Georgetown Basketball and Race

Ethan Miller

So I read the great post on the walk-ons by OverTheHilltop, and I got to thinking--a lot--about David Allen. And my thoughts kind of boil down to a reflection on the juxtaposition of David Allen and this: a photo of Snoop Dogg, circa 1995, rocking some Georgetown gear.

John Thompson, Jr. made Georgetown basketball what it is today. He defined the identity of Georgetown basketball: Georgetown basketball was black (a). We even began using a kente cloth pattern to highlight that fact (b). Opposing fans taunted our players with racist jeers (c). Beyond a university, Georgetown became a brand. The Gangster Disciples adopted that brand to show their gang affiliation (d), though Thompson famously did not want his players associating with any criminal element (e). Regardless of Thompson's stance on crime, wearing Georgetown gear brought street credibility to early hip hop music videos (f), and Georgetown continues to influence rap today (g).

While I had no part in creating it, I am proud to share in Georgetown's history. I am glad the university is honoring Thompson, Jr. by naming the Intercollegiate Athletics Center after him. I smile at the glimpses cameras get of him sitting on a stool in McDonough Gym or watching over games at the Verizon Center. And while Thompson III's teams play differently from his father's, the Georgetown brand is still alive. A kente cloth pattern still dons the uniforms, and the players are still black.

But how black is Georgetown? In 2010, the US was about 64% white and 12% black (h). Washington, DC was about 39% white and 51% black (i). Washington has a much higher proportion of African-Americans than is average when compared to the rest of the country. Also—compared to the demographics of the US—a high percent of applicants to Georgetown are black (around 46% white and 20% black) (j). However, these black applicants, whether being rejected or choosing to go somewhere else, don't seem to be attending Georgetown. Georgetown's student body is about 60% white and 6% black (k). That seems awfully white for a university represented by a predominately black team.

That said, it's not unusual for certain sports teams to have a different demographic makeup than the rest of the student body. In the 2012-2013 season, 29% of Division I basketball players were white and 56% were black (l). In that season (Otto Porter's sophomore campaign), three out of the fourteen players on our roster were white. For the upcoming season, one out of the fifteen players on our roster is white. Going back to the 2003-2004 recruiting class (Craig Esherick's last, though JT3 added Jonathan Wallace to the mix) to the current 2013-2014 class, Georgetown has had 50 players on the men's basketball roster (m). Six (12%) are white. And four of those six: walk-ons. Compared to the rest of Division I basketball, Georgetown is black.

Nate Lubick is the only white player to have played consistent, meaningful minutes in the past decade for Georgetown. His nickname? Thundersnow (n). Because of course he needed a nickname to emphasize his whiteness. While I am sure he got along well with the rest of the team, the fans perceived him as something "other"--something uncharacteristic of Georgetown basketball players. Most of the other white players (in no small part due to their status as walk-ons) have been treated by the fans as human victory cigars. "Silly white person," the cheers seems to say, "'real' Georgetown players are black."

I value the history Georgetown holds as a black team. But the composition of the team is in pretty big contrast to the composition of the student body. The visual of white faces cheering on black players to perform for the amusement of whites doesn't leave me feeling very comfortable. Can we stay proud of our history as a black team while maintaining a white student body? Should the team's composition change? Should the student body's composition change? Can we value diversity, but only in sports?

Stay Casual, my friends.