MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Should top black athletes choose historically black colleges and universities over predominantly white ones? Jemele Hill makes that argument in an essay in The Atlantic. She says it would benefit not just the colleges but also the communities around them and, just maybe, those student athletes, too.
Jemele Hill, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
JEMELE HILL: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: So the case you're making is black athletes spring all kinds of money, all kinds of attention to the often predominantly white universities that recruit and showcase them. And meanwhile, historically black colleges are struggling. Is that right?
HILL: Yeah. I mean, that's kind of a basic blueprint that I make. You know, looking at the shape of HBCUs who, generally speaking, do not have large endowments, why not take your talent to these HBCUs and kind of rebuild these historic institutions?
KELLY: I get why this could be great for historically black colleges and universities if black athletes took their talent and the money that follows them there. Why would this be good for the black athletes?
HILL: Right now, it wouldn't be because a lot of the HBCUs - they don't have the facilities, the infrastructure. And it is unfair because we're talking about 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds. So you would need a group - frankly, a whole exodus of athletes who would think a little forwardly in order for this to happen because clearly...
KELLY: Making a collective decision...
KELLY: Let's all do this and take our collective bargaining power.
HILL: It can't be one or two because one or two is not enough to help to rebuild these schools, the communities around them. And I think what will be a trickle-down effect into strengthening the black middle class with a very solvent, steady, stable financial base, I think, is just a huge benefit all around.
KELLY: When it comes to black athletes, though - you quote one in your piece who sums up the counterargument to yours pretty eloquently. This is Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top high school football prospect. He visited Florida A&M, and it was a huge stir that he had visited a black college. But he ended up at University of Oregon. And the quote - I'll read it unless you want to - he said, nobody wants to eat McDonald's when you can get filet mignon.
HILL: As I said, like, I don't think there's any question that there is a difference between a University of Oregon and a FAMU - facilities, just everything. I mean...
KELLY: The exposure - I'm thinking in terms of somebody who might be good enough to go pro.
HILL: The exposure would be the least of - to me, the least of the issues because there are players in the NFL and NBA who went to black colleges right now, and they were found. And I think that's part of the mentality that some of these young athletes have. They think the schools make them. Teams want to get better, and they want to go where the talent is. And it's the same with television networks. They follow where the audience goes and where the talent is. And so from an exposure standpoint, I don't think there's any question that the exposure will certainly follow them.
KELLY: Is there any precedent for what you're advocating? Has there ever been a group of rising college athletes who've banded together and made a collective decision in this way?
HILL: Not to go to a black college, but probably one of the more famous examples is the Fab Five. Jalen Rose and Chris Webber - you know, both are from Detroit. They got to know the other members of the Fab Five - you know, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King. And five freshmen went to University of Michigan and changed college basketball. And I don't see why that couldn't happen for an HBCU. So while - you know, I know I was speaking from a standpoint of, like, utter utopia 'cause it's a little bit more...
HILL: ...More challenging than that. But I do think it's possible.
KELLY: Your piece has kicked up a big fuss on Twitter and beyond. I've seen some critics saying this amounts to an argument for voluntary segregation. What do you say to that?
HILL: I think those people don't know very much about HBCUs because HBCUs have never been segregated - OK? - ever. There are white...
KELLY: White people could always go there. Yeah.
HILL: White people could always go there. There are white people that go there right now - a lot. There are white quarterbacks and white football players and basketball players playing for HBCUs. What I'm saying is moving the base of power to an HBCU. And what's interesting, especially because so many conservatives have had something to say and have called me a segregationist, even a racist, is that - now, correct me if I'm wrong - but conservatives, especially when it comes to talking about the black community, they're always telling black people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps - right? - always saying that. So I actually suggest an idea that basically is rooted in that. And suddenly, I'm a racist. I find that to be highly ironic.
KELLY: That's Jemele Hill, staff writer at The Atlantic.
Thanks so much for talking to us.
HILL: Thank you guys for having me.
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