We’re seeing a new generation of NCAA athlete.
Young men and women who are being awakened to their power both on and off the playing surface, and use their leverage not only for personal gain but for uplifting those less fortunate.
Josh Christopher, a five-star basketball recruit from Lakewood, Calif., who ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN 100 for the class of 2020, committed to Arizona State on Monday night.
While the commitment signifies a huge moment for college basketball, Christopher’s other decision, this one early in his recruiting process, was of greater importance.
Christopher, as well as 6-11 phenom Makur Maker, visited Howard University in Washington D.C. on separate occasions in October, becoming two of the most notable basketball prospects to ever visit a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).
Howard is arguably the most prominent HBCU in the country, producing such luminaries as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, activist and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and Congressman Elijah Cummings.
However, Howard, along with many other HBCUs, are institutions that are generally not recognized by the mainstream media, despite their impact on American history by educating millions of black Americans since their inception in the 1800s.
HBCU graduates account for a significant percentage of the black middle class, and continue to create stability and opportunity for blacks today.
Christopher clearly understood the importance of these institutions, and knew that his platform could at least provide the exposure that these schools need and deserve. His visit may also have been inspired by his admiration for Justice Marshall.
“I think I have a pretty good influence on kids right now, especially basketball players,” Christopher said to Jemele Hill of The Atlantic. “My main thing is to make sure that whoever is watching me is getting the right stuff. I know there are a lot of kids that have told me they look up to me, that are inspired by me.
“I’m more than just a basketball player. To be able to know my history other than the Christopher bloodline, that’s real important. I want to know the people that paved the way for kids like myself.”
And while Christopher’s visit certainly brought attention to Howard, his work doesn’t have to stop there; he could use his platform to raise money for Howard and other HBCUs, even as a student at Arizona State. But to do so, he would need a waiver from the NCAA that could possibly only be given in “extreme circumstances”.
Say, if there were a global pandemic.
Last month, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger were both granted permission by the NCAA to start GoFundMe pages to help coronavirus relief efforts.
“In extreme circumstances – like the current pandemic – NCAA members regularly exercise flexibility on many rules that otherwise make sense but don’t within the context of a specific situation,” said Meghan Durham, the associate director of communications for the NCAA. “Under current NCAA rules, college athletes can promote crowd-funding initiatives or other fundraisers that benefit or are specifically tied to established existing nonprofits/established 501(c)(3)s. They are generally not currently permitted to host crowd-funding initiatives in which the funds are sent to them personally, though there are existing guidelines for waivers that can be granted to support student-athletes experiencing severe personal circumstances.”
Both fundraising efforts for these quarterbacks have been astounding successes. Ehlinger’s GoFundMe page has raised over $88,000 for victims of the pandemic. Lawrence’s fundraising effort, that is now run by the Cartersville-Bartow Community Foundation, is allowing individuals to give up to $5,000 in donations.
The initiative of Lawrence and Ehlinger is beyond admirable. But why would a student-athlete need permission from the NCAA in order to help their community for whatever reason?
And while this current pandemic is obviously an “extreme circumstance” and takes immediate precedent, the NCAA board of governors should consider bending the rules in other cases for college athletes.
Especially when they are ushering in a new generation of athletes who are searching for more of these opportunities to impact the communities that are closest to their hearts.
Just think about it.
When this pandemic is over, what if Christopher wanted to help raise money for HBCUs? Or start a GoFundMe to support families impacted by police brutality? Or even set up a fund in his name to educate black children on their options beyond high school?
Would the NCAA still grant him a waiver even though it may not be an “extreme circumstance”?
They certainly should.
There will have to be some form of a vetting committee established to stop boosters from directly handing over money to these athletes if the NCAA wants to keep its “amateurism” model. This committee would communicate directly with athletes about their community endeavors and monitor the fundraising efforts by the athletes in order to ensure that the money is going to the athletes’ preferred cause.
Allowing these athletes to engage in any level of monetary freedom would be an uncomfortable step for the NCAA. Yet, it would certainly be worth it if it will allow the organization to finally connect with its athletes.
And it should also eliminate the unnecessary red tape that would hinder the efforts of any athlete looking to make a difference in their communities, in whatever way they seem fit.
The NCAA is dealing with a new type of athlete, one that wants to use its celebrity to help others.
It’s time for the NCAA to adapt and let them do it.