Racism in Sports and the Media

Regardless of what background you may be, many of us have either participated or attended a sports event in our lives. The intensity of the game, the sweat, the tremendous effort put by the athletes to out-compete each other are just a few aspects of sports that ignites love from the spectators, making them come back for more. Sports are so important, that they are responsible for a huge deal of the market and the economy around the world. It is needless to say, a lot of people love sport.

Since the early ages, sports has been an important tool in the unity of different nations, drawing athletes all around the globe to compete against one another. However, nowadays it seems sports have become a channel for racism and negative views on different ethnicities by the media. The way athletes from different ethnic groups are portrayed in sport by the media tends to be the overall impression of the countries seen by the society. The media coverage of sports tend to be unfair in its image of several athletes, creating "villains" and "thugs" out of these competitors. The real question is "does the way the media portray race and racialized individuals in sport affect how it is seen by society?"

In this blog, we shall take a look at several different topics that with different that analyze different examples in the past of how the media's perception of race in sports has affected the society's view on race.


Stereotypes in Sports

Does the physicality of black athletes contribute to the warped perception of blacks?

Up to this day, many people feel that the death of Eric Garner was highly unjust. Garner was trying to reason with officers about why he would be charged for breaking up a fight before six police officers choked and held him down for attempting to resist arrest. Many people were fathomed at the fact that such unnecessary roughness was needed to apprehend the peaceful man. Garner, listed as 6"3 and 350 pounds, was a sizable man and his dimensions compared to that of an NFL linebacker.
In a similar case, Michael Brown, an 18-year old black man, was shot 12 times by Office Darren Wilson as he "feared for his life" when he came into contact with the unarmed suspect. Wilson described Brown as aggressive during the entire incident. He assigned incredible strength to Brown, saying that grabbing him “felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan.”

More troubling is Wilson’s physical description of Brown, which sits flush with a century of stereotypes and a bundle of recent research on implicit bias and racial perceptions of pain. In so many words, Wilson describes the “black brute,” a stock figure of white supremacist rhetoric in the lynching era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries… The idea that Brown could resist bullets is also familiar. In a recent paper, researchers found that whites are more likely to attribute superhuman abilities — like enhanced strength and endurance — to blacks than any other group. That, the authors assert, might explain some of the white tolerance for police brutality. “Perhaps people assume that Blacks possess extra (i.e., superhuman) strength which enables them to endure violence more easily than other humans.”  - Jamelle Bouie, Slate Online News Magazine.

Many different races have a perception of black males derived only from sports and entertainment culture. Black men as typically seen as physically imposing and display their strength in sports in front of millions everyday with the sport they play. The media illustrates sports involving a fast pace and close contact such as basketball and football are usually dominated by players of African-American descent, thus creating this image of a "big black brute" to the general public.

In a recent NPR interview, civil rights attorney Constance Rice spoke of her experiences fighting for reform in the LA Police Department, and recalled some frighteningly insightful interviews with members of the force:

They would say things like, “Ms. Rice I’m scared of black men. Black men terrify me. I’m really scared of them. Ms. Rice, you know black men who come out of prison, they’ve got great hulk strength and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me. Ms. Rice, can you teach me how not to be afraid of black men?”

At 6-foot-4, 250-plus pounds and black, Michael Brown was perceived to be a significant and overpowering threat by an officer who was more than likely carrying sublimated fear into his interaction with the public.

The Media's impact on discrimination

The Black "Invasion" of Sports

In the early 1900's, the ban on colored athletes in boxing was finally lifted. Things look promising for future black athletes who were willing to participate and fight one another. In December 28th, 1908, a black contender called Jack Johnson was allowed to fight Tommy Burns, an Ontario-born white Canadian who held the heavyweight title.

At this time, racism was still highly prevalent  in North America. Burns vowed that he would "battle his life to defend the laurels against Africa". The match was made highly favourable for Burns as his own manager was made to be the referee of the fight. The match would still end up in Johnson's victory as he was stopped in the 14h round by the Australian police when Burns was badly beaten. This turn of events angered the whites of Norrth America as they saw their own national sport being dominated by black athletes.

Frustration was highly evident in the sports media with the commentators and leading newspapers (The Toronto Star and The Toronto Daily News) using derogatory terms such as "negro", "nigger", "husky darky", and "coon" to describe the black boxers. The frustration soon caught on to other sports, where players refused to compete on the same field with blacks or be photographed with their black teammates.

The media's influence soon spread to spectators and people across the continent who enjoyed sport, with cries of "Kill the Coon!" and "Tackle the Nigger!" raining out from both U.S. and Canadian spectators against black competitors. Black pioneer athletes such as Fredericton William O'Ree (NHL) and Bill  Galloway (OHL) were booed by not only opposing teams and fans, but they also faced racial derision from their teammates and in front of their home crowd. Evidently, in these cases, the media's perception of blacks greatly influenced the opinion of the dominantly white public, causing them to lash out in anger that their own sports were being taken away from them.

