The following is an open letter written by Jasmine Burton, a Howard University law student and former Virginia volleyball player. The letter is addressed to Howard University President Dr. Wayne K. Fredrick.
Dear Dr. Frederick:
The prevailing argument has always been that in order to generate the athletic revenue necessary to improve our facilities, we need the best players to attend. And although I agree – I do not believe that it should be the athlete’s responsibility to make the first step. With the generous and sizeable donation from MacKenzie Scott of $40 million, we need to take the first step in bringing black athletes to Howard by investing a significant portion of the money donated into athletic facilities and programs.
It is time for predominately white institutions to stop profiting from creating teams with predominately black athletes. Howard’s Administration should give thoughtful consideration to the following:
- Allocate a sizable portion of Mrs. Scott’s $40 million donation to improving athletic facilities and programs
- Allocate a portion of Mrs. Scott’s donation to female athletics and non-revenue sports
- Formally share your plans with the student body and national community
Jemele Hill’s article in The Atlantic started the conversation about what would happen if black athletes jointly decided to attend an HBCU. Hill’s article said,
“Black men make up only 2.4 percent of the total undergraduate population of the 65 schools in the so-called Power Five athletic conferences. Yet Black men make up 55 percent of the football players in those conferences, and 56 percent of basketball players.”
In general, Black athletes attending HBCU’s are starting to crack the foundation of college sports, especially at primarily white institutions. Five-star senior Makur Maker is a pinnacle example of demolishing this prevailing foundation. Mr. Maker is the highest-ranked college basketball prospect to commit to a historically Black college or university since the ESPN recruiting database started in early 2007. His decision to commit to Howard is naturally instilling a measure of fear in these institutions because their billion-dollar revenue streams could be jeopardized if more black athletes start attending HBCUs.
The U.S Department of Education and data collected by USA Today showed that the NCAA reported $1.1 billion in revenue in 2017, with most of this money coming from Division I Men’s Basketball. Further, the NCAA entered into an $8.8 billion deal through a television agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting. Mr. Maker is the first step in bringing the revenue from male revenue sports to Howard and changing college basketball’s very foundation from the ground up.
Mr. Maker chose Howard, and now we need to choose him – and athletes from all sports to come. All it takes is 2 to 3 players to make a difference on the basketball court. Other players will follow suit if we show our athletes that we will invest in them the way that they invest in us.
We are competing with arenas like Cameron Indoor, Pauley Pavilion, Roy Williams Court – places where kids have envisioned playing their whole lives. We need to create facilities that are competitive with these major arenas and give players a forum for them to build a legacy. Even without a new basketball facility, there is ample ability to contract with the Capital One arena to hold in-season games. For example, the University of Virginia does not own John Paul Jones Arena; they rent it out during the season for the men’s basketball team. Similarly, Georgetown rents the Capital One Arena during the basketball season.
Outside of just men’s football and basketball, it is essential and prudent to invest in female athletes and women’s sports.
I know firsthand what it means to compete at a high level and strive for excellence as both an athlete and a student. During my four years on the University of Virginia’s Volleyball team, I was named the State of Virginia Rookie of the year, Atlantic Coast Conference (“ACC”) Freshman of the year, an East-Coast Region All-American, and was a three year All Conference recipient. All, while remaining on the ACC honor roll all four years. I also know firsthand what it feels like to be ignored and overshadowed by traditional “revenue” sports. We put in equally as much work, but because women’s sports do not bring in nearly as much revenue, we are less often the recipients of money and donations. Thus, the very reason Title IX was enacted – requiring schools to invest in male and female athletes equally. Thanks to Title IX, since 1972 and since the enormous increase in funding and institutional opportunities, there has been a 545% increase in the percentage of women playing college sports and a 990% increase in the percentage of women playing high school sports. Additionally, female athletes now have a huge fan base since almost half of the intercollegiate athletes are women.
Investment in women’s sports is growing nationally, and I believe that it should grow at Howard too.
In closing, MacKenzie Scott’s donation of $40 million is the largest donation from a single donor to Howard University since our founding in 1867. We should use this money to bring our black athlete’s home to Howard. Black athletes have never been more influential than they are now, and this is the time and space to begin reinvesting in them. Undoubtedly, choosing to attend Howard would invariably bring more attention and money back to Howard – but it should go beyond this… Athletes need to feel like Howard is their home, and that they are loved and supported by their people. We can help turn this tide by investing in Howard’s athletic facilities, locker rooms, arenas, and recruiting departments, especially because we now have the necessary funds to do just that.
It is time to bring black athletes back home to Howard, the Mecca.
Howard University School of Law ‘20