Reviewed by CURTIS COWARD*
Shunpiking Magazine, Black History & African Heritage Supplement
The Skin I’m In: Racism, Sports and Education
By Christopher M. Spence
Fernwood Publishing, Blacks Point Ns, $15.95
HE HARDLY FITS the dumb jock stereotype. Author Christopher M. Spence is a former professional football player with the B.C. Lions; he holds a doctorate in education, lectures at York University and Humber College and is the principal at Lawrence Heights Middle School in Toronto. The Skin I’m In identifies the past and present problems of black athletes and the education system, yet he also highlights solutions to begin correcting the ongoing inequities and mistakes within the relationship.
A very valid message is delivered to students who place sports participation ahead of academic achievement, and an attempt is made to educate educators to fight against inequality, racism, and injustice in the education system and society.
It is unfortunate that most student athletes and school administrations will never read this book. Christopher Spence has told a story with the true facts – Black athletes have been exploited, misrepresented, and abused by the education system.
The Skin I’m In is very accurate and stunning as to the number of young student athletes who wish to earn millions of dollars by way of professional sports and forget to focus on the basics of education while attending school.
Christopher Spence reminds us of the odds stacked against the student of colour because of the lack of cultural information provided by the education system. It makes it difficult for a student of colour to stay interested as the information does not relate to their culture. If you can’t see yourself portrayed, you lose interest.
The number of Black athletes who have received a diploma but have not received an education is unbelievable. High schools and universities are building school morale or earning thousands to millions of dollars having star athletes perform; little time and effort is put into the athletes receiving the knowledge and skills needed to get a rewarding job after graduation.
Christopher’s message is greatly defined, athletes of colour should take advantage of the opportunity that sports can offer. Sports can provide educational and career opportunities, especially to the black male athletes. If the athlete uses their talents to get into a major educational program then it is essential for the athlete to leave the program with an education, and be prepared to join the work force in a reputable manner, to find a decent job. High schools and universities are turning these athletes to the outside world unprepared to handle interviews or to manage in the working environment. All it takes is for the education facility to acknowledge the student of the focus needed to succeed after sports, at any level.
Christopher is correct when he states that many schools put more emphasis on sports rather than on education; based on the athletic trophies and awards displayed in the school lobbies or hallways, it is obvious as to which avenue the school spirit depends on. However, the academic accomplishments are absent or of little importance to the institutions. When was the last time you heard of an honour student being promoted, equal to that of the star athlete? If you are not in sports, you are not marketable to the institution.
Racism is very clear in this book. For years Blacks were not accepted in the schools, especially in the USA. Canada also had its moments: the idea of the Canadian Football League teams (Toronto Argos and Ottawa Roughriders) threatening to boycott if the Montreal Alouettes dressed the first Black player in 1946. Jackie Robinson of the Major League Baseball program was not the only struggle in professional sports. The NHL is still a problem.
I salute the content of The Skin I’m In because the message to Black athletes is long over due. It is not only the responsibility of the educational institution to ensure that the Black athlete is educated, we as a Black people, have to get involved with our youth and ensure that there education is received. We have to ensure that our youth understand that while sports teaches you social and team building skills, an education equips you with the basic fundamentals to survive in today’s society. We, as a society, have to overcome the “dumb jock” syndrome. We have to stop believing that we cannot accomplish both education and sports at the same time.
A combination of both sports and education will make you the best that you can be.
As a former professional athlete in baseball, I know it is possible for young black student athletes to accomplish an education during their pursuit of athletic goals. It is acceptable to have a dream of becoming a professional baseball player, basketball player or hockey player. I just think it is wise to have something to fall back on after sports. Knowledge is power with or without the status of professional dollars. You can loose the profes-sional (dollars) status in the blink of an eye by way of injury or by not making the cut, but knowledge is something that can not be taken away, it is always with you.
Christopher Spence is talking through the experience of seeing many athletes fail along his travels. I agree because I have been there as well; education is the key to success.
*Curtis Coward is co-author of The Kids’ Baseball Book (New Media Publications, Halifax, 1994) with Tony Seed. A former pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball team, he now coaches the Auburn High Girls’ basketball team and was recently appointed coach of the Nova Scotia Under-15 Girls’ basketball team. Curtis is also organizer of the annual Justin Coward Memorial Basketball Tournament.
Source: Shunpiking Magazine Black History Supplement, February/March, 2000, Volume 5, Number 32