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C. Keith Harrison (Kinesiology, University of Michigan): "Ralph Bunche and the 'Scholar-Baller' Paradigm: Academic, Athletic and Social Transformation" 2004

C. Keith Harrison opened his discussion of African American student athletes, with several personal anecdotes, among them the story of a discussion he had with his father in 1998 when he commented on the failure of contemporary black collegiate athletes to emulate the actions of historical African American student athletes such as Dr. Ralph Bunche and Jackie Robinson. In response, his father remarked that "they've forgotten that they're black", highlighting the observation that many modern black student athletes have come to neglect their cultural heritage, as well as their responsibility to attain an education concurrently with participating in college sports. Conversely, AfricanAmerican athletes in the past were expected to combine scholarship and athletic prowess to a greater extent than what is expected today. Bunche himself is a clear example of what Harrison referred to as a "scholar-baller", a student athlete who balances not only athletics and education, but cultural elements as well. In discussing the "scholar-baller" phenomenon, Harrison recounted Bunche's achievements as a dynamic student at UCLA, involved in various athletic and non-athletic activities on campus such as the student newspaper and debate team. According to Harrison, despite significant attitudes of racism during the early 20th century, African American college students like Bunche were heavily involved in extracurricular activities, forming a type of "in-crowd" composed primarily of student scholars. Though he faced discrimination from his white teammates, he went on to become an accomplished student and valedictorian of his class. In his graduation speech, he condemned racism, saying that "hatreds are superficial - based upon fear, ignorance, blind prejudice, or a desire to dominate for selfish ends‌if people can by educational processes, mutually arrive at greater understanding and sympathy, these hatreds will in large measure be dissipated‌" Like Bunche, other historical student athletes such as William Henry Lewis and Paul Robeson also became known at their respective colleges for both their academic and athletic achievements. However, somewhere along the line this expectation for black student athletes to succeed academically eventually gave way to the "dumb jock" stereotype that exists today. Citing a 1996 study using data collected from over 500 intercollegiate student athletes, Harrison described an overall trend for black student athletes to either maintain a strong athletic identity along with a weak racial identity, or to hold a weak athletic identity along with a strong racial identity. He noted that unlike African American scholar-ballers of the past, modern black student athletes tend to choose between academia and athleticism, rarely focusing on both. However,

Harrison also suggested that this not need be the case for contemporary black student athletes, given the rich history of African American athletes who have succeeded at excelling in both arenas. Harrison suggested that the history of the original scholar-ballers such as Dr. Ralph Bunche should be further studied, not only for its own sake, but in order to preserve the legacy they left behind to modern black student athletes.


Ralphe Bunche and the Scholar Baller Paradigm  

Ralphe Bunche