Note: Use these notes only as a general source of information; not all material presented here was discussed in class


Ethnicity and racism in sport

Author asked 2 main questions:

• Is sport relatively free of prejudice and discrimination found in other aspects of society? -- is it a way  toward upward mobility for underrepresented groups

                  • sports version of affirmative action

• Does sport serve as a way to break down prejudice and improve relations between racial and ethnic groups -- do black athletes (e.g.) change the way society views the black man in general (Las vegas elevator story with Rosie Grier)?


Maybe we should start by what we mean by race


Race--group of people who share genetically transmitted traits believed to be important in a group or society; biological traits/dispositions, present at birth

Physical characteristics? actually very few "pure" races anymore so difficult to really identify people as belonging to one race or another; in many respects there is as much variance within races as there are between races; other author used the comparison of two tribes in Africa, the Watusi men who frequently are 7 foot versus the pygmy tribe who are typically less than four feet high.

more importantly, the concept of race has been used in a cultural sense to refer to people's physical and mental abilities; there's even less evidence for this distinction than simply identifying people in terms of skin color, hair color, & facial features.

I. Prejudice and discrimination in sport

         A. Historically, there are many examples of prejudice & discrimination in sport. 

         - As noted below, there were very few non-whites in the major sport organizations before 1950. 

         • blacks played sports but they played on their own teams, their own baseball and basketball leagues.When non-whites did excel in sports, especially blacks, it was either ignored, minimized, or attributed to their "animal cunning.  (The author gives an example of a sportswriter's description of Joe Louis.) Similarly,Jack Johnson and other athletes were treated similarly.

           According to experts, "Seeing blacks as subhuman made it easier for whites to explain how and why...blacks could defeat whites in contests of physical skill--after all, the argument went, blacks were more "animal" than whites and thus should be expected to be more physical"

This reason was partly responsible for the continued racial segregation between the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and the years just after WWII.  Interestingly, boxing has tended to be an avenue to success for whatever ethnic group is at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder--Figler's chart leads credence to this analysis--in early 1900's, champs were Irish, in '28, Jewish, in '36 Italian, and since '48  black, or more recently black or Hispanic.  

Since the early '70's there has been a sense that discrimination no longer occurs in sport; this is based primarily on the large number of blacks in the three major team sports, as well as track.  This increase participation began with "quotas" which contributed to the phrase the "token black" on a team. [see chart from behee re: black letter winners at UM]

 Eight months before Jimmy the Greek Snyder made his famous statement that blacks were "bred" to play sports, also in 1987 (a period of no discrimination), Al Campanis, a 70 year old executive of the LA Dodgers was asked about blacks as managers ( on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's entry into major league, breaking the color line) " I truly believe that they may not have the necessities to be, let's say a field manager or perhaps a general manager.  The combination of these two incidents refocused American's attention on the issue of racism in American sport.

B.  Even today, there are many sports in which minorities in general, and blacks in particular are underrepresented:

         • hockey, skiing figure skating, golf, volleyball, softball swimming, gymnastics, rodeo, sailing soccer, bowling, badminton, cycling and tennis.

--native Americans, with a few notable exceptions, e.g., Jim Thorpe and his teammates have had very limited participation.  The issue of nicknames such as the Redskins, the Warriors, the Savages, etc is very controversial; chants and tomahocks are seen as a mockery of their culture, contributing further to certain stereotypes and prejudice.

--Hispanics have been particularly ignored in sports, even tho as the author points out, ancestors of Hispanics have been in America since before Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.

II. Black participation and reasons for the desegregation of sport--

         A. Historically--some deny that blacks participation is limited, but there is no debate that it was in the past.

         1, prior to the '50's whites systematically resisted playing with or agains blacks.

         2. Since 1950, black's participation has been limited to a handful of sports. 

         3.This is especially true for black women--until recently, their participation has been limited to the occasional Olympic medal winners in track and field events.

