The correlation between race and sports

Johanna Pugh

When people think of sports, a few things may come to mind: playing basketball with friends, rooting for a favorite team in bars, celebrating with strangers when the team wins the World Series, or crowding around the television on Super Bowl Sundays wearing their team jerseys proudly.

One word which a number of people do not immediately associate sports with is race.

The Multi-Cultural Center held a discussion titled “Race and Sports” on Oct. 30. During this gathering, students discussed how race factors into and affects different parts of professional sports.

“In reality, there’s a lot of hidden issues in the history of sports,” said Kevin Easley, 29, a sociology graduate student who has led MCC forums in the past.

Easley first presented a PowerPoint and video clips exemplifying sports figures of color and their treatment by society. He then divided the room into groups and had them brainstorm and write down what sports and ethnicities are commonly associated with each other by society.

This caused some students to consider for the first time how stereotypes correlate to pre-conceived notions about sports.

“I’m thinking of more like ‘savage’ sports because, stereotypically, that’s what society associates Latinos and blacks with,” said Angeles Lopez, 19, a criminal justice major. “Honestly, I feel like they associate us with being rude, short-tempered, like they automatically assume we have a lot of aggression and will fight over anything.”

Lopez said recently in her philosophy class they discussed racial stereotypes and, she noted how people associate positive words with certain ethnicities and negative ones with others.

“I was like, ‘That’s not true! I’m not aggressive!'” Lopez said.

“I think race is connected to a lot of things in our society. It’s connected to wealth, it’s connected to education, to mobility,” said Aisha Engle, a student assistant at the MCC and women’s studies major. “And to eliminate the idea that racism is not connected to sports would be a disservice because if you look into some of our major sports–NFL, baseball, basketball–there are predominantly black faces. If people don’t see racism as a major component in sports, then they are fooling themselves. That’s not the reality.”

Engle echoed a point brought up by Easley, which is the issue that some lower-class people of color are taught at an early age that there is less of an emphasis on education and more on becoming a professional athlete to better themselves.

“If you go to any inner-city school or any poverty area, what’s being pushed? Becoming an athlete is what’s most highlighted, like, ‘This is your way out of poverty,’ Engle said. “To not connect that is a disservice to the truth.”

Easley also recognized others do not make the connection between race and sports. He challenges them to really examine this relationship and what it means for society.

“Look at the courts, then look at the owners’ booth,” Easley said. “And tell me you don’t see a racial divide.”