For those who awoke in the wee hours of January 1st, 2010, a college football contest of monumental importance was played that will have lasting ramifications. If you were lucky enough to view this game – braving the 11 a.m. kickoff – then history unfolded on your television screen.
Much like the Alabama-Southern California game played in 1970, where a lily-white Crimson Tide team played an integrated USC team and lost big, the 2010 Outback Bowl marked a most inauspicious moment for Black people everywhere.
Sports - it has been stated time and time again at SBPDL - gives Americans the only positive images of Black people that they see. One Sports Illustrated writer, Frank Deford, wrote that Obama’s election was paved by the Black superstar athlete:
“Obviously, there are so many factors that have been applied, incrementally, over a long time to bring us to a place where an African-American can be elected president. But I cannot help believing that the ubiquity and esteem of the black man in sport has played a significant part in this transformation of the body politic's thinking.
You see, the way the black athlete has evolved in the public mind has made him something of a precursor for African-Americans in other visible fields. Originally, in fact, blacks in sport were confined strictly to the arena. Many of the biggest stars -- Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali -- seemed downright threatening. They only underscored the image of African-American leaders as confrontational. For so long, endorsements invariably went to lesser white athletes, because advertisers simply assumed that a product's association with even a non-controversial black star must be off-putting to white consumers.
But, my -- as well we know -- how that changed.
By the 1990s, Michael Jordan was accepted as the most prominent pitchman on the planet, and he has been primarily succeeded by Tiger Woods. Moreover, outspoken and even prickly black sportsmen like Charles Barkley or Shaquille O'Neal are accepted, and even admired, for their candor.
From a cultural point of view, this sea change in attitude signaled that race did not constitute that much of a perceptual difference in public figures . . . which, ultimately, of course, leads us from the playing field to entertainment to politics to, at last, the presidential race and Barack Obama.”
Mr. Deford correctly points out the view taken here that Black people in sports have “mainstreamed” positive images of Black people to the general viewing public, who digest sports with an appetite that is hard to satiate.
Black people look to college football as a means to end: the opportunity to spend four years getting an academic scholarship to play football and the potential of a multi-million dollar contract in the National Football League waiting for at the end of tunnel.
With more Black males in jail then in college currently, those lucky Black males who make it onto college fields across the nation have a chance to improve the national perception of Black people in the American mind and remove any negative stigma that people might attribute to Black people (why are so many Black people in jail to begin with?).
The 2010 Outback Bowl hosted the Auburn Tigers against the Northwestern Wildcats. Auburn – a university in East Alabama that is over 92 percent white – has a football team that is roughly made-up of a 50-50 white/Black split. Northwestern is a private school in Chicago that has a much more diverse campus (60 percent white/ six percent Black), yet a football team that is more than 70 percent white.
Northwestern is an academically rigorous institution, and, although Auburn might be highly rated public institution, doesn’t offer the same level of education as the private school in Illinois.
Before we discuss the 2010 Outback Bowl, it is important to point out a few interesting points. Both schools strive to keep players eligible, so that they can compete every Saturday in the fall. College football is an immensely lucrative business, as this article from Forbes will attest:
“It makes sense that a national champion like last year's University of Texas Longhorns grossed over $60 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics filings. (The 2006 season doesn't really end until the last bowl game next month.) But it can also be incredibly lucrative to lose, so long as a team has the right conference affiliation.
Among the on-field dregs of 2005 was 2-9 Washington, a member of the Pac-10 conference. The school's listed revenue was $31.7 million. Big 10 cellar dweller Illinois parlayed a 2-9 performance in 2005 into $19 million, just bellow the $19.8 million that 3-8 Kentucky claimed for 2005’s last-place finish in the Southeast Conference (SEC).”
“Before the first kickoff this season, The Associated Press began a survey of the 65 schools from the six major conferences involved in the Bowl Championship Series plus independent Notre Dame. The AP obtained at least some financial information from 45 schools about the resources they devote to graduating athletes.
The picture formed by the data is one of schools frequently spending more than $1 million annually on academic support with some spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more in 2008 than they did in 2004, the AP found. Eight BCS schools reported spending increases of more than 70 percent in the last five years. Four increased spending by more than 100 percent.
Helping athletes graduate has become its own profession. A group for people in the field has nearly doubled to around 1,000 in just two years.
Glitzy academic support centers are popping up everywhere. A few weeks after Mississippi State opened a $10 million center last month, South Carolina upped the ante with a groundbreaking ceremony for a $13 million facility.
