UB has had one winning season as a FBS football program.
One MAC Championship.
One Bowl appearance.
All three came in 2008, a magical season that served as a gift to all the fans who sat through 1999, 2003 and 2005 and serves as an example to current athletes, future recruits and fans that shows UB Football can win in the MAC.
How important is that one season? It's everything.
Since the MAC moved to their current All-Academic Football Team format in 2002, 13 different Bulls have been honored on the list 19 different times. When he was an Honorable Mention on the 2012 Academic All-MAC Team, Rudy Johnson became the only Black UB football player honored by the conference for academics. Over 11 years, he was the only UB academic honoree of color.
How important is that one black student athlete? Very important.
Remember that legendary moment in 2008, when Myron Rolle missed the first half of a pivotal game as 7-3 FSU traveled to College Park to take on #25 7-3 Maryland. ACC division title hopes on the line, the starting safety missed the game to interview for the Rhodes Scholarship.
It was 2008, Obama just became the first black man to win a Presidential Election, Turner Gill, the oft-overlooked black coach was in the middle of an impossible turnaround at Buffalo and a black athlete was getting a standing ovation at an opponents football stadium for winning a prestigious academic fellowship. The future actually looked very promising for black men, black football coaches and black football student athletes who were not only gifted but also intelligent.
Five years later, Obama is one of the most scrutinized Presidents in history, Turner Gill was disgraced at Kansas, and UB has allegedly dismissed a scholar athlete for pursuing internships over spring and summer practices. In five years, we went from celebrating a black athlete for prioritizing academic achievements over an important late season game, to allegedly punishing an athlete for prioritizing academic and career development over practice. This paints a very ugly picture, consisting of abuse of power, colorblind racism and the Athletic Department's fundamental failure to uphold the principle of the student athlete.
Amidst a difficult week to be a black in America, a week that reaffirmed a sad truth that solely based on the color of their skin, black males are seen as threats and targeted by some in America, the Rudy Johnson situation shines a light on a few more sad truths, 1) Black males will rarely be rewarded for their work and 2) black males are NOT targeted by Corporate America.
No Reward for Hard Work
Black men's lives are racialized contradictions. They are told that contemporay educational and professional institutions are places where, through hard work, they can achieve the so-called American Dream. However, [these institutions] are replete with gendered racism, blocked opportunities and mundane, extreme environmental stress*
Research shows that black men are told they will be rewarded for hard disciplined work. After beating the odds to reach higher levels of achievement, they do not find rewards, just more barriers. This seems true in Rudy Johnson's case: a scholar athlete, is told that things will be fine if he does the right thing, instead as he prepares to finish his career, he finds more barriers are thrown between him and his path to success. The dangers of such actions by a school amounts to "Colorblind Racism" where everyone is treated equally, and as a result, established inequalities remain intact.
Forcing a black athlete to chose between an internship and athletic participation hurts a black athlete's ability to be successful in their future and their ability to break down established racial inequalities in the job market. In the old South, lynchings served as a punishment for perceived violations and public warning to any others who might have thought about violating a Jim Crow law. Five years ago, Myron Rolle showed black athletes that they could excel on the field and in the classroom. This week, if an internship is the cause of the dismissal, UB gave a harrowing example that athlete comes before student. Johnson's dismissal would then serve the classic dual-purpose, a punishment for him and a warning to any black football athlete who has the audacity to put "going pro in something other than sports" over football.
"Fast Fired, Last Hired"
Many strides have been made to improve racial disparity. In 2004, for the first time, education became the great equalizer. For the most part, black men who earned college degrees earned 95% of what white males with degrees earned. However the recession showed that blacks, and especially blacks males are the last fired and the first hired.
The unemployment rate in June 2013 was 6.2% for white males over 20, but the rate doubles to 13% for black males over 20.
The black unemployment rate for young college graduates was 8.5% in 2007, skyrocketed to 21.9% by 2010 and improved to 10.8% in 2012. Over the same time period,young white college graduate unemployment was 3.2%, 12.5% and and 2.1% lower.
Those numbers, especially the huge disparity between educated unemployment as the economy bottomed out reinforces the idea that black men have to be better, than their white male counterparts to prevent being the last hired and the first fired.
The need to be better turns good intentions into bad results. Colorblind decisions create colorblind racism: preventing all athletes from working a summer internship while an equal policy, will ensure that during bad times, black college graduates will continue to bear the brunt of economic downturns. A more progressive policy would encourage black males to take all academic and career development advantages they can get before entering the job market, as it could be mean the difference between a successful career and an unfairly limited and insecure career.
Importance of Internships
Internships have become increasingly important for today's students. 1) Job skills change faster than schools can react to them, therefore on the job training can greatly prepare a student for job success. 2) As more and more students get degrees and advanced degres, a degree and often times GPA are no longer enough to differentiate oneself in the job market. 3) Finally, internships build a valuable network, that is often unavailable to a non-intern.
Students who completed an internship while in college earned nearly 15% more on average in their first job.
