Why Five-Star Athletes Choose HBCUs: Knowing The Past To Process The Present

Why Five-Star Athletes Choose HBCUs: Knowing The Past To Process The Present

athletes HBCUs

Travis Hunter Photo: YouTube

Howard University professor Dr. Greg Carr teaches his students using the Africana Studies Framework (ASF), which is a set of conceptual categories for studying periods of time with African people at the center. One of those categories, movement in memory, answers the questions: How did Africans preserve memories of where they had been, what they had experienced, and how did they pass these memories to future generations?

This framework must be the lens Black people use to reflect on the decision made by Travis Hunter — a five-star recruit who is considered the No. 1 recruit in America — to attend Jackson State University, an HBCU, to play football instead of Florida State University, a PWI.

We must consider this through the Africana Studies Framework because commentators and talking heads on TV and social media alike will frame this as an unprecedented move. They’ll say that five-star athletes don’t choose HBCUs over any school within a Power 5 conference. If lacking the momentum of memory, we may believe the commentators and talking heads.

We may even believe them when they call this a bad move or a mistake.

But when you have the momentum of memory, you recognize that this is not an unprecedented move because Travis Hunter is not the first five-star recruit to ever attend an HBCU. Top-tier talent entered the NFL from HBCUs long before the ESPN 300 existed… because racism existed. Talented Black athletes from the south attended HBCUs because they couldn’t attend PWIs and they thrived once they arrived in the NFL – some of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

Even after SEC schools found Jesus and allowed Black players to attend their schools to play, numerous individuals who went on to have great careers in the NFL continued to pour out of HBCUs, including Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Shannon Sharpe, Michael Strahan, Steve McNair, John Taylor, Nate Newton, Robert Mathis and Donald Driver.

Currently, there are 18 players from HBCUs on NFL rosters.

Certainly, many may point to Paul “Bear” Bryant’s orchestrating the game between his Crimson Tide and the Trojans of Southern California—unaware of the Florida A&M vs. University of Tampa game—as the watershed moment proving that sports are about merit and ability versus race. However, Bryant knew that he needed Black players to win and winning made Black people acceptable. Equality didn’t happen because a Black player could line up for Ole Miss. Ole Miss conceded that Black athletes meant the potential for championships and money.

If fans really cared about the humanity of Black people more than what Black people played for their team, why, for example, would a Florida State fan burn a Deion Sanders Jersey, considering what he meant to that team? Burning jerseys seem to be a fan favorite – whether they leave Cleveland or kneel at the playing of America’s anthem.

Sports as a meritocracy damn sure doesn’t explain how certain positions are segregated along racial lines in the NFL, but I digress.

Make no mistake, PWIs desire Black players to win championships, secure legacy and make them money. That won’t stop because Mr. Hunter chose Jackson State. However, as Mr. Hunter said: “(Florida State) is a dream that is hard to let go of, but sometimes, we are called to step into a bigger future than the one we imagined for ourselves.”

Mr. Hunter cited numerous NFL greats from HBCUs. Mr. Hunter displayed the momentum of memory as reasoning for his decision. Mr. Hunter showed us all that when we know who we are, we can determine where we are going.

Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .

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