We’re nearing the end of 2016 and it’s hard to believe that we still live in a world where people are discriminated by their race, ethnicity, and gender. In reality, discrimination has long been established in mankind’s history, and in a society where we value multiculturalism, its unfortunate we continue to see the media racially profile, exclude, and stereotype people based on their ethnicity. With contemporary society’s reliance on the media for information, this practice has the ability to greatly influence the way we interact with people.
The definition of a stereotype is any commonly known public belief about a certain group or a type of individual. Stereotypes are often based on a prior assumption and are created about people of specific culture or races. Stereotypes, especially those with racial elements are evident in our society, and are highly evident in sports. While such stereotypes may appear to be subtle, their implications can be extremely detrimental. In addition, the effect of stereotypes in sports can translate into society as a whole, causing segregation. Therefore, this blog seeks to examine the apparent racial discrepancies found in professional sports and how the media has used this to racially profile certain athletes. By focusing on racial stereotypes and racial profiling, we will be able to gather a better understanding of the consequences.
Racial Discrepancies found in Sports
What are some of the stereotypes in sports you may ask? Complex’s The 20 Biggest Stereotypes in Sports highlight some of the most common stereotypes from “all female sports are inferior to men’s sports” to “European soccer players are little b***hes”. Firstly, a content analysis done by the media comparing men and women sports is completely inappropriate given the discrepancies in physical characteristics between the two genders. Secondly, it is often the desire by the Western media to stereotype European soccer players as inferiorly weak athletes because the North American sporting industry is fuelled by highly physical sports such as football.
Furthermore, there is often a desire by members of the media to stereotype athletes in professional sports based on their race. For example, Ferrucci, Tandoc JR, Painter, & Leshner wrote in their article that white athletes are most often attributed to “smarts” and “hard work,” but the success of black athletes is often attributed to “natural ability” or “God-given” talent” (2013). This statement accurately reflects the profound positional discrepancies between black and white athletes in the NFL. Majority of quarterbacks in the history of the NFL are white, which suggest white athletes are better suited for the more strategic and cerebral position. However, black athletes tend to play positions such as linebacker or running back, a much more aggressive and physical position in nature (Hylton & Lawrence, 2015).
Why has this happened?
The racial stereotypes implemented are a sign of the asymmetries that take place in our society. This in turn affects the individual’s ability to participate in a sport due to their family income or location. Specifically, kids in urban areas will encounter fewer opportunities to enjoy sports in an organized environment because poverty stricken neighbourhoods don’t have the facilities to hold any sporting activities. The lack of recreational facilities means children are more likely to engage in sports such as basketball or football where the equipment is very limited compared to sports such as hockey or skiing which require a skating rink and access to skiing trails. A study conducted by CIBC stated that family income was a big factor in determining if a child participated in organized sports. The study concluded, “one in three Canadian children are not participating in organized sports because it’s too expensive to take part”.
Alongside, the study acknowledged additional findings:
The study, commissioned by CIBC, identified that two major barriers stopping children from participating in organized sports are enrolment fees and equipment costs.
Parents, on average, spend $953 per year for a child to participate in a sport, according to the study, and 82 per cent of those surveyed said they know a child who cannot enrol in a sport due to the cost.
These financial barriers prevent children living in low socio-economic neighbourhoods the opportunity to enroll in such sports. Due to the expense of equipment, it has been implicated that the White upper class have the ability to participate in more extravagant activities such hockey, golf, or any mountain sport in comparison to their black counterparts.
Furthermore, Black people experience racism everyday that influences their ability to participate sports, claiming that “‘Blackness’, as it is produced in mass media and popular culture, operates as a ‘cultural signifier’ of difference” (Schultz, 2005, p. 338). Jennifer Lee explains how,
The everyday racism experienced by African Americans when venturing alone or in small groups into social spaces which are racially constructed around normative Whiteness, influences them to (a) avoid such places and (b) appreciate the absence of overt racial consciousness found within pre- dominantly Black social settings (Harrison, 2013, p. 325-6).
