By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The Chicago Football Classic is one of a series of showcase games for our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities that mostly take place in big cities and big football stadiums and act as epicenters for big, fun weekends.
This weekend alone features such games in Tallahassee, Fla, Memphis and Baton Rouge, among others, but the biggest Classic takes place in Chicago — the battle to crown the “Real HU” between Howard University and Hampton University, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Soldier Field.
Deciding the best HU, one of the most storied school-wide rivalries in all of HBCU culture, provides a delicious primary story line this year for one of the most well-established “Classic” games, the Chicago Football Classic. The CFC marks its 22nd straight season in 2019, hosting beloved historically Black alma maters and fan bases in one of the NFL’s most historic settings.
“As special of a rivalry game that Hampton-Howard is,” Howard coach Robert Prunty told the Newport News Daily Press earlier this year. “To be able to give our players a chance to play inside Soldier Field will be a moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
The standard of the Chicago Football Classic, much like other famed games and celebratory weekends (Circle City Classic, Magic City Classic and the Bayou Classic among them) is to hold up the schools involved and make those who attend the games — along with the many parties and gatherings that surround them — feel at home and free to celebrate HBCU tradition and certain universal Black traditions, which does a lot to bring in even those who haven’t attended college or attended Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) instead.
In the world of sports, we all know there are huge discrepancies — often competitively, especially financially — between HBCUs and PWIs, which benefit most from the bulk of talent provided by the Black community’s aspiring athletes.
Born during this nation’s long period standing with Jim Crow and legal segregation, HBCUs once got their pick of all the top black athletes of their time. As segregation in higher education became struck down in the courts, the availability to attend richer and more well-connected institutions made HBCUs a lesser choice for the elite basketball and football athletes that power so much of the billions of dollars funneling through the NCAA’s member institutions each year.
The system that results reeks of exploitation and many seek for some kind of reform or an outright revolution of thought and process, such as the return of premiere Black athletes to HBCUs, as encouraged recently by Jemele Hill in the Atlantic.
Per Hill’s research, the NCAA reported $1.1 billion in revenue for its 2017 fiscal year. Most of that money comes from the Division I men’s basketball tournament. In 2016, the NCAA extended its television agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting through 2032—an $8.8 billion deal.
About 30 Division I schools each bring in at least $100 million in athletic revenue every year. Almost all of these schools are majority white—in fact, Black men make up only 2.4 percent of the total undergraduate population of the 65 schools in the so-called Power Five athletic conferences. Yet Black men make up 55 percent of the football players in those conferences, and 56 percent of basketball players.
Reggie Johnson Jr. experienced Division 1 college basketball both at a PWI (Miami (OH)) and at a HBCU (Hampton), where Johnson would graduate after transferring two years into his college career.
Currently playing overseas 1st Division Team ZTE (Zalakeramiaztekk) of Hungary, Johnson testified to the facts Hill wrote about, stating to WARR Media that due to more funding at a PWI a lot of things off the court are more enhanced comparatively than at HBCUs. More than certain amenities, Johnson highlighted that certain scenarios are different for athletes with different mentalities and harped on the realities of life outside of being an athlete.
“It’s different for the one and done athletes when it comes to changing/considering programs due to all the resources and other things that come with it. It’s a lot more to just being an athlete and a lot more than just basketball.” Johnson said.
This is why Hill suggested that Blacks should consider HBCU’s more often, not only to balance the power, but also to continue the historical legacy of success in the professional realm outside of sports.
According to Hill, HBCU’s have produced 80 percent of America’s Black judges, 50% of the Black lawyers, 50% of the Black doctors, 40% of the Black engineers, 40% of the Black members of Congress and 13% of the Black CEOs in our nation.
In regards to the Chicago Football Classic, Hampton and Howard have both developed out sized reputations among Black Americans due to the many successful African-American professionals those schools have produced in all industries.
In a weekend like Classic Weekend, in a city like Chicago where so many Black college graduates reside, the importance of both education and Black contributions to our city and how those things intertwine cannot be overlooked.
Johnson, a West Side native of Chicago and graduate of St. Joseph High School in Westchester, is joined in the Chicago-area Hampton alumni base by Evan F. Moore, digital content news producer for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Moore says he did not choose to attend Hampton, which is located along Virginia’s Atlantic coast, to partake in the “Black Experience” so much as he wanted to get out the Midwest. Moore treasures his HBCU experience and states that even though we all compete with various graduates across all institutions, it is important to compete, while excelling, within his chosen profession with other HBCU products.
“I can think of so many of us [within the media industry] in Chicago who went to an HBCU,” Moore said. “The Bigs [Eugene McIntosh and Terrence Tomlin] went to Southern and Morgan State. WGN’s Courtney Gousman went to Hampton. The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry went to Norfolk State and my Sun-Times colleague Candi Meriwether went to Howard.”
As the African-American community gathers once again at Soldier Field, let us not only cheer our HBCU representatives from Hampton and Howard communities, but from all other HBCU communities that are supporting the missions tied into this historic event, which benefit so many in the Windy City and beyond.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media