Ray Jackson and Jimmy King, two members of the Fab Five — the 1991 recruiting class for the University of Michigan basketball team — discussed the stereotypes surrounding Black male athletes, including athletics overshadowing academics and exploitation by brands. Jackson and King, joined by Maurice Ways, current football player and former Michigan and NFL football player Braylon Edwards, discussed the stereotypes and misrepresentations of Black athletes Thursday night in the Robertson Theatre in the Ross School of Business.
LSA junior Maurice Ways began the night by speaking to his experience as a student athlete and going over his daily schedule, including when he has to fit in classes and when he has time that isn’t taken up by school or athletics. Ways emphasized how people often don’t consider athletes to be students as well.
“Someone told me the only reason you’re going to Michigan is to play football,” Ways said. “There’s a stereotype about the Black male athlete that he’s either/or … I can be whatever I need to be whenever I need to be it.”
Ways talked about the number of African-American men at the University and the number of African-American male athletes. Only 740 of the 43,000 students at the University are African American men.
“The football team makes up more than half of the Black male athletes at the University of Michigan,” Ways quipped.
Kelsey Penebaker, an athletic trainer at the University, came to learn about the experiences of the students she works with.
“I am also a minority, so I wanted to come see what the perspective was and wanted to see what their perspective was from a male student athlete because I was a student athlete as well,” Penebaker said. “I wanted to see where (Jackson, Edwards and King) were coming from in their time and how things have changed.”
LSA senior Braylon Edwards, who returned to the University this semester to finish his degree, followed Ways. Edwards touched on the influence of the media and the disparity between the ways white athletes are praised as opposed to Black athletes.
“They do the same thing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers,” Edwards said. “They say Aaron Rodgers is mentally insane. They say the way he is able to predict lineman coming in, steps outside, gets around and when he throws passes, his laser sharp accuracy, pin-point, mental toughness. When (Russell Wilson) does the same thing, his athletic ability allows him … to get the ball down there.”
Edwards continued talking about the experiences of Black student athletes with their academics, including the skills Black male athletes lack when they come to the University and how expectations put on their athletics can detract from their academics.
“Many Black athletes come to campus with poor academic preparation,” Edwards said. “(Jabrill Peppers) is no longer the student athlete, he’s the athlete … the pressure that comes with that, no one sees.”
Business junior Nate Fisher said the viewpoints of the athletes at the event were ones he hasn’t been exposed to before.
“I definitely was able to see the viewpoints that a lot of the Black athletes are bringing up, recognizing how in our society they are usually perceived in a certain way,” Fischer said. “It was really cool for me, as a white person, to take in this point of view to really have a more holistic view of different perspectives of different types of athletes.”
Feb. 9 marked the 25th anniversary of when the Fab Five first started together. The Fab Five have been regarded as a cultural phenomenon, reaching the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship games.
Ray Jackson, the keynote speaker and a member of the Fab Five, highlighted his time as an athlete and what he has learned since then. Jackson emphasized his experience when he started his first game against Notre Dame on this day 25 years ago with the other members of the Fab Five.
“From that day forward, I never thought about school on the same level as I did prior to that,” Jackson said. “Before that day, I was making it to class all the time.”
Jackson introduced another member of the Fab Five, Jimmy King, to shed light on his experiences as well, including the pressure on athletes and being exploited as a member of the Fab Five.
“You don’t want to let your community down,” King said. “You have all this weight on your shoulders … that pressure can break you.”
King also spoke about being exploited, including when Nike came to the Fab Five with five duffel bags full of gear, telling them they could have whatever they wanted. King and the other members of the Fab Five realized what was going on.
“We’re basically unpaid consultants,” King said. “Whatever we pick is what they’re going to sell and make money on. (Nike) would rather talk about anything else but that. As soon as (the coach) mentioned compensation, they pushed away from the table, got up and left and didn’t say a word.”
Jackson finished the night describing the Black male athlete and solutions to the issues posed throughout the night.
“If we don’t educate our kids and our children coming up, we will continue to have athletes go broke, commit suicide, beat their girlfriends,” Jackson said. “That stems from lack of education.”