Interns are 21% more likely to feel prepared to get jobs and 12% more prepared in the jobs they get.
Interns showed more development in leadership skills, written and verbal communication skills, and quantitative skills.**
Rigsby, Addy, Herring and Polledo found that internships lead to accepting an offer with the company interned for, or more offers received from other companies. Their research shows that companies feel an internship adds value to a student, both that interns were pre-screened as top students to earn the internship, and interns were vetted as able to fit in a industry position as a result of completing the internship.***
Interns are more prepared for professional work, are more likely to get hired, and earn more than non-interns. Based on these outcomes, it would be irresponsible for an educator to ever discourage a student from pursuing an internship. Again with the comparative struggles of black male college graduates in the workplace, preventing a black male from pursuing an internship could be crippling.
Internships open up a network often unavailable to an entry-level worker. Interns get opportunities to meet important people, ask questions, take chances, learn more and prove their worth. This is especially important for black men, as a study by McDonald, Lin and Ao showed that while black men and white men have the same amount of job leads, as the quality of job increases, white men receive many more job leads. This maintains an inequality where white males feed jobs to white males via an unwritten, un-diversified network. Black males can use internships to break into those networks, and get into the conversations that lead to higher quality job opportunities.****
How Important Is The One?
If the internship explanation is true, I have outlined why that would be a deplorable decision by the UB Athletics Department. If the accusations are not true, I still find it unacceptable that Rudy Johnson is not a member of the UB Football team in 2013 (unless something severe happened).
Since 2002, UB has had twenty-two different athletes honored thirty-three times on All-MAC teams. Seven athletes have been 3rd Team All-MAC, eleven 2nd team All-MAC and eight 1st team All-MAC.
Each player minus maybe Jackson (1st team return man), was vital to a UB championship, or vital to UB's chances at winning one in 2013 and honored with 1st Team All-MAC recognition. I am left to wonder what it would take for UB to decide to pull one of these athlete's scholarships. If Mack, BO, Starks, Shannon or Roosevelt were on the verge of leaving, I assume our coach would do anything to keep each and every one of these players in Blue and White.
Similarly out of 13 UB All-Academic MAC Football athletes, Rudy Johnson is the only black athlete on the list since 2002. Rudy Johnson is a shining example for all the black athletes on the team, and all black recruits whose parents want to make sure their son will get a great education as well as a great football experience. Rudy Johnson should be in commercials and in the "Shareholders Society" brochure. He did his part in the classroom and worked on his game while UB won only 9 games. Now that UB looks to be a contender for the first time in Rudy's career, he won't be able to enjoy the college football experience promised to him by Turner Gill. Unless new information comes out, Johnson should be on the sidelines, not in the stands in 2013.
The decision for whatever reason not to renew Rudy's scholarship shows racial insensitivity, but what else can you expect from college football, a shining beacon of exploitation and white privilege. Can an Athletic Director who has enjoyed the privilege of being a white male in a position where 87.5% of his peers are also white males understand the importance of Rudy Johnson, the scholar athlete? I recently watched the UB season preview and there was a clip of Brian Kelly explaining Jeff Quinn could have been a coach before, but he was waiting for the right opportunity. Jeff Quinn has the ability to wait for the right opportunity, (47% of football athletes are black, yet only 13 of 126 FBS head coaches are black in 2013) can he really understand a black athlete that has to jump on ANY opportunity for fear that the "right" opportunity will never come?
UB's decision makers enjoy a privilege that Rudy Johnson will never experience, no matter how high his GPA. All Rudy can do is work hard to fight through barriers and do what he thinks is best. I applaud Rudy for doing what he feels is best for his career, and I am ashamed that the University made one of their best feel uncelebrated and unwanted.
We might not see the results of this decision on the field this year, but we will see it one day. Black athletes and their parents continue to see that the education is a better bet than the game, especially at the mid-major level. Many athletes mention Buffalo's strong academics or our AAU status as a draw during recruiting.
I am a Buffalo alum, but if Jeff Quinn came into my house to recruit my kid, (theoretical kid), the first question I have for him is about Rudy Johnson. How will Quinn show commitment to educating the black football athlete?
How important will Rudy Johnson's experience be to our competitors on the recruiting trail: Very Important
Note: Rudy Johnson is the only black Academic All-MAC Football Team honoree based on pigmentocracy. I used the eye test based on skin tone. I do not know, and did not try to ascertain the ethnicity of the other 12 honorees.
*Smith, Hung & Franklin: Racial Battle Fatigue and the MisEducation of Black Men: Racial Microaggressions, Societal Problems and Environmental Stress. The Journal of Negro Education, 2011: Vol. 80, No. 1.
**Stone, Van Horn, Zukin: Chasing The American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession
***Rigsby, Addy, Herring and Polledo: An Examination of Internships and Job Opportunities, The Journal of Implied Business Research. July/August 2013 Volume 29, No. 4
****McDonald, Lin and Ao. Networks of Opportunity, Gender, Race and Job Leads. Social Problems: Vol 56, No. 3. August 2009, pp. 385-402.
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