Building on Resilience: Dr. John Singer

DR. JOHN N. SINGER, associate professor of Sport Management at Texas A&M University, shared insights from his new book “Race, Sports and Education” for the seventh installment of the MACH III’s Building on Resilience Lecture Series on February 13, 2020.

“I discuss contemporary issues and challenges black male football and basketball athletes face as they successfully navigate what I call the contested terrain that we call college sport, particularly in historically White college and university spaces,” Singer said of his book.

Singer, who is also associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion at TAMU, researches the cultures and practices of elite college sport programs at historically White colleges and universities. His focus is learning more about the impact of these programs on educational experiences, opportunities, and outcomes of Black male athletes.

“Certainly, the athletes that I feature in my book are gifted athletically and in other capacities, but to varying degrees they are gifted academically and in other ways beyond sport and play. These are brilliant people we are talking about here,” Singer said.

“I am a black male who had hoop dreams and learning challenges in elementary school. I remember being one of the few black students pulled out of class in the fourth and fifth grades and taken to math lab and reading lab,” he said. “Looking back on that time and thinking back on my focus on basketball, it makes me realize how far I have come and how I didn’t allow that label to define who I am.”

Singer said his position as a graduate assistant at Michigan State University put him on track to do his current research.

He said, “I took this position and was immediately signed as the case load to black male football and basketball players in that program who were considered at-risk. These students were using this program to transition into the university.”

“It was through this experience I began to ask questions about how the program was structured and set up in a way that didn’t necessarily serve the educational interests of these athletes,” he said. “Being on the staff as a black male, I found some of the literature on the students in general and student athletes in particular spoke to the challenges this student population faces across the P-16 context.

“That really captured my attention and caused me to think about every indicator of success – GPA, graduation rates, placement in special education and gifted programs. The black male was at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of these socially constructive indicators of success,” he said.

Singer wanted to tell a different story.

“Black male athletes are not a monolithic group. You have people from different backgrounds with different learning needs and with different identities that are important to them at different times,” he said, referring to the athletes profiled in his book. “What do you do about the young black male athlete who happens to be a parent?”

Singer emphasizes his book is not all doom and gloom.

“I do think that participation in organized school sport has some educational value if it’s properly leveraged. Black males who participate in college sport are brilliant beings,” he said. “If you can read a playbook for a Division 1 football program, you know some math and you have some genius in you.”

In Chapter 3 of “Race, Sports and Education,” Singer outlines the narratives of several athletes to understand “how they navigated the systems that are undergirded by the elite white male dominance system.”

“I asked them questions about their P-12 schooling and their early sport experiences. I asked them questions about how they define education,” he said. “I looked at the internal-external factors that influenced their education and I also got into the recommendations they had for their educational experiences.”

Singer also draws from Critical Race Theory – a framework that offers a race-conscious approach to understanding educational inequality and structural racism to find solutions that lead to justice – to garner insight into their secondary schooling background, what education means to them, and how racism impacts their holistic development.

The focus group and individual interviews revealed each viewed education as more than classroom learning and obtaining a degree, and perceived racism as alive and well in college sport. Singer said these athletes should be brought into the conversations about them.

“We as scholars can use theories to talk about them, but we need to talk with them. That’s what my book is about – centralizing the voices in the stories of the most important population in this scheme called college sport,” he said.