Student-Athletes and the NFL Culture

USA TODAY Sports

I take a look at some fall out from the UNC report about Student-Athletes.

Last week I wrote an article about Jonathan Martin and his relationship with Classics. I wanted to get to know more about Martin and both a new 49er and a Classicist. But I also wanted to investigate his relationship with academics and sports. In the article, I linked to this report that found that certain college athletes at UNC (specifically, 60% of the sample size tested) read at or below the 8th grade level.

Since writing that post, I have been looking into the subject a bit more. If you want the comprehensive reading list, you should check out some of the following articles I will summarize (and link to) below.

It seems as if a huge part of the problem is the fact that UNC has set up at least one class, discussed in this NY Times article, into which student-athletes were placed such that they could maintain a grade point average without doing actual work. The class, AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina, was taught be Professor Julius Nyang'oro, who is currently facing a felony conviction due to the class.

Following this article, UNC football player, Michael McAdoo, confirmed what many people suspected: academic counselors advised him to take four classes that did not actually meet, including AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina. This article from the NewsObserver claims that 200 classes are "either confirmed or suspected of having never met."

Now, we have a new revelation. A couple of days ago, a paper was released that received an A- in one of these classes. You can read the brief paper here. It's not great, though I hesitate to mock the paper, primarily because these students are not receiving the proper education they should get. The system is, essentially, telling them to ignore school.

And of course they would, in this situation. They work what is equivalent to a full-time job, not for money, but for the chance to go to a school that actively funnels them into non-classes. Frankly, there are so many other problems too. I can't even begin to imagine how many problems there are at UNC and throughout the NCAA in general. A lot of people had smart ideas about different ways of approaching academics and different solutions to certain problems.

But, I just wanted to circle this back around to Jonathan Martin (everything must have ring-composition!) because I think one solution resides in the NFL and in other professional leagues. I don't think it will be easy, but I think we should try to affect a culture change at the professional level. By providing the media limelight to players like Martin and others who have taken academics seriously, they can have lasting impacts on how student-athletes perceive how a professional athlete acts. I know this is only a piece of the larger puzzle. By nature, this won't have a totalizing effect on the problem, but I think it can help.

UNC is a great school - one that deserves the respect that it has earned. And, I imagine that it is not alone at all in how it approaches student-athletes. I hope that they will be able to lead the charge in changing the culture at the NCAA level. If any school can, it's one as prestigious as UNC.

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