         B. Currently, it is often pointed out that this trend has been reversed, and now blacks are overepresented in sports.  This is because of their dominance in the three big team sports (baseball, football, basketball), and boxing, and track & field. 

         However, researchers suggest that "if all sports were considered and the percentage of black participants in each were averaged, the overall proportion of top-level black athletes in sports would come close to the proportion of blacks in the U.S. population". (Figler & Whitaker, 1991,  p. 288 ).  Our authors provide 3 reasons to explain the overrepresentation of blacks in the 5 sports mentioned above.

         1. Way certain sports are organized

                  a. Whole team benefits as a function of individuals

                  b. Does not necessarily result in increased power over other players so not as              threatening to whites.

                  c. Teams can be successfult & play well together without the teammates necessarily becoming "friends" off the court; being racist and playing with people different than oneself is not mutually exclusive.

                  d. Does not necessarily lead to access to formal and legitimate sources of power in the economic or political world; their involvement in sport was not seen as a threat to the status quo.

2. A major catalyst was winning and its impact on profits

                  --people general felt that if revenues can be increased or win-loss records improved, change is worth it; even if the change is inconsistent with some other beliefs; When sport team owners discovered that large profits could be made in baseball, fototball, * basketball, they and their coaches abandoned their tradition of racial discrimination in favor of making money.  This phenomena started in horseracing and boxing (traditionally money-making sports) and moved on to the major 3 team sports; Blacks were used in boxing because of their high box office appeal= a "spectacle" effect (reminiscent of the so few team members.

         3. Perceived opportunities and sport skills

                  a. Financial factors influence the players as well as the owners and coaches.

                  b. Many people feel that blacks are more likely than whites to be seuced by sport opportunities because they "perceive more barriers to achievement in other activities.

                  c. Blacks tend to excel--not by accident--in sports that require little expensive equipment & training; this same relationship may partially explain the difference in positions ("stacking") that we will discuss in a moment--less expensive to train an outfielder than a pitcher, etc.

         *Note: desegreagtion is not equal to eliniation of prejudice and discrimnation; e.g., Robinson was allowed to participate because he wass successful, but he was never fully accepted.  Segregation is most likely to remain in sports that directly involve informal, personal and sexually mixed social contact, e.g., golf, tennis & swimming. (Talk about Robinson handout here).


III. Racial and ethnic stacking on sport teams

         --when teams are racially or ethnically, mixed, players from certain backgrounds are overrepresented?); Simultaneously, this explains why non-revenue making sports have r- or under-represented at certain positions= "Stacking". This is a very important topic in the sociology of sport

         A. Examples

                  1. Baseball, major league--blacks are most heavily concentrated in the outfield position; they are seldom pitchers, catchers, or any other infield except first base.

                  2. Football--college and pros--blacks are likely to play safety, cornerback & end on defense and running back and pass receiver on offense; whites are overrepresented at quarterback & guard on offense and in the past, a middle line backer on defense.

                  3. Basketball--in the 50's and '60's, blacks were overrepresented as forwards, whites as centers/guards--Since early '80's, this pattern has disappeared among males but is still sometimes seen among females.

                  4. Women intercollegiate volleyball--blacks--spkiers; whites--set & bump

                  5. Canadian hockey--French Canadians-goalie; English Canadians--defensive positions

                  6. Soccer--Black West Indians & black Africans are overrperesented in forward positions in Britain; whites--goalie & mid-fielder.

                  7. Aborigines--peripheral; Non-aborigines--central positions in rugby.

B. Reasons for stacking

                  1. Biological explanations--people from different racial/ethnic backgrounds have certain physical or mental attributes that suit them for certain positions (e.g., it has been suggested that blacks are build fro speed agility and quickness and whites exhibit more intelligence, dependability & leadership.  Some data to support this hypothesis is available, but the difference, even if reliable, is not large.  Most of the people who strongly support this explanation are basing their answer, knowingly or not, or stereotypes, not scientific research. 

