Category: Sociology
Race and Sports

There seems to be no compelling reason to argue that the issue of racism in sports remains prominent for a long period. Although people usually do not notice it, racism in sports happens everywhere. Racism in sports should not always be regarded as discrimination as there are different kinds of it. This paper deals with stereotypical and discriminative racism. Moreover, an analysis of the most remarkable racist incidents is provided. In this paper, it is claimed that racist stereotypes, which are usually vague and based on arbitrary sources, distort people’s perception of sports reality and influence sportsmen’s performance.


The first manifestations of racism in sports can be traced back to the start of the Olympic Games in 1936. Nazi Germany invented a rule that no representatives of other countries could take part in the competition until they accepted Nazi’s disrespect for fair play. As a result, Margaret Bergmann Lambert was expelled from the participation in the Games because of her Jewish nationality. Moreover, African Americans were represented as “black auxiliaries” and Nazis Press insisted on their exclusion from the Olympics. The Nazis suppressed Jewish and other “non-Aryan” people from using local playgrounds and facilities for adequate preparation.

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The most vivid observations of the race stereotypes concern black athletes. Black athletes hold the world records in the men’s 100-meter sprints since 1968 (Rowan). When the International Association of Athletics Federations began to track the record holders, black athletes held 28 out of 38 titles (Rowan). The investigations conducted at Howard University in Washington D.C. and Duke University in North Carolina found the possible reasons why black athletes perform better than other races’ athletes. According to the investigations, the principal factor that contributed to the athletes’ success is the body type differences between whites and blacks. There is overwhelming evidence corroborating that the nationality does not matter as, regardless of whether the fastest sprinter is Canadian, African or Jamaican, the majority of the athletes can be considered Western Africans.

The scientists pay extra attention to the body build. Adrian Bejan, an engineering professor at Duke University, claimed that black people are considered to “have longer limbs with smaller circumferences, meaning that their centers of gravity are higher compared to whites of the same height” (Rowan). Since whites and Asians have longer torsos, their center of gravity is lower. These differences affect the speed of their feet moving as they hit the ground.

The data received from a thorough analysis of the sources shows that among whites and blacks of the same height, the torsos of whites were longer, while blacks had longer legs. This physical difference gives blacks a significant advantage as the runners with longer legs and shorter torsos win the sprint. This phenomenon can be easily explained as the body’s torso just increases the weight that the legs have to bear. On the other hand, a longer torso gives whites superiority in swimming as it allows enhancing the speed.

In the book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk about It, Jon Entine mentions that it is not just “being black that matters” (20). The origin of the ancestors in Africa plays a very significant role and makes a huge difference. The tropical climate of Africa provided black people with dense skeletons and low body fat levels, which gives them a very obvious advantage in sprinting, football, and basketball. East-Africans surpass others in long-distance running because their lower calf muscle is not fully developed.

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Except for the issue of racism as a stereotypical factor, there exists the issue of racism as a discriminative factor. The second type, unlike the first one, can be extremely dangerous and harmful. The only black manager in the Premier League, the Queens Park Rangers boss Chris Ramsey claims that racism as a social problem still exists on the streets of the United Kingdom. Moreover, he anticipates that the discriminative racism will increase and spread even more as it becomes extremely difficult to eradicate it.

Furthermore, there is one more distinctive difference between black and white people – mentality. While blacks are great at sports, whites are considered to be the hustlers and are regarded as the ones “with brains”. Although these considerations occurred to be rather controversial as both whites and blacks are people first who inherently have a brain. The thing that makes them different is the way they think and program their actions.


With the development of the sport, the issue of racism became more vivid and disturbing. For instance, African Americans were prohibited to participate in the National Association of Baseball Players since regional biases and provisional color disallowance, taking back to the 1890s, were taken into account (Negro League Baseball). In reply, black people did not give up and created the Negro Leagues, which in a while became the most successful and greatest enterprise controlled by African Americans.

While blacks dominate all speed sports, white people dominate those kinds of sport that suppose expensive inventory, such as hockey, sailing, golf, etc. There exists a stereotype claiming that “white men can’t jump, black men can’t swim”. Although the race differences can change under the influence of culture and environment, Entine mentions that cultural conditions can intensify fractional performance differences related to heredity. On the other hand, physiological differences will be useless if they are not trained and developed properly.

The question about the physical superiority of black people is a controversial topic for discussion. It is a fact that blacks have a different body build than whites. However, some scientists claim that it is not the body that makes black people take first place in athletics but their wish to win. Then arises the question of why blacks strive to win more than whites. It can be explained by a stereotypical concept that blacks are mentally inferior. In order to compensate for their stereotypical mental inferiority, they do their best to achieve physical superiority.

