By Chrysa C.
Global sports industry, including sporting goods, licensed products, advertising, live sports events, and infrastructure construction is worth approximately $620 billion a year, according to an A.T. Kearney study of sports teams, leagues and federations (Zygband and Collignon, 2013). All the money and power stemming from sports franchise profitability rests in the hands of advertising and the media, and what doesn’t capture more sports watchers, readers and listeners, than playing the race card, pun intended. Racial stereotyping is all too prevalent throughout the global sports arena; very likely because pitting a black man-vs-white man, or one sports team-vs-the other is entertaining to most.
With an African American family residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the last four years, people seem to want to deny that racism exists in 2013. Racism is engrained in our culture’s subconscious, and the judgments that today’s athletes face may not be directed in malice, but through the result of learned behavior which is constant through every aspect of modern life. In the media, black athletes are often described as being predisposed to athleticism, with ‘natural’ dispositions towards strength and speed. This kind of language implies that excellence in the athletics arena is 'natural' to those with an African heritage, an outlook that is supported by some social scientists (Rushton, 1995; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Entine, 2000). This perception is a damaging one, in that, athletes with black skin are not given full credit for their accomplishments, and their success in sports are allegedly attained with little-to-no effort. Rushton, Murray and Entine’s work can be viewed as scientific racism.
However, while some African American athletes have challenged perceptions of athletic superiority due to African descent, some have also expressed that their African heritage has given them an edge over white competitors. 2008 Olympic sprint finalist Jeanette Kwakye, of Ghanaian descent, when asked whether or not she felt her African heritage had contributed to her athletic talent, answered:
“I think my West African heritage has had a massive role in my talent. I believe there are studies showing scientific evidence that people of West African ancestry have a major advantage in power sports like mine, hence the abundance of black sprinters at the highest level” (Kwakye, 2008).
It is therefore clear that some black athletes do not feel victim to racial stereotyping, but instead draw a positive connection between ethnic differences in dispositions towards athleticism.
LeBron James talks about racism in sports and said he, “believes racism in sports played a part in all of the negative attention he has received since signing with the Miami Heat as opposed to remaining with the Cavaliers" (Smith, 2010). Even Shaun White, caucasian olympian skateboarder and celebrity, has been tagged within a Rolling Stone article linking him to an “experiment where you mix the DNA of the most naturally talented athletes of a generation, say a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James, with the DNA of the hardest-working athlete imaginable, a Rocky Balboa or a Cal Ripken” (Grigoriadis, 2010). Given that Michael Jordan and LeBron James are black and Rocky Balboa and Cal Ripken are while, these are two clear examples of natural talent versus hard work and determination, stereotypes based solely on the color of an athletes skin.
Having racial stereotyping so prevalent in sports only continues the process of oppression throughout our society. The media has the power to change the way periodicals, magazines, and television ads depict different races. Many times the race of an athlete is put into the same bubble as irresponsibility, drug use, and violence. It would be meaningful to our culture if we were exposed to intelligent and articulate black sports announcers in the public eye, and black sports writers in broadcasting. The media could also change the way imagery within periodicals, magazines, and television depict race and athletes so specifically categorized from one another; with black athletes dressed as thugs, but his white counterpart dressed in a suit, as if he were about to do business.
The responsibility lies with sportscasters, sportswriters, players, and fans across all races to talk intellectually about race, gender, racism, media, and athletics. Clearing the stereotypes and negative stigma of being black versus white in sports, or when racist comments are said, we must all work together to address the matter so it will stop happening in the future. As in sports, practice makes perfect, and regarding media and sports the more practice everyone involved has at meaningfully talking about race, stereotyping, and even gender within sports media, the future for us all will become better as a result.
Entine, Jon. (2000) Taboo: why black athletes dominate sports and why we are afraid to talk about it New York: Public Affairs. DS shelfmark: m00/17485
Grigoriadis, Vanessa. "Shaun White: Big Air, Big Hair, and the Killer Inside." Rollingstone.com. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. [http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/up-in-the-air-shaun-white-20100318]
Herrnstein, Richard and Murray, Charles. (1994) The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. London: Free Press. London reference collections shelfmark: YA.1995.b.1927
Kwakye, Jeanette. "Jeanette Kwakye: Olympic Finalist." Webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. [http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/www.nhs.uk/Livewell/women1839/Pages/JeanetteKwakye.aspx]
Smith, Todd A. "Racism Rears Its Ugly Head." Regalmag.com. N.p., 7 Oct. 2010. Web. 07 Apr. 2013. [http://www.regalmag.com/lebron-says-racism-sports-reason-backlash-a-533.html]
Rushton, J. Philippe. (1995) Race, Evolution, and Behaviour: A Life History Perspective. London: Transaction Publishers. London reference collections shelfmark: YC.1995.b.6386
Zygband, Patrice, and Herve Collignon. "The Sports Market." Atkearney.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2013. [https://www.atkearney.com/paper/-/asset_publisher/dVxv4Hz2h8bS/content/the-sports-market/10192]