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Thorntorn: 1

African Americans in Sports

Osaze Thorntorn



December 6 2017

The issue of sports and race in the United States has somehow been considered as

baffling owing to the fact that most individuals would rather fail to address it at all. Sports have

been intertwined in an intricate manner with issues of race in the United States. Those people

who would suggest that the whole issue should be neglected posit that the analysis singles out

African- Americans who take part in sports and treat them differently and often in an inferior

manner. Others also carry out an analysis which asserts that African Americans who participate

in sports are physically superior but in most cases they are found to be academically inferior to

whites. Other studies indicate that physical competence, particularly in sports like basketball, has

become the defining trait of African-Americans (Chalabaev et al. 138). It has been asserted that

the beliefs about their physical dominance are closely related to anti-intellectualism which

ensures permeation of the culture of black males. Fundamentally, the argument is that excessive

attention to as well as idolization of African American athletes who are prominent like Michael

Jordan, has diverted the focus away from other role models who are more realistic and

significant thus having an effect on the social, intellectual and economic development of African


With regards to diverse scrutiny on the contrary relationship between intellectual acumen

and physical prowess, many studies that have assessed variations between whites and African

Americans with regards to their athletic ability focusing on their psychological and physical
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factors (Campbell 64). These studies have established that African Americans are more

physically suited as compared to whites for those activities that require power and speed. A face

value interpretation denotes that one can easily jump to the conclusion of that nature is

instinctive and can be determined racially. Due to this interpretation, other individuals have

affirmed that African Americans evolved differently than whites thus being at evolutionary

levels that are primitive since they are particularly linked to lower animals which also have

greater ability in speed and strength. Contrary to that, one can believe that whites evolved at an

intellectual level that was higher than blacks mainly because they are seen to dominate in all

other aspects. As a consequence, an explanation of how African Americans dominate in major

sporting activities predominantly focuses on physical variations between African Americans and

whites. As a result, there is reinforcement of stereotypical ideas with regards to the prowess of

African Americans instead of investigating the importance of intellect, motivation, hard work

and discipline when taking account of success in sports.

The notion that African Americans should be considered as intellectually inferior to

whites can best be shown in the sports perspective by examining comments that were made by

the former Dogder from Los Angeles, Al Campanis where he spoke during the anniversary

commemorating the arrival of Jackie Robinson into the major baseball league. Campanis was

asked to talk on ABC’s program, Nightline, which was hosted by Ted Koppel. When

interviewed, Campanis was questioned about what he thought about the reason as to why few

African Americans have been appointed in management positions in baseball. Campanis

responded saying that he truly believed that African Americans might lack some of the

necessities of becoming field managers or maybe a general manager. He added that African

Americans were not adapted to swimming because they do not have buoyancy. Even though
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Campanis lost his job after 48 hours after making these comments, it is interesting to be aware

that he was not considered as one of the equal employers in baseball that had made notable

achievements and were famous for fairness. Fascinatingly, the first African American baseball

manager, Frank Robinson, in another interview asserted that Campanis was known as a decent

man who was just a result of the traditional thinking that had been adopted by most baseball fans.

Such thinking which is stereotypical was clearly not a matter that was innocuously private

according to Campanis, since at that time it is only three African Americans who had managed

main league teams.

The notion that African Americans are not smart enough to become baseball managers is

wrong since most people believed that African Americans are good in the physical part of

baseball but when it comes to issues involving the brains, African Americans are not able to

handle them (Hogan np). In spite of the attitudes about abilities that are based on race and

fronted by owners, commentators, administrators and coaches, there are other stereotypes that

are held by performers which have a high likelihood of inhibiting or enhancing their indulgence

in a particular activity. If an African American child believes that she can never be a competitive

swimmer because she does not have buoyancy, but believes that she has a biological advantage

over whites when it comes to sprinting, she will possibly self-select herself into activities related

to sprinting and avoid swimming. In the same accord, if a white child believes that he is not able

to jump high because of physical limitations that are based on race, but has the eye-hand

coordination that is required on tennis, he will as well engage in what he believes will bring him

success and avoid the rest of the activities. Apparently, such kind of convictions intercede the

intensity and direction of certain behavior thus accounting for the current demographics in

sporting activities in the United States.

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Possibly, the main reason as to why there are racial challenges in sports captures the

attention of many individuals and can be perceived as a consequence of demographics. African

Americans, who had earlier been segregated into black leagues, have in less than a period of fifty

years managed to become the dominant group in sporting activities like football and basketball,

regardless of the fact that they only constitute 12.6% of the total population in the United States.

