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OU's Fraternities, Racism and Football

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The fallout from the University of Oklahoma's racist fraternity video scandal continues, reaching all the way to the world of college sports.

After footage surfaced of members of the school's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter chanting racial slurs, a four-star football recruit announced he was decommitting from the program. High school junior Jean Delance announced his decision on Twitter and later explained that he was deterred by the "very disturbing" video. "Very uneducated people," he said. "I wouldn't want my son or child to go there or to anywhere like that." He soon indicated that he had an offer from the University of Alabama, though he might want to look into similar issues among the Crimson Tide's own Greek life.

Some fans insist that Delance's decision was an overreaction, given the university's swift and decisive response. OU President David Boren shut down the fraternity on Monday and ordered its members to vacate the house, emphatically stating, "We don't provide student services for bigots." Others have pointed out that racism exists everywhere and isn't limited to OU's campus.

That may well be true, but you can't fault Delance for feeling uncomfortable about the school's racial climate. Delance's concerns are further bolstered by the statements of several OU athletes who recounted numerous instances of racial targeting by other fraternities and students. Senior defensive end Charles Tapper tweeted, "It hurts and many other frats have been saying racial things ... And we truly have set back and just had to take it." He later tweeted a message to recruits stressing that these kinds of actions do not represent the majority of the student body.

Tapper's teammate Eric Striker further described the discrimination he's faced on campus, and in doing so shed light on the plight of black college athletes on predominantly white campuses. From the Oklahoman:

Despite often being invited to parties because of his athletic prowess -- and used to promote and create buzz about those parties -- Striker said he’s been singled out and asked who invited him, then told he can stay, “as long as you don’t cause any trouble.”

Striker recalled defensive end Charles Tapper being called the N-word at one fraternity party, and former OU running back David Smith overhearing someone whisper that people at a date party should watch out for Smith, because he might take a girl home and rape her.

“All of this has happened, and we kept it within and pushed it under the rug,” Striker said. “After (the video), we have to take a stand. Our voices have to be heard.”

Striker speaks to a common experience by black athletes. A 2009 study by the University of Central Florida pointed to the "pervasiveness of racial stigma and preconceived notions about African American male football and basketball players on predominantly white campuses," finding that both black and white students stereotype black athletes as "athleticated" rather than educated and further label them as hypersexual.

Furthermore, a 2012 study by the University of Georgia's International Center for Sport Management traced the long history of social isolation of black athletes at predominantly white colleges. "The insidious acceptance" of the dumb-jock myth at U.S. colleges "has presented significant psychological and social obstacles for Black athletes," according to the report. "The prevalence of these racist stereotypes within discursive practices at US educational institutions has contributed to negative academic outcomes, limited personal development, and poor psychological adjustments for Black athletes. Thus, these Black athletes were victims of stereotype threat."

2013 study by the University of Pennsylvania found that from 2007 to 2010, 50.2 percent of black male athletes graduated within six years, compared with 66.9 percent of all athletes, while 96.1 percent of NCAA Division I programs graduated black players at lower rates than college athletes overall. "Racism and routine encounters with racial stereotypes are among many factors that undermine Black students’ persistence rates and sense of belonging on predominantly white campuses," the study concluded. "Any effort to improve rates of completion and academic success among Black male student-athletes must include some emphasis on their confrontations with low expectations and stereotypes in classrooms and elsewhere on campus."

OU is at least taking the right steps by coming down hard on SAE. The response by the school's athletic leaders -- Barry Switzer notwithstanding -- has been equally encouraging that the concerns of black athletes and the rest of the student body are being heard. Joined by football coach Bob Stoops and men's basketball coach Lon Kruger, nearly 100 Sooners players joined an on-campus protest Monday. It would be unfair for an entire university's reputation to be marred solely because of the actions of a few, but the issues raised by the more outspoken black athletes should tell us that this level of discrimination isn't limited to one fraternity on one campus.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net