Commentary

Judson: Black colleges still thrive

Updated: February 12, 2008, 5:21 PM ET
By George J. Tanber | Special to ESPN.com

Dr. Horace Judson played football and baseball and ran track at Dillard High School in his native Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The school has five graduates now playing in the NFL.

Judson, 65, is president of Grambling State University, a school that has sent more than 100 of its students to the NFL. Although the school is not the powerhouse it once was, and fewer of its players make it to the NFL, Judson retains a keen interest in sports.

He grew up a Dodgers fan but switched to the Yankees after serving as president of Plattsburgh State University of New York. In football, Judson roots for the Baltimore Ravens.

For Black History Month, Judson talked with ESPN.com about race and sports. What role, if any, did athletics play in the integration of America?

It played a vital role. I think, overall, that role was mostly positive. It [gave] us entry into areas where the general [black] population could not get into. And it gave us a voice where it didn't exist in other places. The negative aspect is that it created and perpetuated negative stereotypes for blacks.

Horace Judson
Grambling State"If you come to Grambling and you're talented and you have an interest in the next level, you'll be noticed," says Grambling State President Dr. Horace Judson.
Name an African-American athlete you admire and why.

Jackie Robinson. I admired him because even after he had achieved celebrity in his field and achieved a level no one had before him, he still was a person of great principle. He remained engaged in the struggle for human rights, and he paid a price for it. Present-day athletes who are rich and famous elect not to [speak out]. They don't want to [jeopardize] the lofty level they have attained.

Are universities exploiting African-American athletes in the major sports, such as football and basketball?

I think less so than 20 years ago. I also want to say they exploit all athletes, but blacks more than whites. Black athletes still don't share equitably in all the opportunities that other athletes have. Even though there has been some headway, there still is resistance. Look at the number of [black] head coaches in Division I college football [six out of 117], not to mention a lack of business opportunities. [Black athletes] know the system works [better] for other athletes.

What's the advantage for an African-American athlete attending a historically black college or university, such as Grambling State, as opposed to an Alabama or a Notre Dame?

If you come to Grambling and you're talented and you have an interest in the next level, you'll be noticed. You could go to another, lesser [known] black college, and you may not have the same opportunity. The advantage [of attending any black university] is that you're going to be fairly treated and you will have more opportunities in terms of your student life. At Grambling, athletes are known by the whole academic community and they interact with the whole campus community in a way that is much harder [for black athletes] to do than at a predominately white university.

Young and talented African-American athletes sometimes place professional sports above all other goals. Many don't make it, and as a result, are left with limited choices. What needs to happen for that mind-set to change?

There are a number people in our communities who have begun to focus on that problem. We have to continue to engage the larger black community and discuss the issues and engage our students at the earliest levels, when they become interested in sports. There are so many examples of tragic failures of those who didn't make it out of college. In some ways, it's a lot harder now because of all [the media attention]. There's no easy way to do it. We don't want to kill the dream, but we have to make them understand they need to prepare themselves for the likelihood they won't be making it in professional sports.

African-Americans often dominate the top professional and collegiate sports but are under-represented in leadership positions, such as coaching and in politics. What needs to happen for that to change?

There are voices out there -- a number of people across society who are now speaking up on this issue. I was looking at the young coach the Steelers hired [Mike Tomlin], and how significant it was that the Rooneys selected this person -- the power of an example such as that. On the other hand, there are those who have a significant voice by the position they hold who have to speak out more forcibly. This is where African-American athletes could make a more significant contribution than they have elected to do. They could do a great deal more if they spoke with one voice. If parents prevented their kids from going to universities where there aren't any black athletic directors or associate athletic directors, you would see a great deal more change.

You're a star athlete. Name the sport and your dream moment.

Football. I'm playing cornerback and the offense is driving for the winning touchdown. I intercept the ball with about 20 seconds left to stop their drive.

In real life, what was your greatest sports moment either as a participant or as a fan? As a fan, when the [Brooklyn] Dodgers beat the Yankees [in 1955] to win their first World Series.

George J. Tanber contributes to ESPN.com. He can be reached at george.tanber@iscg.net.

George J. Tanber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage.