Was Coach K Right?

Now that the madness has settled Carl Parker Jr., former D-1 player and contributing sports writer for Block Chronicles, reflects on COVID-19 and the NCAA.

On Tuesday December 8, 2020 Coach K made some controversial statements regarding COVID and college basketball. He stated “I don’t think it feels right to anybody. I mean, everyone is concerned...I would just like to for the safety, the mental and physical health of players and staff to assess where we’re at.” As an avid Tar Heel fan, I took his comments with a great deal of cynicism. I pondered just as Nate Oats, head coach of Alabama, did.


Was this response because his current team isn’t as competitive as his former teams? Was my cynicism so short-sighted that I did not take into account the exacting toll COVID was taking on students and student-athletes?


The mental and physical health of our young people is being impacted immeasurably. These unprecedented times have not only created voids in familial units, but a despair amongst Gen Z-ers in regard to their futures.


It is widely reported that Black and Brown communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Some studies report that Black folks in the U.S are three times more likely than whites to get COVID-19. In 2013, 3% of full-time degree pursuing undergraduates were Black men, with 57% of college football teams and 64% of basketball players making up this number. The 2018 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card highlighted that 53.6 percent of Division I men’s basketball players and 43 percent of Division I women’s players were African American. On December 12, 2020 Keyontae Johnson, a University of Florida basketball player collapsed on the court during a basketball contest. Later, it was reported that doctors recognized the cause as myocarditis, a reported side effect of coronavirus. Now this twenty-one year old young man was in outstanding physical condition but apparently had a previous bout with COVID. Our young men and women are being exposed to this virus for the sake of sport. What an alarming proposition to say that our African American young men and women are considered commodities for the sake of entertainment and not human beings. The history of black exploitation and minstrelsy in entertainment is abhorrent to us all and should not be overlooked.


As a former Division I athlete and father of a current Division I athlete, there are many concerns that I have. Primarily, my concern is with the NCAA and their exploitation of athletes for financial gain. The NCAA makes nearly a billion dollars annually from the NCAA Basketball Tournament (March Madness) and nearly 925 million after expenses in football.


It is easy to delineate the path to the NCAA’s decision to continue with sporting events; follow the money. As many schools dropped certain non-revenue generating programs during the pandemic, greed has overshadowed the moral compass of universities and the NCAA. Our kids’ health and well-being essentially are not as important as the dollar they can generate for their respective schools. Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, who battled COVID, stated in a recent ESPN interview, “The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players or anybody else.” That is an indictment on our universities, leaders, and this society.


I do applaud the Ivy League and other schools that took a stand and chose the health and safety of oue kids rather than the alternative. I think it can’t be overstated that those schools are fiscally responsible and good stewards of their finances. Their efforts did not place them in a situation of needing kickbacks from the NCAA and shoe companies to remain intact.


The NCAA and President Mark Emmert must be exposed for their hypocrisy.


Back in the spring Emmert stated that college sports wouldn’t be played with students not being allowed on campus. However, that all changed once the NCAA realized the impact of the lost revenue of “March Madness”. Since then, it has been an all-out campaign toward need of college sports. But at what cost to amateur athletes? There is an interesting dichotomy that exists between the NCAA and pro sports. In the case of pro sports, the pro athlete is receiving significant compensation for their occupation and with certain jobs there are calculated inherent risks. College athletes on the other hand are not receiving salaries for their exploits. So, the question comes to mind: how is it fair for these young men and women to play amid a pandemic?


So, was Coach K right? I say partly he was. He was right by raising the concern. However, with the capacity to affect change that Coach K has, I say he missed the mark. He fell short in his inaction to a grave situation. I sincerely believe Coach K could have influenced other Power 5 schools to follow him if he said Duke would not commence further basketball activities until there was a safe way to proceed. Now, surely. Coach K cannot bear the full blame. There is finger pointing that could occur in this state of affairs. As parents of these student-athletes, we have power that is to be wielded against the system. I, as an African American father, sometimes question am I doing my son a disservice by allowing his athletic prowess to be exploited by an unforgiving and uncaring system? I am asking others now, what should we do?

Carl Parker Jr. is a former Division 1 athlete from Bolivia, NC. He played four years at the College of William & Mary. Parker was the recipient of William & Mary's most coveted Kraze Award in back-to-back seasons and finished his collegiate career as a 1,000 point scorer. Parker went on to play professionally in Spain for La Palma. He is still active in basketball as a coach and trainer. In his off time, Carl is a historian that enjoys reading, fishing, and the arts.



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