBB: Kansas Univ’s Thomas Robinson…family matters”. YouTube. YouTube, 27 Jan. 2012. Online video clip. 24 Oct. 2013.

Hiskey, Michelle. “The Ray Ray McElrathbey story” National Collegiate Athletic Association. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Njororai, Wycliffe W. Simiyu. “Challenges of Being a Black Student Athlete on U.S. College Campuses.” Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics 5. (2012): 40-63. Print.


Rose, Beasley Top Two Picks in NBA Draft, YouTube

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