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Fox News host Laura Ingraham invited New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson onto her show Monday night to discuss college football, and the conversation apparently didn’t go quite the way Ingraham intended.
The topic at hand: a recent article in The Atlantic by Jemele Hill which encouraged elite high school athletes to attend HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) rather than gleaming athletic monoliths like Alabama and Clemson. Here’s how the segment went:
Watson is currently serving a four-game suspension for a supplement he took while he was briefly retired earlier this year. Ingraham invited him onto the show with the apparent expectation that Watson, who played for Duke and Georgia—the bluest of blue-chip schools—would dunk on Hill’s argument. Instead, Watson came out in support of Hill’s arguments, which are twofold. From the article:
About 30 Division I schools each bring in at least $100 million in athletic revenue every year. Almost all of these schools are majority white—in fact, 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.
Moreover, Hill explains the necessity of HBCUs, which help prepare black professionals in fields far beyond sports:
Despite constituting only 3 percent of four-year colleges in the country, HBCUs have produced 80 percent of the black judges, 50 percent of the black lawyers, 50 percent of the black doctors, 40 percent of the black engineers, 40 percent of the black members of Congress, and 13 percent of the black CEOs in America today. (They have also produced this election cycle’s only black female candidate for the U.S. presidency: Kamala Harris is a 1986 graduate of Howard University.)
The goal, then, is to route some of the phenomenal wealth flowing through college sports into some universities in desperate need of more funding. (“Alabama’s athletic department generated $174 million in the 2016–17 school year,” Hill writes, “whereas the HBCU that generated the most money from athletics that year, Prairie View A&M, brought in less than $18 million.”) The endgame is not to boost HBCUs’ athletic programs, but to boost their ability to help improve conditions for their students and their communities.
“Institutions that nurture a black middle class are crucial,” Hill writes. “And when these institutions are healthy, they bring economic development to the black neighborhoods that surround them.”
Those are some lofty goals, and given the amount of money in college athletics, not entirely unreasonable ones. But rather than focusing on the fascinating ideas at play—even a few elite players jumping to HBCUs would upend college athletics—Fox News producers chose to make the segment about Hill herself, showing photos of her at awards ceremonies and podiums. That’s no surprise; outrage sells, and Hill, an open advocate of African-American causes, whipped up plenty of outrage a couple years back when she criticized President Trump during the NFL’s protest saga.
Ingraham created plenty of outrage on her own last year when she said athletes like LeBron James who spoke out on social causes should “shut up and dribble.” James used that line as motivation and inspiration, crafting a documentary by that same name examining the intersection of sports and politics.
When it became clear Watson wasn’t agreeing with her stance, Ingraham began rolling her eyes and trying to cut him off with dismissive “yeah”s. She then shut down the interview, saying “Duke would have not been thrilled with your not being there.” But that wasn’t the point of Hill’s article; a Duke or an Alabama will be fine without one elite-level athlete, but that same athlete could completely change the face of an HBCU program.
Watson will return to the field in October against the Redskins, but he might not be returning to Ingraham’s show anytime soon.
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