From Slave Owners and Overseers–to College Presidents and Football Coaches

Yesterday, Michigan State University announced that the entire Spartans football team is entering a 14-day quarantine after one staffer and one student-athlete tested positive for COVID-19.



Michigan State is not alone; this summer, the University of Florida has announced that 11 student athletes tested positive for the Coronavirus…Clemson has “reported” 14…Alabama has reported five (5)…the defending National Champion LSU Tigers had 30 players quarantined due to the virus…the University of Georgia has yet to release numbers, but Head Coach Kirby Smart has said that “some” players have tested positive and are being “isolated”…Ditto for Ohio State University, as it refuses to announce official numbers under the guise of “protecting” the medical histories of its students.

Each of these “Power Five” schools, so named for the highest earning Football Bowl Subdivision conferences including the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12, is in the Pre-Season “Top Five” and considered a contender for the 2020 National Championship.

As I have written before, I find it suspect that unlike professional athletes who get paid millions of dollars for their isolation from their families and friends to play ball, that college football players–men whose only pay is a scholarship with a room and meals–potentially will be forbidden from seeing their kin and friends for up to six months–or exposing their kin and friends to the virus–all in the name of making money for the school that they attend.

And let’s be clear–the overwhelming majority of star and top back-up ball players, I mean “student-athletes,” at Power Five colleges and universities are young Black men.  Meaning, the billions of dollars in revenue that these schools split each year are derived from the blood, sweat, and tears of Black athletes, much like the multiple trillions of dollars that the American economy derived from its inception in 1787, to the mid-20th Century, was based on the blood, sweat, and tears of enslaved Blacks who picked the cotton and harvested the sugar and tobacco that fueled trade with Europe and later Asia.

To put matters into clearer perspective, Football Scoop Magazine broke down statistics from the latest (2018) U.S. Department of Education figures for major college football annual profits as follows:

Power 5 — Top 15
1. Texas — $156 million
2. Georgia — $123 million
3. Michigan — $122 million
4. Notre Dame — $116 million
5. Ohio State — $115 million
6. Penn State — $100 million
7. Auburn — $95 million
8. Oklahoma — $94.8 million
9. Alabama — $94.6 million
10. Nebraska — $94.3 million
11. LSU — $92 million
12. Tennessee — $91 million
13. Wisconsin — $90 million
14. Florida — $85 million
15. Washington — $84 million

Power 5 — Bottom 5
1. West Virginia — $25 million
2. Rutgers — $27 million
2. Wake Forest — $27 million
4. Vanderbilt — $32 million
5. Boston College — $32.3 million

As you can see, even the bottom earning Power Five schools are getting paid in full off of the backs of their majority Black laborers, sorry again, I meant “student-athletes.” Such is why when HBCU Conferences like the SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, and SIAC canceled football this fall due to the virus, their decision had no effect whatsoever on the Power Five schools that are willing to risk the lives of players, coaching staffs, and their families if it means cashing large checks at the end of the season.

(Florida A&M University and Morehouse College are among a number of HBCUs that have canceled football this fall due to Covid-19’s effect on the Black community)

Even worse, the NCAA and conference “Covid-19 guidelines,” ones crafted and overseen by specialists who will facilitate testing and monitoring, are suspect to me with regards to Power Five colleges because as with anything, one can get an expert to state that the Earth is flat and that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east if you pay them enough money.

Lest we forget the other tie that binds the slavery era with ours is that medical professionals and medicine have ranged from perniciously suspect–to abjectly cavalier where Black bodies, and lives, are concerned.  Indeed, in her award winning book Medical Apartheid, writer Harriet Washington, a Black former research fellow in medical ethics at Harvard University, writes: “Southern medicine of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was harsh, ineffective, and experimental by nature. Physicians’ memoirs, medical journals, and planters’ records all reveal that enslaved black Americans bore the worst abuses of these crudely empirical practices, which countenanced a hazardous degree of ad hoc experimentation in medications, dosages, and even spontaneous surgical experiments in the daily practice among slaves.  Physicians were active participants in the exploitation of African American bodies. The records reveal that slaves were both medically neglected and abused because they were powerless and legally invisible; the courts were almost completely uninterested in the safety and health rights of the enslaved. The practice of hiring slaves out further endangered enslaved workers by removing much of an employer’s incentive to keep the slave healthy and safe. Some humane plantation owners were careful to choose less risky work venues, but a great danger of slave death or disability was inherent in some forms of mining, tobacco production, rice farming, and most plantation work. In these settings, the slave’s possible death became part of his owner’s commercial calculations. Ominously for blacks, the owners, not the enslaved workers, determined safety and rationed medical care, deciding when and what type of care was to be given. Because professional attention was expensive, most owners dosed their own slaves as long as they could before calling in physicians, who usually saw slaves only in extremis, as a last resort.”

Washington’s words about “calculated risks” and “the owners, not the enslaved workers,” making decisions about Black bodies is eerily similar to the calculated risks that Power Five college presidents and athletics directors are making at this very moment about young Black men. Young Black men, sadly, whose “yes sir, Coach” is as lugubrious as their ancestors “yas-suh massa” or “yas-suh Boss” during slavery. I can only hope that these young men–and their parents–will exercise their free will to prevent their bodies from being exploited by those who could not care less about anything but their own financial bottom line.