Behavioral Health Clinicians: Are u ready to get 100 w/ Black Male College Athletes During COVID-19?

Our new reality is that a meaningful number of our most vulnerable Black male college athletes will not return to campus once federal, state and local protections allow college students to return to campus this summer or fall. Some will be academically ineligible. Others will learn that they can make more money (and provide more for the families) than they can playing college sports. A few will conclude college sports is not all it’s cracked up to be and decide to do something else. A noticeable proportion will get locked up (or finally have to face charges that could leave them incarcerated). Unfortunately, others will be a victim of a homicide or suicide.

In the midst of COVID-19, old behavioral health and college athlete development techniques are being upgraded, in authentic ways, to help college athletes adjust to the new normal. This ongoing series will look at the topics, techniques, and opportunities for growth related to behavioral health in college athletics - for Black male college athletes – with a social work spin.

This week, we will start with some of the authentic topics Black males will face during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Academics – A meaningful proportion of Black male college athletes continuing eligibility and opportunity to earn a graduate school worthy GPA are consistently at-risk. The transition from in-person to online classes for the remainder of the ‘20 Fall semester exacerbates their risk because of the absence of highly structured schedules, the addition of authentic and worthy distractions at home, diagnosed, diagnosed and ignored learning disabilities, and a lack of interest in majors areas of study because they were selected for convenience. Some do not have Internet access while others do not understand online course etiquette.

Catching Cases – A number of Black male college athletes will not return to campus because individual and/or situation factors will result in criminal and/or civil charges or because they finally deal with outstanding criminal or civil charges. Whether it is an assault charge or past due child support there are a myriad of reasons cases can become exponentially problematic - such as the affordability of an attorney or the scheduling of court cases when COVID-19 subsides. Think about the worse-case scenario for a Black male college athlete pulled over for a “simple” non-functioning taillight?

Fatherhood­ – Some Black male college athletes are returning home and interacting with their high school sweethearts, girlfriends, and groupies. Like other college males they have lots of energy, testosterone, and time on their hands. The goal here is not to feed into stereotypes about the hyper-sexuality of Black males/athletes, but to keep it real about the reality that many college males – stuck at home because of COVID-19 – may be more sexually available/active.

Sport Social Work Tips:

1. Just Do It and initiate super brief “conversations” with your most vulnerable Black male athletes. You protecting yourself? How are YOUR kids doing?” They will appreciate your courage to ask and if you have not asked before then it’s the start/continuation of building an authentic relationship.

2. Read up on criminal justice charges Black males commonly face. What does 3rd degree assault mean? What are the consequences? How might a case play out? What campus/other resources are permissible benefits?

3. Can you partner (permissible benefits) with the student health center to send a care package with hand sanitizer and contraceptives? Maybe they won’t use them, but what if it makes them pause and think about the potential unintended implications of unprotected sex?

Hopefully this list is helpful in the coming days more themes, techniques and ideas will be posted on my blog.

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Emmett L. Gill, Jr., PhD, MSW, LMSW

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