A disturbing trend is running rampant on college campuses throughout the United States. While the country's population is nearly 16 percent Hispanic, a disproportionate number of Latino student-athletes are represented in the NCAA, both in population and in scholarship distribution. In fact, according to Paul Ruffins' article, Game Delay: Latinos Not Yet Scoring With College Athletics, Hispanic men and women made up only 4.5 and 3.9 percent, respectively, of all student-athletes in the NCAA during the 2008-09 academic year. While the percentage of Latinos at the general student level is hovering around 12 percent, one can't help but to notice the disparity between the two numbers, especially in considering the success and impact that Latino athletes are having on the professional sports world. We chose to examine the current climate and contributing factors to this alarming trend in the hopes of finding some solutions.
One argument can be made for the lack of Hispanics at the collegiate level is that with the exception of Major League Baseball, Latinos are just now starting to make headway into the country's more prestigious and well-paid professional sports. In pro baseball, Latino players comprised nearly a quarter of the players on last year's Opening Day rosters and more than 40 percent of those in the minor leagues. Of course while players like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez rank among the highest paid professional athletes, it should be noted that there is no college prerequisite for Major League Baseball. So where's the incentive? The collegiate sports with the highest Latino representation offer very little in the way of a professional career. These sports include volleyball (the highest Latino Male populated sport) water polo, soccer, and track and field. Only recently have players like Brook and Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez made their mark in the NBA, while players like Tony Gonzalez and Mark Sanchez are beginning to make headway in the NFL. This lack of professional opportunities beyond college may be a key piece in the puzzle regarding the lack of Latino student athletes. The climate is even tougher for those Latino female athletes to seek a professional career based on student athletics. Of course the argument can be made that student-athlete scholarships are designed as a means to alleviate the cost of receiving a higher education, not as a way into a career; but I seriously doubt that the majority of high school recipients look at them that way.
According to Jim Serra, Deputy Athletic Director at the University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic-serving institution, boosting the numbers of Latino student-athletes depends on increasing the enrollment of Hispanic students in general. He believes that there is a unique cultural pressure among Hispanics to work, rather than attend college to help support their families. This idea best explains that while a recent Nielsen and Stanford University poll showed that 87% of Hispanics valued a college education, only 13% of Hispanics actually received one. "Aspirations for higher education are very strong among Hispanics, but there is a yawning discrepancy between aspirations and actual attainment," says Richard Fry, an education researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center. Besides the cultural pressure of supporting their families, Latinos also face economic struggles and language barriers that can be obstacles to receiving a higher education in general, much less the student-athlete scholarships that can help to graduate with one. Nearly 30 percent of those in the Nielsen poll attributed their lack of college opportunity to poor grades, something that cannot be acceptable among our youth, athlete or not.