Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lachin Hatemi: Spirit of 1968 is dead at University of Kentucky

Authored by Lachin Hatemi M.D.

In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, two black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made history with their black power salute. As world class athletes, they used the Olympic platform to protest the mistreatment of black people. Early in John Carlos’ life he desired to be a swimmer, not a runner, but most swimming pools were open exclusively to the white elite.  Mr. Carlos found his calling in running because it did not require access to costly facilities that were off-limit to blacks like swimming.

During that same time period, the University of Kentucky was experiencing its own racial revolution. In 1967, one year before the Mexico City Olympics, Greg Page and Nat Northington were the only two blacks on the University of Kentucky’s football team. In fact, Northington became the first African American to play in a South Eastern Conference (SEC) football game. Although Northington was able to break the color barrier wearing the Wildcats uniform, Greg Page was not so fortunate.  He was injured during practice by his white teammates and died six weeks later from a paralyzing neck injury before he had the opportunity to play in a game. After the death of Page, Northington transferred from the University of Kentucky probably because he did not want to share the fate of Page.

No white teammates were punished for the death of Greg Page. In fact, the incident which amounted to a veritable lynching was never investigated. It was instead “white washed” like so many other incidents of racism and hate over the years at University of Kentucky.
Times have changed…Or have they?

In 2012, the University of Kentucky’s basketball team’s five starters were all African Americans. This dream team would go on to win the NCAA Championship. In most sports, UK has seemingly come a long way when it comes to including African Americans.  It remains a popular destination for many black high school athletes.

Elite black athletes continue to enrich institutions like University of Kentucky. These student-athletes are rewarded with stipends and scholarships, in compliance with NCAA regulations; they in return generate fortunes for their universities. What many do not understand is that University of Kentucky’s generosity toward some of their athletes does not extend to the general black student population.

Contrary to popular beliefs, affirmative action is not working and black students are not receiving fair treatment at these institutions. The problems faced by black students attending University of Kentucky are alarming.

Like many others, the Lexington-Fayette County of Kentucky Chapter of the NAACP recently questioned the University of Kentucky Medical School’s policies towards its treatment of black medical students. The University of Kentucky administration consistently denied access to vital statistical data about its minority student recruitment outside of their athletic programs. Here is the shocker – the numbers are outrageous and UK does not want you to know the facts.

The University of Kentucky Medical School is the center controversy concerning their admission, retention, graduation, and treatment of Black students. Limited data available to general public suggests that more than 70% of black medical students at the University Kentucky are excluded from receiving state and endowment based scholarships. A great majority of black students are asked to pay more than $53,000 per year in tuition, one of the highest tuition rates in the nation for a medical school.  Meanwhile, the average white student from Kentucky pays approximately $23,000-$25,000 for the same education. And if one is lucky to be an offspring of a UK administrator, you can also benefit from reduced in-state tuition (even if you never lived a day in Kentucky prior to medical school).

The University of Kentucky manages to exploit both its black athletes and black medical students for the sake of the almighty dollar while diverting tax payer’s money to other causes. I am not suggesting that black elite athletes not attend the University of Kentucky; however, I recommend them to think twice about how Blacks are treated there when Coach John Calipari knocks on their door to recruit them.

I want black athletes to remember the legacy of Greg Page who died trying to break the race barrier in University of Kentucky’s sport programs. Do not financially enrich an institution unless that institution provides similar opportunities for all students. If you have the talent, you also have plenty other options.

Lachin Hatemi is a physician located in Buffalo, New York. His interests include Human rights, Patient’s rights and interfaith dialogue. You can reach Lachin at Lachinhatemi@gmail.com.

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