                  -Bouchard's article--it appears that 10% of genetic variation is attributable to racial differences

                  -Malina's article--Black infants tend to be advanced in early motor development during the first 2 years of life.  Among school age children, blacks are superior in dashes and vertical jump, less consistent results in softball throws and standing long jump

                  -Hines' article--Racial variation in physique and body composition--specifically blacks are large deposits of bone minerals, more lean body mass, and a greater trunk to leg ratio"

 "It is obvious that the achievements of all top-level athletes are at least partly based on inherited physical characteristics but no research has shown that these characteristics are systematically related to race or ethnicity" Its also noted that most positions require a variety of skills/abilities, making this explanation, at best, overly simplistic.


2. Psychological explanations-two major areas within this topic are:

         a.- ethnicity is related to particular personality profiles that influence athletic performance 

         b. blacks are more "reactive" by nature and so should play positions that require superior reactions whereas whites are purported to be better in self-paced positions.

         Note: some people have suggested that the Harlem Globetrotters perpetuate racism by acting "loose, rhythmic, happy-go-lucky (i.e., not serious).

Figler's summary paragraph:

If we try to characterize the sports in which blacks excel with regard to the physical or psychological demands of those sports, we quickly get into trouble.  Do blacks excel at ball sports? Yes, except that tennis and soccer are ball sports, and blacks are not overrepresented in those.  Do they excep at leaping? yes, except that they are underrepresented in high jumping.  If blacks have longer arms as Kane suggested, does that give them a mechanical advantage for throwing?  That would be logical, and blacks are over-represented as baseball outfielders, but they are underrepresented in javeline, discus, shot put, baseball pitching, and football quarterbacking.  Do blacks excel at team sport? Yes, in football, basketball, and baseball, but ice hockey is a team sport and blacks are underepresented there.  Do they not do well at individual sports? Boxing is an individual sport, and it is diominated by blacks.  Since blacks sprint so well, do they excel at all sports involving speed? No--cycling, skking and speed skating are speed sports, yet blacks are underrepresented in each of those."


3. Sociological explanations

         a. Decisions about positions are made by people with definite opinions about skills needed for a particular position (not necessarily correctly).

         b. Opinions about the talent recruited is influenced, perhaps unconsciously in some cases, by their stereotyped beliefs.

         c. Decisions are made on the basis of  "a" and "b".

         This is similar to the decision making process in all job recruitment, but the difference is that (according to Coakley) in most North American sports, about 95% of the people making decsions come from White-Anglo Saxon backgrounds

         Centrality Theory based on the work of researchers in the '60's suggested that "all else being equal, the more central one's spatial location: (1) the greater the likelihood dependent or coordinative tasks will be performed and (2) the greater the rate of interaction with the occupants of other positions.  Also, the performance of dependent tasks is positively related to frequency of interaction.

This was based on tradition job situation (e.g., an office, etc.) but has been applied to sports to explain the different positions held by whites as opposed to non-whites.

         C. Stacking patterns change as a function of:

                  1. people from a particular racial or ethnic gorup make up the vast majority of players and eventually coaches

                  2. When changes in a sport lead to changes in the ideas of what skills are necessary in a particular position--e.g. quarterbacks need to be runners today as opposed to the past, defensive linebacker position has also been reevaluated, allowing blacks to take these positions as well.

