College sports recruitment favors white suburban athletes. A student’s chances of getting a spot on a college sports team is greatly affected by their parents’ wealth and education. Because becoming a college athlete takes opportunity, investment, and commitment, where you grow up, how much money your parents have, and what your parents know about the college and sports play a large role in recruitment.
Going to a wealthier school, having more school-sponsored sports offered and playing multiple sports leads to higher chances of becoming a college athlete. According to studies, among the most well-off students, 23% of high school seniors that were varsity athletes went on to play college sports while among the economically poorest families, only 9% went on to play college sports. This is because lower-income and majority-nonwhite communities have fewer recreational centers and sports offerings than white, affluent neighborhoods which are privileged in applying their greater tax dollars and private funding to offer them.
Wealthier communities also reinforce messages about the importance of going to college, which leads to higher rates of going to college than in poorer communities. Compared to attending a school made up of a population of students who were largely not poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch, attending a school where 75% or more of the student body relied on a free or reduced lunch was associated with a 50% decrease in probability of becoming a college athlete.
Family investments also contribute. Developing athletic talent requires commitments of time and energy. Getting good enough at a sport to play collegiately requires coaching, summer camps, traveling for tournaments, and equipment. Furthermore, nearly 80% of the forty-seven college athletes played sports 5-6 days per week in high school and 36% practiced twice per day. Wealthier athletes can invest this time because they are largely freed from work and household responsibilities and their parents have high-paying and flexible jobs.
These sports-related investments mirror families’ academic investments. Beyond being better prepared to help pay for college, wealthier families often invest in private tutoring, SAT predatory classes and college admissions changes, which help make their children stand out as college applicants. Parents’ wealth and education matter beyond athletic merit. Moreover, having parents who went to college helps students do well in school and get into college because college graduates are more aware of and comfortable with the processes of preparing for college and applying to college.
Image Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Moreover, athletes are often held to a lower standard by admissions officers, and in the Ivy League, 65% of players are white. Although the football and basketball college athletes we often see on TV tend to be black, “the black men in these two sports are not the reality of who has access to college sports” says Kirsten Hextrum, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Oklahoma.
In many cases, the typical student athlete comes from a well-to-do family that has invested thousands of dollars over the years to nurture an athletic talent in their children. Ivy League sports like sailing, golf, water polo, fencing, and lacrosse aren’t often offered in high schools with large non-white populations, for example; these sports are reputated as suburban, country-club sports. According to the NCAA, none of the two hundred thirty-two Division I sailors last year were black.
Image source: sports illustrated
The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s approximates that 61% of student athletes last year were white. That number is even higher at elite colleges: 65% in the Ivy League, not including international students, and 79% in the Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference, which includes elite liberal-arts colleges like Williams College and Amherst College.
James Schulman and former Princeton University President William Bowen looked at 30 selective colleges and found that athletes were given a 48 percent boost in admissions, compared with 25 percent for legacies and 18 percent for racial minorities. It is evident that there are high economic barriers to being recruited for college sports and that college sports play a large role in keeping elite schools white and affluent.
Thus, to combat this injustice, we must work within our communities and as a society to encourage equal opportunities for all to play sports. Sports are reflective of a community and to see equal representation of different identities, we must nurture athletic talent at a young age.
Desai, Saahil. “College Sports Are Affirmative Action for Rich White Students.” The Atlantic, 23 Oct. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/10/college-sports-benefits-white-students/573688/. Accessed 26 May 2022.
Hextrum, Kirsten. “Why Some Colleges Are Often Out of Reach for Students from Low-income Families.” The Conversation, 4 Oct. 2021, theconversation.com/why-some-college-sports-are-often-out-of-reach-for-students-from-low-income-families-167334. Accessed 25 May 2022.