Currently, the NBA constitutes of a large percentage of African Americans, 64% playing in

WNBA, 15% for MLB and 65% playing for the NFL. In the different colleges across the United

States, 60% of basketball players in the male division as well as 51% of the football players are

of African American origin (Galaz 461). African American females make up 35% of the players

in Division I basketball and 31% constitutes cross-country track runners as well as athletic fields.

African American athletes came from black leagues that were segregated after the end of World

War II, and have therefore become represented in a disproportionate manner in games like

basketball, boxing, football and few extents in baseball. The fast demographic changes have

stimulated huge interests in the issue of why African Americans have become leading forces in

most of the sporting activities in the United States.

Whereas African Americans have inexplicably been represented in various sporting

activities which include football, basketball, boxing and track, one is supposed to take note of the

underrepresentation in other activities which include hockey, lacrosse, tennis, golf and

swimming. As earlier seen above, this might be because white athletes believe that they have the

ability to compete effectively with African American athletes. There exist an inconsistent

number of athletes that are African Americans. In the same accord, African American athletes,

for different reasons, believe that they have the ability to become athletically greater than whites,

and possess a shot that is reasonable of being professional athletes either in football or
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basketball. As a consequence, the eventuality presently works in favor of the development of

whites and blacks who move into diverse sporting activities because of the different types of

beliefs that they hold with regards to their likelihood of future and present success. This is based

on most stereotypical beliefs that are not substantiated about genetic advantages and

disadvantages, and upon making of professional athletes that are successful in football,

basketball and track are found to be disproportionately of African American origin. Additionally,

at the center of these sociological migrations in sports are the chances for future employment

whereby it is widely believed that African Americans are restricted in a severe way. As a

consequence, it is not surprising that sports have become more significant to children who are of

African American origin as compared to whites. This argument is aptly affirmed by William

Ellerbee, who is the basketball coach of a national power Simon Gratz that is found in

Philadelphia, who believes that “Suburban kids tend to play for the fun of it. Inner-city kids look

at basketball as a matter of life or death”

Historically, studies have examined the manner in which African Americans have been

over-represented in specific sporting activities whereby this occurrence has been scrutinized

sociologically, psychologically, genetically and anthropocentrically. In most cases, the issue of

race is glossed over, diluted and ignored with other major perceptions like diversity or

multicultural concerns. It is widely known that racial views, beliefs and feelings take place in

powerful and delicate ways even in cases where there lacks an intention that is explicit. The issue

of race as a genetic variable, particularly with consideration to sport, has a historic and

questionable reputation. Arguing from a genetic point of view, the boundaries drawn from races

have been intensely been blurred. In America, there are individuals who are grouped as African

Americans even though they possess characteristics that are common to white people than
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Africans. Therefore, being an African American should not be based mostly on the genetic

material but on the experiences that these individuals have shared during their life. As a

consequence, racism manipulates various patterns of sports, identity and social distinction.

In studying the issue of racial identity in African Americans, it is important to consider

how stable this construct can be. Consequently, it becomes questionable as to what significance

is the act of identifying individuals as African Americans if it is flexible on the basis of

situational aspects. According to a research conducted by Sellars and Shelton (2000), the issue of

racial identity in sports has both stable and situational factors. These authors posit that under

situations where race is considered as an important issue, the issue of identifying individuals as

African Americans becomes highly regarded. Another concern is what takes place when sport is

regarded as a significant part of an individual’s identity and what takes place when a person who

is of African American origin gets a strong identity and affinity in the sphere of sports. Whereas

some people believe that the issue of racial identity inspires the enhancement of racial identity, it

becomes questionable on what takes place when the issue of athletic identity is taken to the

forefront. Athletic identity is the extent to which a person is identified with a particular athletic

duty. Whereas athletic identity and racial identity can be positively associated in athletes who are

of European American origin, these constructs were found to have a negative correlation with

regards to athletes who are of African American nature. While taking part in sporting activities,

particularly in intercollegiate athletics, African Americans are mostly shielded from the issue of

discrimination and racism which makes them excel in their athletic abilities thus promoting their

sporting ability. Recently, there has been an increase in the support for athletic identity among

individuals that are of African American origin thus boosting athletic identity and shunning

racial identity among athletes who are of African American origin.

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Adolescents who are of African American origin have physical activity choices that are

importantly different from those of adolescents that are of American and European origins

(Lerkees et al. 1860). The most implicit feature is the possibility of how this athletic ability can

be transferred as well as racial schematic identity into larger occupational structures in the

society. If there are narrow and monolithic identities in youths who are African Americans inside

the sports realm, there is need to establish how these identities reflect outside their occupational

and sports choices. It is evident that there exists limited exposure to media among most African

American youths which influences the choices of identity in youths who are African Americans.

