A Hoop Dreams Reality Check


UPDATED OCTOBER 21, 2014, 12:30 PM

Many people see sports as the only viable pathway to the American Dream for poor African-American families.

Young athletes often have coaches who live and work in middle class communities. This provides exposure to those who have achieved the American Dream and can also translate into opportunities to attend better schools in exchange for playing on a team. If successful, young athletes can earn a college scholarship that allows them the opportunity to receive an education that otherwise would be unaffordable. In sports like football, basketball and baseball, the most successful athletes earn a living playing on the professional level.

Fewer than 1 percent of high school athletes ever make a living playing professional sports. Education is a better bet.

Certainly, physical activity, including sports, is important for all children. When these activities are part of a well-rounded life they provide stability, stress relief and better health outcomes. But more often than not, sports do not provide a pathway out of poverty. When young African-Americans place a singular focus on sports — at the exclusion of everything else — it can become very problematic.

Fewer than 1 percent of high school athletes ever make a living playing professional sports. The odds are similar to winning the lottery; not a good investment, even though the winners win big.

In terms of college education as a pathway to the American Dream; the graduation rate for African-American men on athletic scholarships at Division 1 colleges and universities averages at around 50 percent. Collegiate scholarships are very much worthwhile if, and only if, student-athletes take full advantage of their opportunities.

Yet, African-Americans continue to invest heavily in sports by sending their sons to sports camps, putting them on travel teams and so forth, perhaps because American culture defines sports as the best way for poor African-Americans to get ahead.

The reality is that competitive sports is a very narrow pathway with very low probability for success and from a purely pragmatic standpoint, these same young athletes would be better off pursuing an education than putting all of their eggs into the “sports basket.” If young African-Americans are lucky and talented enough to get a sports scholarship, they should make their education and graduation the priority.

Earl Smith is a sociologist and the author of “Race, Sport and the American Dream” and co-author of “African-American Families: Myths and Realities,” which includes a chapter on sports.

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.nytint-post Topics: Culture

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