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Michael Hubbard: African Americans and Youth Sports – Misplaced Priorities

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By Michael Hubbard

The Council of Great City Schools recently released a report entitled A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools. The report details the state of black males in the United States. The findings are familiar: black males are more likely to drop out of school than white males, more white males have bachelor degrees than black males and white dropouts earn more than black dropouts.

Sadly, none of this information comes as a surprise. It’s the same bleak picture that’s been painted for years. The question on the table now: What will we do to narrow the widening achievement gap?

In my mind there is a simple solution. We must begin placing less emphasis on little league sports and focus more on programs that develop math, science and critical thinking skills.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports and participated in them as a child myself. But we have allowed sports to consume us. We invest entirely too much time and money into sports and the return is minimal at best.

Many parents will tell you their children participate in sports with hopes of gaining a college scholarship when in reality, very few kids receive athletic scholarships.

According to the NCAA websitetotal of 145,000 Division I and Division II partial and full scholarships were awarded last year. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships. So the odds of sports opening the door to a free college education are, well…not good.

Which begs another question: Why do so Americans in general and Black Americans in particular place so much emphasis on little league sports?

The arguments I hear most often in favor of funneling our kids to the playing fields are it teaches them characterkids need to learn how to compete, or sports keeps kids off the street.

I for one am not willing to put my faith in a sports culture too often filled with overzealous, egotistical, win-at-all cost parents and coaches to build character in my child.

Maybe I’m being naïve, but I thought that’s what our churches, synagogues and mosques were charged with helping us do. As for sports keeping kids off the streets, that’s one of the biggest lies perpetuated on society. The average practice lasts a couple of hours and then guess where a lot of kids end up after that…in the streets.

We need to push our kids into programs like the African American Male Academic Bowl. The AAMAB is an annual academic competition for boys in grades 4-7. Through this competition young boys experience the exhilaration of academic achievement and teamwork.

Another great endeavor that promotes competition in the classroom and teaches critical thinking is the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair. The DRSEF is a research project competition. It is open to 6-12th graders with the best projects from public and private schools. Programs like these deserve more of our focus and enthusiasm.

I realize sports play a major role in the lives of a lot of people.  But if we’re serious about wanting to transform our communities, our priorities have to change. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

Michael Hubbard is a freelance writer and blogger.  A native of Dallas, TX, he is a proud graduate of James Madison High School.  Michael brings a unique, hometown perspective to his political and social commentary.  You can follow his opinions at, and Mike can be reached at

  • Lamar

    Mike, with all due respect, it’s about achieving at a high level in all facets of one’s life.

    In fact it is very possible for kids to become accomplished in both academia AND their chosen sport(s). With our nation developing into walking Big Mac’s, sports presents a healthy and wise pursuit.

    Case in point. DeSoto presents a great case where sports and academia intersect which has led to a tremendous track record of achievement in both worlds:

    Certainly, balance is in order and for parents to develop their kids to the extent of “all or nothing” as it pertains to sports achievement is a recipe for disaster. However, don’t throw the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater” and deprive kids of their dream of being the best they can be in their favorite sport.

    Besides we’re in Texas……..we’re all about competition, winning and in fact being the best one can be. Perhaps Rhode Island would be a better landing place for those less inclined to sports and all that it entails…….


    No one says it better than MLK (in particular the final 3 paragraphs):

    Martin Luther King, Jr. – What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?
    “I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life’s blueprint?

    Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.

    Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

    I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life’s blueprint. Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you fell that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

    Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Set out to do it well.

    And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you–doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, “If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”

    This hasn’t always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don’t drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you’re forced to live in — stay in school.

    And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

    If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

    Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

  • Mike H

    Thanks for the feedback Lamar. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we do away with sports but I believe we invest entirely too much time, money and energy into them and the return is minimal at best. The stats regarding achievement gaps speak for themselves and so does the current state of our communities. Little League sports should not be the top priority for our kids unless we’re ok with having fewer and fewer African Americans attend and graduate college, start businesses and position themselves to have a chance to at least make a decent living. Sports have had very little positive impact on any of the “gaps” that African American communities are faced with nationwide. There are alternatives to sports for teaching kids to compete, so I hold onto my belief that our priorities are misplaced when it comes to sports. The proof is in the pudding.

  • Bab W. Adetiba

    I entirely agree with this post. We, blacks, will (and are) falling by the way side! In my graduating class, Hispanics were commended at a higher percentage than Blacks in science and math! We must entirely do away with being “anti-intellectuals.”

  • Benji Hamilton

    Mr. Hubbard, thank you for your many excellent points. They are truthful and compassionate. But, while our ” our churches, synagogues and mosques” are to be helping us teach young black boys, character, competion and off the streets. What about their FATHERS?!!! That sir, the is the root of problem. We must mend the Black family. That point is absent from your article.
    Black boys need fathers in the home more than they need them on the field.

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