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Racial Distribution in Sports

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Kyle Francis

Mr. Alfino

Comp II


Racial Relations in Sports

        No bigger social change has happened in the world than American sports today being dominated by 68 percent of African-Americans. Judging from the United States history with slavery, no one could imagine in the slavery days that African-Americans would become such a huge part of our society. In American athletic culture, distribution in race occurs so frequently that some sports are becoming either a “white sport” or a “black sport.” Racism and discrimination within the sports world have always been an issue. Stereotyping is one of the biggest issues in sports, and Michael Omi, in his article “In Living Color: Race and American Culture,” states that “Ideas about race, therefore, have become ‘common sense’ – a way of comprehending, explaining, and acting in the world” (541). Racism has always been a problem in the United States history and is creating a distribution in sports with influencing the youth only to concentrate on sports they think they can be successful. Racism and discrimination within the sports world have always been an issue and will continue to be unless this stereotype is changed.

        Alvin Curette had a great metaphor in his article “The New Plantation.” He summarizes that today’s NCAA athletics could be described as the “new plantation” due to the fact they are using African Americans to make money with their athletics, like working on plantations in the past. Integration between blacks and whites has no happened over night or received any help through government programs. The integration process occurred because of the countless brave African-Americans. It was because of their numerous actions, unselfish attitudes, and humble personalities that all sports are integrated today all throughout the world. For example, in 1947, Jackie Robinson was a professional baseball field to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first ever African-American to play in a major league baseball game. Many people consider him the person that broke the color barrier in professional sports. Jackie was not the only black person that had to overcome these racist problems in the 1900s, but he was the first to do something about it. If it was not for courageous athletes that took the sports world by storm, segregation could still be around today.

        From the era of Jackie Robinson when black athletes in white leagues were abnormal to the present day, a role reversal has come about. Krystal Beamon and Chris Messer from the Journal of African American Studies, investigated the number of African-Americans, who earlier in the century were segregated into black leagues, have in less than 50 years become the dominant racial group in basketball and football, despite the fact that they only make up 13.2% of the US population. Today black players constitute 77% of the NBA, 64% of the WNBA, 65% of the NFL, and 15% of MLB. As well, in college 60% of male Division I basketball players and 51% of football players are black. African-American females constitute 35% of Division I basketball players and 31% of cross country track and field athletes (Beamon). A fact about the massive swing in racial distribution in sports in 1949 there were no black NBA player and today 77% of all professional basketball players are black.

While African Americans are disproportionately represented in sports such as basketball, football, track, and boxing, it should be noted that they lack in activities such as lacrosse, soccer, hockey, swimming, tennis, golf, and skating. This has been caused by white male athletes that are in the process of migrating away from activities in which they do not believe they can compete with more talented black athletes. For similar reason, African American athletes, for a variety of reasons, believe they are athletically superior to whites, and have a reasonable shot one day of becoming a professional athlete in basketball or football (Berghorn). Consequently, the contingencies currently favor the movement of blacks and whites athletes moving into a sport because of their beliefs held about the likelihood of success. This is based on many unsupported stereotypical beliefs about biological advantages and disadvantages, and upon successful professional athletes who in basketball, football and track are excessively black.

Many studies have been conducted to figure out why some races perform better in some athletic events. Pat Antonio Goldsmith was published in Sociology of Sports Journal conducting a study in 1998 with 137 black and white track and field athletes, weightlifters, and wrestlers who participated in the British and Commonwealth Games, and the Olympic Games were photographed and x-rayed to try to find a connection (Goldsmith). Observations were made on variables such as leg length, arm length, hip width, calf circumference, bone density and fat percentage. Results showed blacks to have longer arms and legs, narrower hips, wider bones, narrower calf muscles, and lower subcutaneous fat percentages (Goldsmith). Some other studies using a similar experimental paradigm in which blacks were found to have smaller lung capacities, and greater flexibility. The study also cited several growth and developments, which suggested: African-American infants are physically more mature at three days of age than white infants, black children out-performed white children on a composite fitness test which included such items as the shuttle run, 50-yard dash, and 600-yard run. African American boys also outperformed white boys on pull-ups, standing broad jump, 50-yard dash, softball throw and 600-yard run walk (Goldsmith). A study by anthropologist Robert Malina on children between 6 and 12 years of age which found that blacks were faster and jumped further than whites, but did not throw further. The compilation of such data led professionals to conclude, "Mechanically speaking, a black athlete with legs identical to those of a white athlete would have a lighter, shorter and trimmer mass to propel.” This implies a greater power-to-total-weight ratio at any given size. Such a ratio would be advantageous to events in which the body has propelled the sprints and jumps, for example.

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