This type of behavioural construct is problematic to society because it limits the potential and futures of young Black children. Wiggins states that, “they have always struggled to become full participants in sport because of the racism and accompanying structural differences in the USA” (2014, p. 181). These children are being restricted by racial stereotypes and will therefore grow up with a lack of confidence to explore non-traditional Black social settings.
According to the United State Census Bureau and The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, there is a racial discrepancy between the number of black athletes in the NFL versus the MLB.
On the other hand, Valmore James states in his book Black Ice, that, “only about 5 percent of NHL players are black”. In comparison with the aforementioned chart, it suggests that this racial discrepancy is highly influenced by the cost of equipment and facilities associated with the sport of hockey. Therefore, wealthy families have the opportunity to pursue high costs related sports such as hockey, whereas low income families can only afford to let their child participate in football or basketball because of the affordability of the sport.
The Role of Media in Sports
There is a fundamental difference between the ways media portrays black and white athletes. Sports networks such as ESPN, NBC, and CBS have a large influence on shaping the opinions of their consumers. These networks can manipulate an athlete’s personality by deciding on what part of the athlete’s life they choose to cover. Sports journalism is a form of entertainment, and therefore journalist will publish stories they think their viewers and audiences want to hear (Desmarais & Bruce, 2010).
For example, there are polarizing differences between how Pro-Bowl cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman is treated by the media, versus how the media treats several white quarterbacks. Sherman, who in a post-game interview notoriously proclaimed himself as the best defender in the NFL after shutting down opposing receive Michael Crabtree in the 2014 NFC Championship game, was immediately labeled by the media as being “classless”, and a “thug” from Compton because of his failure to demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship despite having just reached the pinnacle of his sports career (Barnes, 2014). As a result, a Twitter backlash was created with anti-Black tweets calling Sherman an overexcited “jungle monkey”, “an ignorant ape”, a “cocky nigger”, a “role for today’s Taliban youth,” and a violent, gangster “thug”” (Tompkins, 2016, p. 292). Criticism and public outcry over Sherman’s behaviour caused weeks of debate and dominated sport talk shows, yet the media failed to acknowledge Sherman’s charitable foundation where the “classless thug” aims to provide students in low-income communities with school supplies and clothing so they can more adequately achieve their goals (Richard Sherman, 2016).
Meanwhile, white quarterbacks in the NFL are often the beneficiaries of receiving positive media coverage. In Dave Zirin’s article, “Cam Newton: The Bridge to Somewhere” he states, “Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning wear their vanities like a full-length mink coat without criticism”.
If you’re an avid watcher of crime shows like myself, you’d be familiar with the term ‘racial profiling’. Racial profiling is used in the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behaviours. This draws on the notion of stereotypes in attempts to determine who the individual is.
Take Brock Turner for example. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, Brock Turner was a top swimmer for the University of Stanford who was accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. A jury found Turner guilty of assault with intent to rape and sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person (Levin, 2016). Despite facing a maximum of 14 years in prison, Turner was eventually released after serving six months of his sentence due to his good behaviour. This decision caused massive public protests centered around the belief that the courts were more lenient on Turner because he was a white athlete, who simply made the wrong decision while being under the influence of alcohol. Protestors are demanding that Turner’s ethnicity and athletic ability not influence his sentence, while they acknowledge that there is a lack of accountability in the court rooms and within society, who fail to protect rape victims by classifying rape as a regrettable mistake. This situation becomes all the more infuriating when compared against 19-year-old Cory Batey, a black football player from Vanderbilt who was accused of raping an unconscious women and will be serving a prison sentence between 15-25 years (King, 2016). This emphasizes the idea that when it is black men being discussed, “there are implications of these men being “inherently violent,” and that makes for an easy leap to “they should be locked up, we need to manage and control them” (Luther, 2014). While the finer details of these cases will reveal their legal differences, there is a fundamental problem within our society if we allow two people who committed similar crimes to be given to two very different sentences.