Clearly, there is a connection between entertainment and sports as images of success that are

attainable to the success of African American youths. The exposure of young people to rap music

videos that are violent has a consequence on the perceptions and attitudes of young males who

are African Americans. The manner in which young sportsmen who are African Americans are

bombarded with images can help in confounding, changing and shaping the issue of racial

identity, particularly when going through the stage of immersion.

Most adolescents who are of African American origin mostly have a negative effect with

regards to educational objectives. These adolescents who are in the immersion stage might

perceive excellence in academics as a way of “acting white” and instead choose to divert their

efforts into entertainment and sporting activities as a way of attaining excellence in their lives. It

therefore becomes relevant to consider whether young people who are African American,

especially males, develop negative opinions of professional objectives that are found outside

sports. Young people who are of African American origin have various ways of expressing their

emotions with regards to racism, oppression as well as patriarchal structures of power. Therefore,

most African American males have the ability to channel their energy towards entertainment and
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sports because they consider this as a space and vessel that provides them with options that are

stylistic. Other scholars suggest that in the perspective of expression, the space and masculinity

of African Americans are critical points when making an examination of African American

youths, either in a manner that is exploratory or empirical. The main challenge during this

century is not excluding the expression and confidence of African American men through

diverting them from sports activities. The main challenge is to make a discovery of how these

individuals are supposed to socialize that particular ethnic gender and invest in education with

similar interest, work ethic as well as an artistic expression that they do in sports. Another

challenge is persuading Europeans and Americans to support and embrace racial development of

African Americans with similar acceptance levels that are accorded to the athletic competence.

Additional investigations are relevant in order to comprehend the awareness of males who are of

African American nature thus ensuring that they are empowered both in sports which ultimately

will ensure that they excel in their education as well.

The development of the hip-hop athlete that began in mid 1990 has additionally boosted

the state of African American sportsmen in the American culture, and most African American

youths have taken keen note on this issue. Most African American youths in critical spates of

ethnic identity development usually observe superstar athletes who are famous today, including

Allen Iverson, and develop a desire to be like him. This cannot be considered as a surprise

considering that Iverson’s athletic ability has made him play by his individual regulations, which

is a rare happening for African American men living in the United States. A good example to

consider is that Iverson pays attention to the African American culture of hip-hop by openly

sporting tattoos and braids. Iverson openly challenges the authority of American by appearing in

games and practices late. Iverson travelled with a rough-looking entourage and even released a
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CD that was laden with profanity. These manners would not be accepted in any other work

environment but since this individual used to earn an extra ten million dollars annually, most

people would endorse him without hesitations. As a consequence, these endorsements have an

effect on young African American youths who are struggling with identity in that they will tend

to perceive themselves as the next Allen Iverson mainly because they only have a few challenges

placed on their way to becoming stars. These individuals have been taught that Americans

perceive an educated African American as a threat, while at the same time this community

embraces supports and encourages these individuals in their athletic endeavors (Ravitch np).

Unless these hindrances are eliminated, sports will continue to hold a significant position in the

African American community mainly for the reason that it is considered as one of the distinct

paces where men of African American origin can be regarded as men.

In conclusion, the issue of race and sports, with particular attention to African Americans

is a fascinating narrative that continues to open up. Many people would fear to bring up the topic

in fear that they might be considered as racists. However, this study simply adds to most of the

stereotypical beliefs about African Americans that seem to separate them from the conventional

America (Beamon 124). It has frequently been argued that the opposite is possibly true. A

research of the black athlete does not just inform us about a talented group of me and women that

is unique, but also gives an account of the race relations in the United States. These beliefs

indicate that changes should be made outside and within the universe of sports in order to enable

the American society achieve success and consistency with the doctrines upon which it was

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Works Cited

Beamon, Krystal. "Racism and stereotyping on campus: Experiences of African American male

student-athletes." The Journal of Negro Education 83.2 (2014): 121-134.





Chalabaev, Aïna, et al. "The influence of sex stereotypes and gender roles on participation and

performance in sport and exercise: Review and future directions." Psychology of Sport

and Exercise 14.2 (2013): 136-144.

Galaz, Timothy A. "Bargaining for the Next Gay Player: How Can Jason Collins Help to

Develop the National Basketball Association Into a More Inclusive Workplace." Jeffrey

S. Moorad Sports LJ 21 (2014): 461.

Hogan, Lawrence D. The Forgotten History of African American Baseball. ABC-CLIO, 2014.

Leerkes, Esther M., et al. "Links between remembered childhood emotion socialization and adult

adjustment: Similarities and differences between European American and African

American women." Journal of Family Issues 36.13 (2015): 1854-1877.

Ravitch, Diane. The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice

are undermining education. Basic Books, 2016.