STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is the time of year that Major League Baseball honors the man who integrated the game. Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut on April 15, 1947, a dramatic and proud moment in American history. But commentator Frank Deford says we shouldn't be too quick to pat ourselves on the back.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Yet another movie about Jackie Robinson has arrived, as baseball held its annual commemorative celebration of No. 42. But officials of the game are still fretting over the fact that only 8.5 percent of current major leaguers are black.
Given that African-Americans only constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population - and that rarely do we have any industry or school system or community population that correlates exactly to the whole country's racial or ethic makeup - baseball's somewhat smaller black cohort hardly seems like an issue to agonize over.
Ah, but now here's a figure more worth pondering as promulgated by a report from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Fifty-seven percent of football players in the six powerhouse American college conferences are black. An even greater number of young black men, 64 percent, fill up the basketball rosters. If you watched any of March Madness or any bowl game in the 21st century, this will hardly come as any surprise.
But in depressing counterpoint, what the Penn study reveals is that for all these visible black college athletes, a mere 2.8 percent of college student bodies are composed of male African-Americans. And just for the record, only about seven percent of coaches and athletic directors at the Division I schools are black. Also, just for the record, the Penn study shows that black athletes graduate in lower numbers than other black students and their fellow white student-athletes.
None of this should be particularly surprising, inasmuch as basketball and football players have to devote so much time to practicing and traveling in order to make money for the coaches and the universities. Also in so many cases, the recruited black athletes come from high schools in poorer communities where their preparation for college doesn't measure up to what so many scholarship white lacrosse players and golfers are blessed with in class-A suburban schools.
But, of course, those ridiculous propaganda ads from the NCAA - which suggest that most of their so-called student-athletes end up as Nobel Prize winners in physics - never hint at the real scandal in NCAA academics.
Two suggestions: athletes should get academic credit for playing on a team, no less than collegiate musicians do get credit for music courses. Or, say, collegiate journalists earn for taking courses where they can get credit for covering the athletes who don't get credit for doing what the journalists get credit for writing about.
And this too: for every athlete that a college gives an athletic scholarship to, it should match that by giving an academic scholarship to a classmate from the same school. Then we would have more than 2.8 percent male black student non-athletes, and more young black men who could grow and strive, well educated, just like Jackie Robinson - The Man.
INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each week from WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.