In sports, there are undoubtedly many racial discrepancies found between white and black athletes, and the media has certainly highlighted this. It begins with our children who are forced to play low costs sports due to financial restrictions of their family. In doing so, are children mature in a society that tends to segregate poor black families from more affluent white families. This racial segregation becomes even more apparent when we see how differently the media treats black athletes by suppressing their achievements while often questioning their character and sportsmanship. This is emphasized when Croom states, “No matter the context of conversation, the use of a slur is offensive and expresses contempt” (2014, p. 140). This type of racial stereotyping is unquestionably unfair and disadvantageous for black athletes who must continue to battle against discrimination and racial profiling in order to defy the odds of becoming a successful professional athlete.
Barnes, B. (2014). America’s racial double standard: White celebs are excused, but black stars are “thugs”. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2014/01/24/americas_racial_double_standard_white_celebs_are_excused_but_black_stars_are_thugs/
CIBC. (2014). KidSport report: Helping our kids get off the sidelines. Retrieved from http://www.kidsportcanada.ca/site/assets/files/10418/cibc_kidsport_report_july_2014_final.pdf
Croom, A.M. (2014). Slurs, stereotypes, an in-equality: A critical review of “how epithets and stereotypes are racially unequal. Language Sciences, 52, 139-154. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2014.03.001
Desmarais, F., & Bruce, T. (2010). The power of stereotypes: Anchoring images through language in live sports broadcasts. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29(3), 338-362. doi:10.1177/0261927X10368836
Ferrucci, P., Tandoc, E. C., Painter, C. E., & Leshner, G. (2013). A black and white game: Racial stereotypes in baseball. Howard Journal Of Communications, 24(3), 309-325. doi:10.1080/10646175.2013.805971
Harrison, A.K. (2013). Black skiing, everyday racism, and the racial spatiality of whiteness. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 37(4), 315-339. doi:10.1177/0193723513498607
Hylton, K. & Lawrence, S. (2015). Reading Ronaldo: Contingent whiteness in the football media. Soccer & Society, 16(5-6), 765-782. doi:10.1080/14660970.2014.963310
King, S. (2016). KING: Brock Turner and Cory Batey, two college athletes who raped unconscious women, show how race and privilege affect sentences. New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-brock-turner-cory-batey-show-race-affects-sentencing-article-1.2664945
Levin, S. (2016). Brock Turner released from jail after serving half of six-month sentence. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/02/brock-turner-released-jail-sexual-assault-stanford
Luther, J. (2014). The NFL’s domestic violence problem and our race problem. Retrieved from https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/the-nfls-domestic-violence-problem-and-our-race-problem
Martinez, J. & Block, J. (2013). The 20 biggest stereotypes in sports history. Retrieved from http://ca.complex.com/sports/2013/07/biggest-stereotypes-in-sports/
Richard Sherman. (2016). Blanket Coverage Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.richardsherman25.com/pages/foundation
RocketsRed. (2014, January 19). Richard Sherman rips Michael Crabtree in Erin Andrews interview [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PH35C7Fhq0
Schultz, J. (2005). Serena Williams and the production of blackness at the 2002 U.S. open. Journal of Sport and Social Sciences, 29(3), 338-357. doi:10.1177/0193723505276230
Tompkins, J. (2016). “A postgame interview for the ages”: Richard Sherman and the dialectical rhetoric of racial neoliberalism. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 40(4), 291-314. doi:10.1177/0193723515615180
Wiggins, D.K. (2014). ‘Black athletes in White men’s games’: Race, sport and American national pastimes. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 31(1), 181-202. doi:10.1080/09523367.2013.857313
Zirin, D. (2016). Cam Newton: The bridge to somewhere. The Nation. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/cam-newton-the-bridge-to-somewhere/