Donald Sterling and the Clippers

As time passed on and laws were made against segregation, people have moved past old ways and blacks have been more accepted in sport more than ever. However, around April 2014, an incident occurred that shook up the sports world and flashes of the hateful past were shown. The Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, had an audio caught on tape of his racist remarks towards black people. Warning his mistress, V. Stiviano not to associate with them in public, Sterling is heard saying "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people." After Stiviano posted an instagram with the Lakers legend, Magic Johnson, an argument recorded between the couple illustrated Sterling's anger at his girlfriend, due to the fact that he did not want to have anything to do with black people or have them visiting his games. Other parts of the recording have Sterling saying "But don't put him on instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games. OK?" An aggravated Sterling tells Stiviano "You can sleep with them, you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that... and not to bring them to my games."

After the leaked audio was broadcasted by the popular media site, TMZ, every major news channel and sports analytics jumped on the topic. Popular sports figures like Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and many more expressed their discontent about the situation on live television and debates were held over the controversial topic of Sterling's ownership. With this scandal blowing up, the media quickly spread the news around local and national television stations such as CNN, ESPN, TNT, etc... The media had a heavy impact as sports fans and non-sports fans alike expressed their unhappiness with the situation of a racist being in charge. Discontent of the situation that such a person still held ownership of a basketball club was shown evidently throughout the league and all over the world. Players planned to boycott and withdraw from the league if Sterling remained an owner. The racists acts of Sterling were not supported by viewers nor players in the league.

As time passed on, people called on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for severe punishment for Sterling. Eventually, Sterling's position as owner of the LA Clippers basketball club was stripped from him after being forced to sell the club. Although a few people blamed it on age and said the punishment was too severe, the public was highly convinced by the media that Sterling had got what he deserved. the media's spreading of this scenario caused people to come together in order to tackle racism. The public's perception of race was impacted strongly as people united to eradicate racism from the league, showing that the media can also influence and improve our perception of race in a more positive manner with acceptance for others.

Lebron James and his Miami Heat teammates wear their jersey inwards to mark their discontent over Donald Sterling's racist statements.


The findings used in this article illustrate that the media's portrayal of racialized individuals is a two-way effect; it either impacts the public's perception in a positive or negative manner.  Though humanity has advanced a long way back from the early 1900s were black people were not tolerated in sports, there are still some improvements to be made as there are still modern issues in sports regarding race. The article serves as an eye-opener and allows the reader to see different perspectives on sports media and how it influences the public's general perception of race.

Stakeholders for this topic include the public as they are the main target for various sports media sources that send out their information regarding race. It is evident in this article that people are influenced by the media's portrayal of racialized individuals and opinions are formed based on what the media presents to them. Other people of interest regarding this topic are sports analysts, magazine and article writers, and media outlets as they are the ones who form the stories presented to the media and affect how racialized individuals are seen by the public.

Alternative explanations to the findings could be that the media doesn't form an honest opinion on racialized individuals but rather, the media looks for false stories that can maximize public interest in their business. Various media forms tend to find extreme angles on racialized individuals rather than the whole story in order to generate quick public interest and gain quick fame. Richard Sherman, an NFL star corner back, is a prime example of a racialized individual that has had various media outlets spreading racist rumours about him and depicting him as a thug to the public.

Limitations were included in the inquiry project that restricted more findings to be analyzed. Firstly, all of the information found were related to only athletes from African-America backgrounds that had experienced different forms of racial abuse. It was highly difficult to find credible sources of the media's portrayal of other races and how it affected the general public. Secondly, the events and examples used to support the inquiry were related only to American sports and leagues such as boxing, the NFL, and the NBA. There was little to no credible information to be found on the media's impact of racialized individuals in global sporting events such as the Olympics.

After finishing this project, I strongly believe that the media's portrayal of racialized individuals does affect the public's perception of race. This is due to the fact that the public believes that the media holds most of the information on these individuals. People that watch television generally believe most of what they see or hear from media outlets and tend to use it as fact. The media is in control of the information that they choose to display to the public, and since most people believe what they see, the media can strongly influence the public's perception of racialized individuals.

Due to the fact that the study was mostly limited to American sports and athletic events, the research was also restricted to different forms of American media outlets. Most of the sources used came from American articles describing how the American media impacts the thoughts of the public on racialized individuals.

Future research and more sub-themes worthy of further exploration are:
- "Are black athletes held to a higher standard by fans?"
-"Are athletes from different countries pressured differently to do well in their country's national sports?"
-"Are white athletes perceived as more fundamentally sound, while black athletes as more physically dominant?"


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Associated Press, San Franscico (2014, May 12). LA Clippers owner allegedly says: 'Don't bring black people to my games'. The Guardian. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/26/la-clippers-owner-alleged-racism-donald-sterling

Vogler, Conrad C., and Stephen E. Schwartz. 1993. The Sociology of Sport: An Introduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice.

Hoberman, John. Darwin's Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race. Boston: Houghton.

Cashmore, Ellis. 1982. Black Sportsmen. London: Routledge.

Entine, Jon. 2000. Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It. New York: Public Affairs.

Jefferson, C. (2014, January 23). How Richard Sherman Became America's Newest Thug. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://gawker.com/how-richard-sherman-became-amer...

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