Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Amobi Okoye and Myron Rolle — A New Trend for Black College Athletes?

June 9th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

Speaking of Myron Rolle, I’m sure I’m not the only person who, upon learning about his outstanding academic achievements, was reminded of another Black scholar-athlete, Amobi Okoye.

I wrote a blog post on Okoye back in April of 2007. You can find it HERE. If you are not familiar with Okoye, or if you’ve never heard of him, here’s a quick summary:

Born in 1987 in Anambra, Nigeria to Igbo parents, Okoye and his family moved with his family to the U.S. in 1999. Okoye was then 12 years old. He’d skipped two grades at his school in Nigeria, and by the age of 13 he was not only a sophomore at his Huntsville, Alabama high school, but a varsity football player, as well. Although he was accepted into the freshman class at Harvard, Okoye chose to attend the University of Louisville for his undergraduate education, largely because of the strength of Louisville’s football program. This past year, Okoye, having completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology in only three years, became the youngest player ever selected as a first round pick in the NFL draft. At the age of 19 he was chosen 10th overall by the Houston Texans. Currently a defensive tackle for the Texans, Okoye remains strongly interested in psychology, and has expressed his desire to pursue a Ph.D. in that field — preferably at Harvard — during the off season.

My thought, and I will be brief because I have only recently begun to entertain this notion, is that as African and Afro-Caribbean students become a greater and greater proportion of the Black student population on U.S. campuses, we may also be seeing the beginnings of a new kind of Black male college athlete, one  whose excellence on the playing field is not counterbalanced by his or academic underpreformance. Instead, this scholar-athlete demonstrates the highest levels of achievement in both areas.

Actually, new is not quite the right world for this phenomenon. Indeed, the tradition of the Black college athlete as academic standout and student leader hearkens back to the era of Fritz Pollard, Paul Robeson and any number of other early to mid-20th century sports figures for whom intellectual and athletic achivement were considered equal components of college success. Such students continue to be more common that many would think, especially in lower-profile sports and even in high profile, high revenue sports on campuses with low-profile athletic programs. It is primarily when you shine the light on Division One’s most prestigious football and basketball programs that the phenomenon of the Black male athlete as remedial academic performer seems most common.

I predict that in the coming years, the Myron Rolles and Amobi Okoyes of the world will become more and more commonplace, as colleges clamor for the chance to admit talented athletes whose acceptance into college will not be complicated by the need to push and finagle in order to meet the minimun admissions requirements.  Often the children of university graduates and holders of advanced degrees, such applicants will be require less academic grooming and hand-holding, before and during their college years.

There are, of course, some definite downsides to this scenario, the most troubling of which is that, should such Black male student-athletes become the norm, then a number of African American young men from more disadvantaged backgrounds will never get the opportunity to pursue a career in professional sports. The, though, is that this fact may finally, FINALLY push the NFL to develop the type of minor league system that exists in baseball. Such a league would, at last, decouple the pursuit of a football career from the necessity of attending college.

Of course, all of this is a long way down the road. In the interim, I will be watching for and blogging on Black scholar-athletes whose achievements in the classroom defy stereotypes and expectations.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in African American Students, African Americans, Black Students, Current Events, Higher Education, NCAA, race, Sports

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