Who Got Next?: Jemele Hill on the Future of HBCU Sports


Source: AP/AURN Graphic
Source: AP/AURN Graphic
Reading Time: 2 minutes

As sports revenue increases by the billions so does the Black athlete’s self-awareness. Writer and host, Jemele Hill joins the discussion on how today’s young Black athletes choosing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can impact sports and positively affect the Black community.

The open secret

Hill: College players have a lot more power than I think they actually know they have. I would say that about the Black community in general. In our country, we don’t make much anymore. The one thing we can produce is athletes. WE can produce Black culture, and Black people have a dominating presence in both.

The bottom line

The NCAA’s athletic department in 2019 earned $18.9 billion. In Division 1, 56% of the male athletes are Black; 48% of football players are Black men; 46% of women’s college basketball players are Black.

The reality

Hill: White society had no interest in educating us, so we had to do it ourselves. And from that was born a Black middle class, a Black upper class—an ability for us to rise and have some form of social mobility. It was not perfect, clearly, but it was a way to do it.

The Black effect

HBCUs produce 20% of Black college graduates in the United States despite enrolling only 10% of all African American students and accounting for only 3% of the country’s college and university overall.

The struggle interest

Hill: I know ESPN has made a reasonable commitment to HBCU football and broadcasting certain games. I wonder if having a channel to HBCU sports could survive. I do think there’s an appetite for people who went to HBCUs, or people who understand what [a] good brand of sports it is, that they would want to see this on a regular basis.

The lost promotion

Although platforms such as Aspire TV and Black College Sports Network (BCSN) do their part, the HBCU sports channel is practically nonexistent on major networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports, when compared to other college and major leagues.

The legacy benefit

Hill: The players have to be playing the long game. The NBA punishes players who start younger. Even beyond draft in your career, you retire pretty early—early 30s when you’re done. The way you sell education is telling them, “This ‘sport(s)’ is going to end at some point. So, what is it that you’re passionate about that you can do besides this? What is your contribution, other than just being a great athlete?” The value of a Black athlete going to an HBCU is that the educational mission feels different from any other predominantly white institution (PWI).

The forever truth

HBCUs are the home of Black education and also the backbone of a Black community–one that created the Black culture that helped build the United States. The duality of Black American existence is to survive and advance within an oppressive system. A system that would rather profit from our labor with minimal payback, while telling us to be grateful for what we do have. However, younger Black athletes–united in recognizing their worth and investing their value into the institutions representing them–could further spread Black empowerment while strengthening our communities.

You can watch the full conversation with Jemele Hill below:

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