If You’re Gonna Cheat, Cheat Honorably

News broke yesterday that the University of North Carolina was gracing its athletes (mostly football and men’s basketball) with high grades for phony classes.

According to reports, “about 3,100 students enrolled in classes the didn’t have to show up for in what was deemed a “shadow curriculum” within the former African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department from 1993 to 2011.

Firstly, shocking. Who would have thought that prestigious athletic schools within the NCAA would rubber stamp their student athletes’ educations to reap millions of dollars from the sports they play?

Well, me. And you. And everyone else.

The insidious piece of the story here is not that college athletics are corrupt; it is that the college caught – North Carolina at Chapel Hill – chose African American Studies as the bogus course through which to fast-track their athletes. Their predominantly African American athletes. The predominantly African American athletes they were grooming for careers in professional sports – namely, football and basketball – two sports in which the highest-paid and most-successful employees are African American.

Even among players of non-African descent – perhaps especially those – would benefit from an African American Studies course when they are involved in a sport, and a culture, so heavily influenced by African Americans.

If UNC had wanted to ace their players through a fake course, they should have done so with a class no up-and-coming athlete would need – like math. Seriously, is the Pythagorean Theorem going to help when you’re running a post route? Is pi going to help your 40 time? Will long division hit a mid-range jumper with two seconds left?

No.

But, familiarizing yourself with the history and culture supporting the majority of people you’ll be working with – probably useful. Exploring patterns of exploitation by a ruling class of privileged white guys that profited off the talents and bodies of their workforce might, just might, be relevant in the NFL and NBA.

People will cheat and cheaters will cover up, that’s life. But it’s doubly insulting when an institution of higher learning robs students of the knowledge and understanding they will most need if they are to succeed outside of the classroom.

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