For HBCU athletic programs, it’s a constant struggle to even the playing field with their counterparts at predominantly white institutions. It’s a non-stop fight for recognition, money and top-level recruits. Now, Howard University is being recognized with an achievement usually reserved for big-money college basketball and football programs: its Swim and Dive Team is the first all-Black swim team to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
I know sports fans only pay attention to swimming and diving every four years during the Olympics, but college is where those future medalists are getting ready for the podium. If you’re like me, and watch every single moment of the Olympics, you know there aren’t a lot of Black athletes in the swimming and diving competitions. The success of this team shows the world that we can be just as competitive in the water as we are on the court and the football field. As he builds the program into something special, the team’s coach, Nic Askew, is very aware of how the team stands out from the crowd.
“Nobody in America can offer what we have in our pool,” Askew said. “Where else are you going to see this?”
He also understands that the representation of this moment is bigger than the team.
“This is about our mission as a university and the message we want to send as an HBCU,” Askew said. “This isn’t a bunch of Black people in a pool; it’s young Black men and women succeeding in a sport that, for years, has shut them out of this experience.”
I cannot overstate what a massive deal it is for the team to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If we’re being honest, HBCU athletics is still not seen on the same level as more mainstream NCAA programs. Lack of resources and media attention perpetuates the stereotype that HBCUs aren’t as prestigious as predominantly white institutions. The more opportunities these amazing young Black people get to showcase their talent and confidence, the better it is for all HBCU athletes.