                  3. Depends on whether blacks perceive that if they try out for a "white" position, their chances are lowered?

         D. Effects of stacking--central positions results in:

                  1.  a longer playing career, since peripheral positions tend to be more susceptible to injury and aging problems; shorter career also results in financial disadvantages with lower earnings and lower pension.=$$$

                  2. greater visibility

                  3. greater influence over other players

                  4. greater rank

         Thus players are not only noticed more but they are perceived as strategy leaders which can, in turn, lead to being hired as a coach.  For example, one study showed that inprofessional baseball, nearly 77 percent of managers had played positions characterized by high centrality.  In contrast, the NFL has never had a black head coach, and in 1987 only 11 percent of assistant coaches were black.  Basketball is more equitable in terms of their management to "labor" ratios of blacks.  In 1987, major league baseball teams listed 879 front office and management positions, among which only 17 jobs were held by blacks and 13 by Hispanics and Asians; however these management positions included, community relations, sales representative and executive chef.  Only four black managers in baseballs history; not until June of '89 did two black managers oppose each other in a regular season contest:

Cito Gaston--Toronto Blue Jays vs Frank Robinson-Baltimore Orioles=$$$

         5. Discrimination in contracts?

                  a. In baseball, it was bad at one time, but in general since they could become "free agents", this is essentially disappeared

                  b. Football, a study by David Meggyesy from the '82 NFL season indicating a clear salary differential with whites averaging approximately 10,000 dollars more per year

                  c. Basketball--yes--'84-'85 season was analyzed and found that at equivalent performance levels, blacks are paid signficantly less than whites.

IV. Sport and Intergroup Relations

         --when does contact among people of different ehtnic backgrounds contribute to favorable attitude and behavior changes?

Author says when players have--equal status, pursue the same goals depend on one another's cooperation to achieve their goal, and receive positive encouragement for interacting with one another in non-discriminatory ways..

         A. Problems still encountered today

                  1. Attitudes are very resistant to change--Stereotyped attitudes remain because a) people ignore info to the contrary, and/or b) define such contradictory infomration as an exception, and/or c) reinterpret the info so it fits with prejudices.  One study compared interscholastic team members with students not involved in athletics and found no difference in terms of prejudice--neither less or more

                  2. Contact between players can often be "superficial" & so fail to break down prejudice

Robber's cave example here--Sherif and her colleagues conducted an ingenious experiment with 11 year old boys at a summer camp.  When they arrived at camp, the boys were separated into two groups and housed in cabins that were physically separated.  At first the groups were kept apart to build up in-group friendships.  Development of pride and identification with the in-group was encouraged by participation in cooperative games and activities.  Soon each group had a flag, an name (Rattlers and the Eagles) and had staked out its own territory.  At this point the two groups were placed in competition with each other.  After a number of clashes, disliking between the two groups bordered on hatred.  Outright hostility erupted as the boys baited each other, started fights, and raided each other's cabins.

To stop the conflict, various strategies were tried.  The leaders met but this did not help. Getting the groups together did not help--when they ate together, it became a free-for-all.  Finally, fake emergencies were staged, e.g., everyone had to work together to repair the water supply=creation of a superordinate goal=as members were forced to cooperate, hostilities subsided.

         players are not necesarily friends, teams have won championships despite serious interpersonal problems among players--in the early days, black athletes lead lonely lives, having to cope with racism and cautious acceptance of spectators, teammates, and coaches;--at all levels, fromelementary to college to pro-- there is a tendency for whites to hang out with whites and blacks with blacks.

                  3. Competition within and between teams may aggravate existing prejudices--Sport is different from other types of intergroup contact.  it involves competition and competition often destroys the common goals needed for the contact to decrease prejudices.  in fact, when atheltes from different racial or ethnic groups are opponents, the contact during competiton is likely to intensify existing prejudices; also members of the same team often compete for the same positions

Hail to the Victors example here--

SUMMARY--"Throughout the years, sport has been used by many to perpetuate and extend policies of racial exclusion and prejudices against minority people around the world.  For example, the traditional definition of amateurism used in the Olympic Games worked to the disadvantage of all people who were not members of the well to do dominant class.  The actual competitive events that make up the Olympic Games have been chosen by people who do not represent people of color from around the world"--Sport brings people together; it does not necessarily create the kinds of relationships needed to challenge the prejudices of athletes and spectators.