Is athletics more important than academics?

Are you ready for some … ? We know what comes next – “football!”

Tis’ the season when towns of all sizes come to life as football season nears. Local newspapers revere star athletes as front page articles and banner ads plaster the news that it’s football season. Whether it’s local or national level athletics, I am intrigued about how athletic competition motivates human beings like nothing I’ve seen before.

With more than 17,000 American public high schools as members of the National Federation of State High Schools Associations, the numbers of high school athletes who have participated in sports since the athletic rule-making body’s 1920 formation is unfathomable. Sports have generated multi-millions in ticket sales for individual schools and have been catalysts for successful professional sports careers. Athletics definitely have a place in our schools. Athletics is often one reason many students of all socioeconomic backgrounds remain in school. While I have problems with this circumstance, I can’t say that I am completely dismayed if it keeps a child in school and provides educators an opportunity to still ignite a spark of educational excellence.

Here’s my dilemma: Are we, as a society, sending a mixed message to our students that athletics is more important than academics? Most newspapers have a dedicated section to highlight local, regional and national sports while local television stations vie for the best sports coverage proclamation. Wouldn’t it also be nice to have a dedicated section to highlight and promote academic successes?

Some don’t hesitate to purchase season tickets in nose bleed sections of their favorite professional team’s stands. Or, we might even sit outside in rain and freezing temperatures. Do we also purchase season tickets through school booster club efforts, which at least keep generated funds in the schools? Parent Teacher Association and Parent Teacher Organization meetings lasts a fraction of that time, and those meetings are generally in comfortable conditions. People travel miles away to attend alma mater homecoming games. But, will we drive just minutes to our child’s school without complaint or take five minutes to phone or email a teacher to see how things are going? I have witnessed parents toting newborns to athletic events. Wonder if those same parents excuse themselves for not participating in school-related academic functions for the lack of a babysitter?

Don’t let a referee make a bad call. We don’t hesitate to give the referee a piece of our minds. But, do we share our minds with teachers at open houses in an effort to keep communication open and to support the academic progress of our children?

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more exhilarating than uniting on one accord with hundreds of screaming fans. You’re bound to see me in stands cheering for my son, alma mater and all my “play-play” children. Athletics is the ubiquitous phenomenon that unites everyone no matter where you live or your political preference. It would be irresponsible of me not to mention there are many coaches and schools who emphasize the importance of academics as demonstrated in college admittance and scholarship criteria. I also know there are many parents, educators and others who stress the vitality of receiving a quality education.

From one of my recent columns, “What you don’t know could cost you,” a reader ridiculed students who get into college because of his ability to dribble or catch a ball. I did not mention it within the body of that editorial, but my son is also seeking an academic scholarship in addition to an athletic scholarship. Because of our family’s emphasis on academics and his personal dedication to academia, my son is an honor student. The shame is not in him seeking a combination academic and athletic scholarship, but that college is not more affordable for every deserving student in this country.

Let’s not send mixed messages to our students that we value their participation in athletics more than their achievement academically. My children and friends know that while I may get excited about their wins on the field, I am ecstatic about their academic success, which is pragmatically what will help them (athlete or not) become a winner in life.

Is athletics more important than academics? Ideally, I’m sure we would all shout with a resounding “no.” But, the shouts dim to an inaudible whisper when the average teacher makes $46,000 to $51,000 a year in this area compared to the annual median salary in the National Football League of $770,000. I would guess many readers may know who plays tonight or this weekend in the sport of his preference. But, I would also like for people to know of over 1,430 graduates from seven high schools last year, Aiken County students earned a record breaking $38,273,152 in college scholarships, which exceeds last year’s total by $1.2 million.



  1. Where do I begin? There are so angles I could come from to express my disgust for how sports seem to overshadow the importance of academics in schools. I will approach it from the angle of our love and loathing for riches in this country. The end result is that people want their kids to excel in sports, get scholarships to college, in hopes of making it to the professional level to make millions. As I discuss this issue, I want to clarify that I am taking a sexist approach, in that I am focusing on male sports. The emphasis for money making at the K-12, college, and professional levels focus on male sports. I would also like to emphasis that the black community is the community most affected by the delusions of grandeur created by the dreams that their sons will become professional sports stars.

    Over the last few months we have witnessed constant scandal at some of the most storied Division 1 colleges and universities in the country in regards to their sports programs. Coachs make all these promises starting at an early age, only the players don’t see the reality until they make it pass the K-12 phase. Years ago the NCAA installed a grading system for colleges and universities to guage how many student athletes they actually graduate from college. I challenge parents to find out how some of these colleges grade out; the student athletes are not earning college degrees and less than 1% will ever make it to the professional level. The University of South Carolina, University of Connecticut, University of Miami, The Ohio State University, Florida State University, and SEC conference teams as a whole score very low on the graduation rate of their student athletes. You may notice that many of these schools are constantly in the spotlight regarding scandals in their athletic programs. Jackson State University and Southern University have recently been banned from post-season play because their student athlete graduation rates are so low.

    With all that said, my point is that education becomes less and less important as the student athlete moves through the K-12 and college levels. College coaches, not all, but a large majority care about game day, not about class time. So what happens to the other 99% who will never make it the professional level; why aren’t we holding these places more accountable for making sure these kids get an education. So much money is made off these kids, I mean millions of dollars. One of the most glaring and disappointing examples of how little importance is put on a formal education versus sports happened about two years ago at Florida State University. The seminoles had a member of their football team graduate as a double major in 3 years, only to be accepted into the Rhodes Scholarship Program to study at Oxford in England. The young man left the team for a year, giving up his last year of eligibility to play football. Prior to leaving the team and accepting the scholarship he had been viewed as a possible 1st round draft pick in the upcoming draft. After returning everything changed, some people seemed to resent the fact the he choose academics over sports. When he was invited to the NFL combine that year, teams actually dropped his stock on their draft day sheet because they felt like he wasn’t committed enough to football. They wanted to know how he could abandon his team at Florida State to go and study at Oxford. Really? They should have been praising this kid for his academic accomplishments first and foremost. Why wouldn’t you want this type of indiviual in your locker room?

    To conclude my comment, I would like to say we have to hold these coaches at every level more accountable for their actions on and off the field. We give them the power to become what they are, if they don’t have players, then they can’t coach. Demand that these coaches emphasis education to their players, and don’t let a coach tell us it’s ok for a failing player to play. Education has become a slave to sports in so many different forms, and we must work together to stop the trend.

  2. Please go to
    (copy and paste this link into your browser). Use this link to see the student athlete graduation rates of colleges and universities. The rates are broken down by school and each different sport the school offers. Please pay close attention to the disparity of graduation rates in football and basketball in comparision to swimming, soccer, etc., sports that make the schools the most money and are dominated by players of color.