By Deborah Bailey,
Contributing Editor

Bowie State University recently held the fifth annual UMPC Social Justice Alliance Symposium in honor of Second Lt. Richard Collins III, a University of Maryland, College Park student killed in a 2017 hate crime. Collins was posthumously elevated to the rank of first lieutenant. 

The event took place on April 28, and included a panel discussion in front of hundreds gathered to talk about racial and social justice in sports. 

Olympic Gold Medalist Dominique Dawes, WNBA star Marissa Coleman, NBA Sports columnist and UMD professor Kevin Blakistone and former Washington Wizards player Eta Thomas joined student athletes Rainelle Jones, a UMC Volleyball player, and Zion Tyler, a Bowie State University track and field star, for the talk. Nothing was off the table, as participants assessed racial justice in the world of collegiate and professional athletics.

Tonia Walker, CIAA Associate Commissioner led the athletes in the hard hitting panel discussion, which brought the heat on a range of topics related to college sports and social justice. One topic discussed was the danger of becoming institutionalized with the new NCAA Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) rules. 

The NIL rules, adopted in June 2021 allows NCAA Division I, II and III student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness whether the state has NIL laws in place or not.  The new NIL rules will not override state, college/university or conference NIL rules. 

But the regulations have been widely criticized for being hastily put together, creating a new class of student athletes and widening the gap between the “have and have nots,” based on who actually receives compensation, according to the panelists. 

Olympian Dominique Dawes dived right into the NIL controversy. 

“The top NIL athlete is not the greatest gymnast that’s out there,” Dawes said without hesitation.  

“I don’t think the powers that be really took the time to investigate how NIL could impact sports. For the female athletes, the ones that are making the most money are the ones that are sexualized, unfortunately,” Dawes offered. “I understand why NIL was developed. Colleges are making an extraordinary amount of money on these athletes. However, I think there needs to be a little more thought about NIL.”

Olympic Gold Medalist Dominique Dawes gets straight to the point in discussing problems with Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) deal guidance issued by the NCAA. (Photo Credit: Deborah Bailey)

“It’s a little more difficult if your sport is not football or basketball,” said Jones, emphasizing that, outside of the elite NCAA teams, women’s volleyball is not a sport that draws a premium level of endorsements. 

Track and field athlete Zion Tyler, who attends Bowie State, mentioned HBCU athletes are also often left out of the collegiate sports conversation on a variety of levels.”

“There’s three things that are needed right now: equity, inclusion and opportunity,” said Tyler. 

“These three things are lacking at our HBCUs. We may not get the same NIL deals and the extra funding for our athletes and it’s not because of a difference in talent.  There’s plenty of talent at HBCUs–it is the opportunity to show their performance,” he said.  

The athletes spoke on how community support– or lack thereof– can be an additional barrier to Black athletes on Black campuses.

“Here at Bowie State, we’re in the middle of the forest. You go up the street to Ledo’s Pizza (five miles from campus) and they have the UMD gear,” said Tyler, in reference to the lack of support seen from local businesses when it comes to HBCU sports teams. 

The closest restaurants and other businesses to Bowie State’s campus are located 2-3 miles away from the campus itself, restricting the campus-community integration that benefit many PWI’s, including the University of Maryland, with major businesses just a short walk across the street from campus.     

A 2021 report from McKinsey Institute on Black Economic Mobility supports Tyler’s concerns. According to the study, more than 80 percent of HBCUs are located in areas that fail to service Black consumers.  

Frankki Bevins, lead author of the McKinsey Black Economic Mobility Institute study, notes that “82 percent of HBCUs are in broadband deserts; 50 percent are in food deserts; and 35 percent are in areas without superstores that could offer consumers a full range of groceries, furniture and clothing.” 

Later in the program, Dawes and Thomas were awarded the Social Justice Alliance Trailblazer Award.

The Annual Social Justice Alliance Symposium, in honor of the legacy of Lt. Collins, is a collaborative effort between Bowie State University, the University of Maryland College Park and the Second Lt. Richard Collins Foundation. 

Collins had just been commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, and was days away from graduating with his bachelor’s degree at Bowie State University when he was murdered on the University of Maryland College Park campus on May 20, 2017. 

The Second Lt. Richard Collins III Foundation was created shortly after his death to eradicate intolerance, while confronting individuals and systems that normalize and justify injustice, hate and perpetuate violence. The foundation’s vision is to “command the mission of social justice.”