Is it conceivable for a 20-year-old adult who graduated early from one of the top public colleges in the country to have only just read a book cover to cover? It is if you happened to be basketball star Kemba Walker. Walker, who recently celebrated winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball championship with his fellow University of Connecticut Huskies, announced that he had recently finished reading William C. Rhoden’s “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete,” his first book ever cover to cover.
This revelation is wrong on so many levels. But who is really to blame here? Perhaps it is the educational system that failed him as a child, a teen and as a young adult. Maybe one can place the blame on his family; as the youngest of three siblings, it is hard to believe that no one helped him to read a single book. Then again, the blame could also be placed on a society that rewards athletic ability in young men and especially young African American men, rather than stressing the importance of a strong educational foundation. African American men continue to graduate at rates that are far less than those of African American women and Caucasians. A college education is worthless if one cannot read the name on the degree. It would be simple to blame any one of these elements; however, that would not solve the problem — which is how an athlete managed to graduate from college without having read more than one complete book. Maybe more accountability is needed or a greater emphasis on having student-athletes take advantage of the resources their institutions offer them.
The lesson of this story is that reading is not in fact fundamental. One could go 20 years without having read a single book cover to cover and still be successful with a university degree and a chance at being drafted into the NBA — that is, if one is athletically inclined. Among the many accolades Walker has achieved was a call from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who congratulated him on the NCAA win and offered him tickets to a Knicks game. Walker is a role model for many young people who aspire to play college basketball, but a role model is one who should serve as an example to others, who possesses qualities that one would want to emulate. What he is demonstrating, maybe unknowingly, is that it is acceptable to work the system as long as you can play a sport. I do not doubt his intelligence — it takes skill, ability and determination to play a sport — but I call into the question both the character of a man who is aware of his academic shortcomings yet is comfortable with progressing in order to play on a winning team, and the character of those in a position to help who did nothing.
Namatie Mansaray is a graduate student studying public policy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.