Brown University, If You Were Actually Serious About Racial Justice You Would Not Be Cutting the Men’s Track Team
Brown’s Track and Field team has more Black Men on its roster than Brown’s Lacrosse, Baseball, Hockey, and Crew Teams Combined!
Recently Brown University, like every other institution or company as of late, released a statement in support of confronting racial injustice in response to the national outcry from the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery — all unarmed Black people killed by the police or by racial vigilantes. In their statement, Brown noted that “structures of power and deep-rooted oppression” were at work and that the university would commit to “advancing knowledge and promoting essential change in policy and practice in the name of equity and justice” moving forward. Just a few days earlier, however, Brown announced that they were cutting a number of sports including Men’s Track and Field. They noted that their decision was a part of an effort to improve competitiveness and to align with their mission to increase diversity on teams. Increasing diversity by cutting Men’s Track, one of the most diverse teams on any college campus? Give me a break.
You cannot address racial injustice without addressing socioeconomic and educational injustice. The legacy of slavery is directly responsible for the disproportionally low-income and low educational attainment of Black Americans to this day. Elite institutions such as Brown offer opportunities for upward mobility for low-income individuals, and sports, in particular, provide a distinct pathway to an elite education. However affluent sports are over-represented at elite universities and 65% of Ivy League athletes are white.
This makes Brown’s decision to cut Men’s Track all the more problematic: Brown is cutting one of its few truly diverse sports while still keeping many of its affluent sports on the table. Brown’s track team has more Black males than their Lacrosse, Baseball, Ice Hockey and Crew teams combined. Some of those teams do not have a single Black student on their rosters. Track has eleven.
Brown is cutting one of its few truly diverse sports while still keeping many of its affluent sports on the table…By cutting Track and Field, Brown is literally taking away admissions opportunities for Black male athletes while preserving admission opportunities for white athletes in affluent sports.
By cutting Track and Field, Brown is literally taking away admissions opportunities for Black male athletes while preserving admission opportunities for white athletes in affluent sports. And to add insult to injury, sailing is being elevated to varsity while track will be reduced to a club team with no recruiting slots. Brown should be finding more opportunities for Black Men to go to Brown, not fewer.
This is not meant to disparage any of these other teams but the structural reality is that sports like Lacrosse and Ice Hockey are only really accessible for those with high income or class positions. These are rich sports that are prohibitively expensive for most American families. And the historical realities of the US means that most Black people in this country are not in the income or class position to participate in these sports. These sports will still have admissions spots for Brown for the Fall of 2021. Men’s track will not.
Track and Field is one of the most egalitarian sports in terms of cost and accessibility. It’s a cheap sport, especially at the youth level — it doesn’t cost a lot in terms of equipment, facilities or training in order to participate. In fact, Track and Field was the least expensive of the 21 youth sports evaluated by the Aspen Institute, costing families an average of $191 per year. Hockey and Lacrosse were among the most expensive at $2,583 and $1,289 respectively. Even non-elite sports like Soccer and Baseball can be quite comparatively expensive.
It’s also an accessible sport as over 1 million high school boys and girls participate in Track and Field each year. You don’t need fancy facilities to participate: all you need to be successful in Track and Field are some running shoes, a place to run, talent, willpower, and some guidance. And you don’t need to attend expensive sports camps or make professionally produced highlight reels to promote yourself. A fast time and a far jump or throw is just as good at a small private school track meet as it would be at a national championship. If the mark is elite, and there’s electronic timing, that’s good enough to get you noticed as a high school athlete. That’s good enough for you to get recruited.
Digging deeper, Ivy League institutions do not have large Black student populations and amongst their Black student populations, first-generation students and the children of immigrants are overrepresented while the descendants of American slaves are underrepresented. All Black students are valuable and deserve a place at elite universities, however, universities such as Brown, who have directly benefited from American slavery, have an obligation to right a historic wrong and provide opportunities for qualified, talented descendants of American slavery. Brown’s decision to cut Track and Field just took 11 of those opportunities away.
Brown’s rhetoric doesn’t match their actions. If Brown is really committed to confronting racial injustice, they would start by redoubling their efforts to afford access to talented Black Men and Women. And that starts by reinstating Men’s Track and Field. There are Title IX requirements that must be figured out, and budgets will have to be reconfigured but Brown has the ability to figure this out. Don’t say you’re in support of Black Lives and addressing the institutional inequities that affect Black Americans while at the same time helping to enshrine income and class disparities by giving more opportunities for those in affluent sports and increasing your number of White male varsity athletes and decreasing the number of Black male varsity athletes on your campus.
Talk is cheap. Brown, do the work. Fix this now. Reinstate Men’s Track!
Writer’s note: A previous version of this essay noted that there were 9 Black students on Brown’s Men’s Track Team. The number was corrected to 11.