In Tuscaloosa in April 2005, a $10.3 million renovation of Bryant Hall was completed, transforming the former athletic dormitory into the Paul W. Bryant Academic Center, a state of the art academic center benefiting more than 425 Crimson Tide student athletes.
Oklahoma, with a 30,000 square-foot facility that cost between $7 million and $8 million, spent $2.45 million helping all its athletes last year.”
Even with all that academic help, Black football athlete-students at Auburn had a difficult time graduating, compared to the white athletes at both Auburn and Northwestern:
At Northwestern, 93 percent of white football players graduate, compared to 90 percent for Auburn. Black players graduate 90 percent of the time at Northwestern, compared to 48 percent of the time for Auburn.
This is highly problematic, sense so much money is spent to graduate players:
"The wide gap between white and African‐American football student‐athletes’ graduation success rates grew in spite of the slight progress with overall graduation rates. Lapchick said, “Each year the mosttroubling information in the graduation success rate study is the disparity between the GSR of African‐American and white football student‐athletes.
This year, the GSR for African‐American football student-athletes is 59 percent, which is identical to the 2008‐09 report. The GSR for white football student-athletes went from 76 percent in 2008‐09 to 77 percent this year. This resulted in a one percent increase in the gap (17 to 18 percent). The overall football student‐athlete GSR improved slightly from 65.3 to 65.7 percent.”
Lapchick noted, “It must be emphasized that African‐American and white football players graduate at a higher rate than their male non‐athletic peers in the student body. The graduation rate for African‐American male students as a whole is only 38 percent, in comparison to the 62 percent graduation rate for white male students – an unacceptable 24 percent gap.”
With all this stated, Northwestern and Auburn battled it out (Auburn started five white players – 22 percent of the starting 22 vs. the more than 90 percent student body - compared to Northwestern fielding a team that had 18 white starts vs. four Black starters) to a 38-35 overtime thriller, which the Tigers won (a full report of the game can be found here).
Pete Fiutak, a writer for collegefootballnews.com had this to say about the game:
“What team should I root for? That’s one of the most common questions I get from fans when it comes to teams and conferences other than their own. Nothing against Auburn, but if you don’t have a rooting interest the other way, Northwestern is one of those teams that you should want to succeed if you’re a fan of what (cliché warning) college football should be all about.
Northwestern players really are student athletes who have to use all their resources, all their skills, and all their brains to compete at such a high level. I’ve always fought the good fight against the erroneous notion that the SEC and teams from the South are always faster and more athletic than the supposedly slow and stodgy Big Ten, but that really is the case when it comes to Northwestern. The Wildcats have some NFL prospects and some solid players, but they don’t have nearly as many athletes as a team like Auburn has. Thanks to the attitude of head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who doesn’t give his team any excuses and demands that his team believes it can beat anyone at any time, Northwestern carved out a great season and came back time and again to come within a decent field goal kicker of winning the Outback.”
The announcers for the game – courtesy of ESPN – found the lack of speed on Northwestern’s offensive side of the ball, a major detriment to their ability to win the game. However, Northwestern torched Auburn’s all-Black defense (if something is lily-white, what is something that is all-Black?) for 525 yards passing.
Black people watching this game saw white players from Northwestern play their hearts out and dominate an Auburn defense that was pegged as faster and stronger.
Two costly personal foul penalties by Black players for Auburn – which were described as selfish by ESPN’s announcer – put the Tigers in a position to lose momentum, and potentially the game.
We will look back and realize that in 2009, Black power in America reached its zenith. On January 1, 2010, Stuff Black People Don’t Like started off with a sporting shot that will reverberate through the minds of all who watched it, as The Outback Bowl saw a nearly all- white team narrowly lose to a team that relies on Black players, at a rate is 13 times the actual Black enrollment at Auburn University.
SBPDL will begin a sister website that will chronicle college football, starting with the 2010 National Signing Day event in February. Until then, track down a copy of this football game. It will forever be included in the annals of Stuff Black People Don’t Like.
Remember, without sports, Black people would have no positive images. The rate at which young Black people are being incarcerated might ensure that future college football teams actually reflect the student body from which they play. And like Northwestern, might actually comprise student-athletes.
Though they lost, Black people realize the horror that could come from this game, for the Northwestern Wildcats close defeat to the Auburn Tigers represents is as significant as Tiger Woods fall from grace.