Should Black Athletes Attend the University of Michigan?


In November 2006 the voters of Michigan passed a referendum to ban any consideration of race in the admissions processes of the state's public colleges and universities, the most prolific of those being the flagship University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The referendum, officially known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative or Proposal 2, passed by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. It became law on Dec. 22 of that year. The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative was challenged and overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on July 1, 2011. Soon after, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that he would appeal the ruling. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its ruling, which prompted Schuette to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. The case was granted certiorari in March 2013, and the Court heard arguments for the case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action on Oct. 15 of that year. On April 22, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled by a margin of six to two that Michigan's ban on affirmative action is in fact constitutional.

Michigan is a state with a particularly contentious racial history. For one, Malcom X grew up in the state's capital of Lansing, and the state is home to the nation's most racially segregated city, Detroit. I recently did a fair amount of research into housing segregation in Detroit for a final paper, and what I found -- or, rather, affirmed -- was that the city's housing segregation, and that of the state, was the result of a collusive effort between the racially restrictive housing policies of the Federal Housing Administration and the deliberate and concerted efforts of private individual homeowners. The greater effect of this effort in Detroit and the nation more broadly is best summarized by Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro in their book Black Wealth/White Wealth, where they state that blacks were "locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history." This is comprehensively analyzed in Ta-Nehisi Coates' article for The Atlantic entitled "The Case for Reparations."

What do I mean to say by all of this? When I was applying to college last year, discussions, both civil and not-so-civil, arose concerning the validity of affirmative action. The most common refutation I would encounter was the argument that we are at a point in our history where affirmative action should ignore race and instead be administered according to one's economic status. So I offer the aforementioned information to demonstrate that while no white resident of the United States can claim they are poor because they are white, black residents can very reasonably attribute their economic condition to their blackness, among other factors, and, as it turns out, this is especially true in the state of Michigan.

In passing the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the voters of Michigan ignored and effectively denied the notion set forth by Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell in his opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), in which he described the desirability of "the educational benefits that flow from an ethnically diverse student body." That's a bold statement, and it is my belief that statements such as this one should be met with equally bold statements that bring us back to our initial question.

The Wolverines are fresh off a lackluster football season, finishing with a 5-7 record, but they have something to look forward to in the hiring of a shiny new head coach in Jim Harbaugh, straight from the NFL. But as sports fans will certainly attest, winning programs are carried by athletes, and, as it happens, a fair number of the athletes on the university's most lucrative and high-profile sports teams, namely the men's football and basketball teams, happen to be black.

By passing the referendum, Michigan's voters have chosen to deny the role of the state's troubled racial history in the current condition of its black residents and further deny the educational benefits allowed by diversity. The prevailing notion seems to be that the perceived lax admissions standards to which black students were allegedly held were unfair. But there seem to be no such reservations when it comes to the lax academic standards to which athletic recruits are held. Thus, while the people of Michigan have found it intolerable to accommodate the victims of racial discrimination, the effects of which are nearly as profound today as they were in the '60s, they continue to find no issue with the recruitment of black talent to their sports teams in spite of their academic performance or lack thereof. It is thus, in my estimation, appropriate, if not essential, that black athletes pass over the University of Michigan and take their talents to institutions that are committed to the worthy ideals of accountability and racial diversity and value black students as more than muscle and sinew.