The Exploitation of Black College Athletes

{Note: I released my third book entitled, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens,” on April 6, 2014. Check it out, and help me spread the word!}


To be Black in America means (among other things) to exist in a constant state of detachment and illusion. For no one wants to repeatedly be reminded of their “otherness,” oppression, or exclusion. Rather than acknowledge such disturbing realities, we’d rather pretend all is well or at least not as disturbing as it actually is. Experts refer to this as “Cognitive dissonance.” We common folk simply refer to this as “living in denial.”

Seeking to remain numb and to minimize or escape the intense and dehumanizing pain of white supremacy and our failure to DO something to challenge it – out of feelings of fear or hopelessness – we insulate ourselves in the bubbles of work, recreation, drugs, simplistic optimism (“At least we have a Black president”), or the reliable tactic of willful ignorance (“I don’t know, and don’t want to know” or “Don’t blow my high”).

But bubbles are fragile and they only create very thin barriers between ourselves and the painful existence of injustice, exploitation and broken promises an arm’s length away. Inevitably,  a speech, report, or set of statistics emerges to “bust our bubble” of complacency and denial.

Such is the case with HBO’s episode of Real Sports entitled “Gaming the System, a look at NCAA student-athlete academic reform,” which aired on April 6, 2014. The segment exposed how major American universities exploit the talent and labor of student-athletes to enrich themselves, while short-changing athletes of their college education. View this episode for yourself, below:

The revelations concerning how Black athletes  deprived of their rightful education are shocking:

  • Star athletes at major colleges are often put into fake classes they never had to actually attend and for which they never personally registered.
  • At the University of Georgia, 7-15% of athletes in this  can’t read on a college level.
  • In one example, an athlete graduated from college despite failing 13 classes and 7 grades of “D.” HBO had that college graduate take a test. He scored 67% in reading, 26% in writing, and 20% in mathematics. His academic aptitude was that of a middle school student.
  • Many Black star athlete
  • HBO highlighted another Black athlete that kept a box of Dr. Seuss books hidden under his bed; he used them to teach himself to read.

When these students sign letters of intent to play at universities across this nation, they do so with the understanding that they will provide their athletic talent in exchange for a tuition-free college education. All signs show that they’ve been  cheated. Their athletic talent helps universities earn billions in lucrative media deals, ticket sales, and sports merchandise revenue, but many of these athletes graduate with degrees they can’t use to find gainful employment, start a business or much of anything else.

This is not to imply that all student-athletes are academically inadequate. Nor am I suggesting that exploited athletes and their families take no personal responsibility for bring academically proficient. But many of these universities – like most corporations – place profit margin over people and those disproportionately affected are Black student-athletes.

I recently wrote a new book entitled “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” I’ve also written an article discussing the tragic status of Black youth in America. Stories like the one HBO reported bust our bubbles of denial and force us to recognize that our children, teens, and young adults are systematically steered away from self and community empowerment and steered towards inadequacy and incompetence. This situation is deplorable. After enslavement and Jim Crow, after the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, Black people are still denied a fair and adequate education!There is still an agenda to keep us impoverished and politically impotent! I am outraged. And you should be also.


Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba wrote “The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook,” and most recently, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak to your organization, contact him at

4 thoughts on “The Exploitation of Black College Athletes

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these words with us. We hear so much these days about exploitation of athletes for monetary gain, and the most common rebuttal is that these student athletes are being compensated with a college degree. This post turns that argument on its head, and I’m grateful for that.

    I would be interested to know if you feel that any athletes at HBCUs are being exploited this way. Naturally, for the most part those schools are not money-making powerhouses like major conference schools are, and one would hope that institutions that have historically served black students make persistence and academic rigor a priority. However, I can see how money can distract anyone from their true mission. My apologies if I’m deflecting from the real issue at hand.

  2. I live in Huntsville, AL, and this has been going on for years. Some of the young men here graduate from high school not prepared for college. But they get these scholarships and off they go. I’m interested in finding out how many of Alabama and Auburn football players actually graduate and find employment in their major.

  3. I am outraged and disgusted! FAKE CLASSES?? Talk about compromising one’s integrity… This IS modern day slavery. The 13th amendment may have suggested the removal of slavery, with the exception of incarceration, yet, this “opportunity” to play college sports looks like a master-slave relationship that has taken on a different form.
    It’s so sad to see this type if thing going on where these young black men and their families are duped into signing their lives over to be exploited. However, I’m not surprised that this type thing is going on. Imagine what is going on that we don’t know…

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