Why Colleges Need Athletes as Minority Mentors
When it comes to getting more minorities into college, and then graduating them, there are a lot of different ideas out there. Stronger high school recruiting, better guidance programs for first-generation students, and more minority faculty members are just a few of the ways to make college campuses more diverse to the benefit and success of everyone.
Having strong minority role models as mentors is another, and perhaps the most powerful idea of them all. Successful people who look like the students a particular college or university is trying to graduate, and who come from a similar background, can leave a lasting impression and inspire students to similar heights.
One particular group of minority mentors that I feel should be getting even more involved in the minority recruiting and mentorship process are student athletes. Whether still athletes at the school, or alumni, this particular subset of minority mentors should play an important role in graduating other traditionally disadvantaged students.
Maurice Clarett as mentor
One great example of a college-athlete-turned-minority-mentor is The Ohio State University alum Maurice Clarett. The former college running back has taken on a new role as both a cautionary tale, and inspiration, to other young people. If his name sounds familiar, it is because his claim to fame was not just on the football field or as a national champion in the sport. Clarett served four years in prison for aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon. It was behind bars that he started reading up on personal development and ways to grow beyond a delinquent and even ways to rise above his association with being a football star.
Today he talks with other college athletes about things like personal responsibility and being accountable for actions, no matter what their upbringing. Clarett has visited athletes at Alabama, Notre dame, Tennessee and Mississippi State. He recently spoke with the national champion Florida State football team and acknowledged that many minority college athletes come from home environments that leave them “undeveloped” and without the skills needed to function successfully in life. Taking advantage of the resources available on college campuses and determining to be better than life’s circumstances are two lessons that Clarett tries to pass along to the people he mentors.
A story like Clarett’s is so much more powerful than the seemingly-empty warnings from adults on college campuses, many of whom look nothing like the students they are trying to influence and have no shared life experiences. By finding ways to tap into the stories of athletes, colleges can give their students a more impactful way of committing to success.
Mirroring smart mentorship
Traditionally getting into college on an athletic scholarship has been a way that minorities have been able to break onto college campuses, particularly if they came from educational environments that simply did not offer the same resources as advantaged peers. I’d argue that getting these athletes to graduation day is simply not enough; a whole other realm of life skills is needed to ensure that they are successful long after their athletic playing days have passed. When the cheers die down and the attention turns to the more practical things in life, these student athletes need ground to stand on. Pairing them up with mentors, or at the very least bringing in former athletes to share their after-college success stories, is a great way to inspire greatness that lasts a lifetime.
Leadership. Teamwork. Hard work. Earning a “win.” Losing gracefully. All of these are lessons that college athletes know in the context of their respective sports. Translating that to life beyond college can be challenging but can be made much easier with the help of mentors that have a common understanding with the students they address. Schools should make this as much a priority as recruiting minority students to sports and academic programs. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to their students to prepare them for all aspects of life and proper mentorship can be a necessary building block in that process.
How do you think colleges can best mentor minority students?