BOSTON, NOV. 14 -- While black athletes say sports help them get better grades and stay in high school, a survey shows too many have unrealistic expectations of winning college scholarships and pro contracts.
Fifty-nine percent of black high school athletes queried by Louis Harris and Associates expected to play ball in college; 43 percent said they could make it in the pros. Only 39 percent of whites thought they'd get to play in college. Just 16 percent thought they had a shot at the pros.
In reality, no more than 1 percent of high school athletes make it in college sports; only 1 in 10,000 go on to the pros.
"It's something that we've sold the black community decade after decade that sport is the way out of poverty. This outlines the problems we have to get black students to focus on alternatives," said Richard Lapchick, director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
Northeastern and Reebok International, Ltd., funded the nationwide Harris survey of 1,865 high school students in September. A total of 37 percent of the students polled were members of a varsity team. Another 34 percent had played for a team at one time.
By a 61 to 36 percent majority, students said playing sports helped them be better students. Seventy-nine percent of black students and 68 percent of varsity basketball and football players said their team participation improved their classroom performance.
A smaller majority, 56 percent, said athletics helped them avoid drug use; 41 percent said it wasn't a factor. Seventy-four percent of black athletes said sports helped keep them away from drugs. Seventy percent of blacks but only 49 percent of all athletes said the experience helped them avoid alcohol.
Seventy-two percent of blacks and 60 percent of Hispanics said sports kept them from dropping out. Only 52 percent of all athletes polled said sports helped keep them in school.
Among other findings were:
Participation in sports helps break down racial barriers. Seventy percent of the athletes surveyed said they had become friends with team members from another racial or ethnic group.
High school athletes, by a 73 to 16 percent majority, saw themselves as role models for young students -- a source of pride for them. Sixty-nine percent said they looked up to team players when they were younger.
Nearly 8 out of 10 surveyed thought students should maintain a "C" average to be eligible to participate in varsity sports.
The survey discovered other troubling news. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they know someone who has used steroids. Another 49 percent said they knew no one taking the dangerous body building drugs; 15 percent were not sure.
Harris said he was troubled by the emphasis minority athletes put on sports as a way of making it in life. Forty percent of those surveyed said black high school students had a better chance of becoming a pro basketball player than a doctor or a judge.
In reality, more blacks go into medicine than the NBA.