As a rule, professional athletes are better known for their ways of expressing an aversion to homophobia, racism, or any kind of bigotry, but not for their social or political activities. For instance, after the Los Angeles center field Matt Kemp was racially abused by the owner of Los Angeles Clippers by being called “too dark-skinned”, Kemp “changed his walk-up music to Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White” during Sunday’s baseball game”. Furthermore, he mentioned in the interview with the reporters that he felt very sorry for the players of the Clippers who had to play for Sterling.

There are many other examples of how masterly athletes find the way out of awkward situations. When banana landed at Dani Alves’ (Barcelona soccer player) feet, he responded to the racist provocation having picked it up, peeled, and eaten before he proceeded to take a corner kick. According to Alves’ interview given after the game, such things have to be perceived with a dose of humor, as if “you don’t give it importance, they don’t achieve their objective”.

Concerning discriminative racism in sports, there was an incident, when a black man has pushed off a train by Chelsea fans “before West Ham fans sang anti-semitic songs at Tottenham Hotspur, in a shameful week for football off the pitch”. As Chris Ramsey believes, racism acquires a new format and people are smart enough to find tricky ways to camouflage their racist behavior. There is no more prejudice about black people playing football, but “there are many other parts of football that need to come up to speed with the rest of the world”.

In order to find out how the mentality of blacks and whites differ, there was conducted an experiment, in which both black and white people took part ("Race & Sex: What We Think but Don't Say"). During the experiment, they were asked some questions and expected to answer them correctly. The results were astonishing. When the scientist told black people that the survey was conducted to estimate their physical aspects, the results were better than when they were told that the survey aimed to estimate their mental abilities. The same happened to whites, but the results were better for the estimation of mental abilities. The thing that struck the most was that the questions were the same for both aspects. This research showed how stereotypes have programmed people’s minds so that they started to act according to the prejudice applied to them.

The most horrible fact concerning sports discrimination and racism is that it influences children that absorb everything they hear or see and apply that to their own behavior or way of acting in particular situations. Moreover, professional athletes are role models for children. As a matter of fact, if a child observes racist or discriminative actions against other races, he/she will consider these actions as something that is acceptable and normal in everyday life. When racism or discrimination concepts become ingrained in people’s brains, it appears extremely difficult to get rid of them. However, if people try to eliminate these concepts from a generation, there are very promising chances that the prejudices and stereotypes concerning race will be reduced to a minimum.

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The recent incident with Joel Ward serves as a perfect example of how the sportsmen's negative actions affect a child’s behavior. After he scored the game-winning goal, dozens of tweets headed at him. The most striking is the fact that the tweets were written and shared by the children who thought that there was nothing wrong with the racial offense. The lack of punishment and intolerance in sports are the principal reasons for such behavioral problems.

The sports discrimination spreads on sports management as well. It is clearly noticeable that minority coaches have been deprived of chances to get a good job because of their race. Looking for a solution, NFL established The Rooney Rule, which presupposed that there should be at least one interview with a minority coach for the available job offer. The necessity of such rules can be rather arguable, but since the level of discrimination in the NFL is too high, this has become the only possible solution. On the other hand, it is very frustrating that people need the rules to treat everybody equally. It reflects how poorly society has progressed since the times when minorities were deprived of the same living conditions as the majority.


Despite the fact that racism accompanies people throughout life and becomes so normal that people do not usually notice it, the issue of racism in professional sports remains topical. The reason why racism is so vivid in professional sports is that sport is in the spotlight as everyone watches it and nothing can go unnoticed. When some incidents of discrimination or racism against the players occur, the news spread very fast and the whole country sees it. Lately, European soccer has undergone very controversial and unacceptable incidents of race discrimination. Luis Suarez of Liverpool racially abused Patrice Evra of Manchester United during the match between these two teams in October 2011. As a result, Suarez received a fine and was suspended from playing eight games.

Therefore the racism in sports has to be eliminated to influence the overall fight against it. One of the most effective solutions is to show a good example to children as they are the future of the world. If children are brought up properly, with high moral principles ingrained in their minds, such problems as racism discrimination will never occur. However, parents cannot influence every aspect of their child’s life. Nowadays, media, being one of the most influential aspects, can change the moral principles of a properly-brought-up child. Accordingly, the media has to choose carefully what information to present and how to present it.

Finally, in order to fight racism in sports, people have to fight racism in everyday life. Everybody has to remember that regardless of the color of the skin, nationality, or gender, they are all humans. All of them have two eyes, legs, and arms, and everything else does not matter. The thing that can make a person different is whether he/she has a soul or not. As soon as people realize that appearance is only a shell created to carry something really beautiful, a lot of problems will disappear.


The data gathered in this paper provides convincing evidence that racism is present in all aspects of people’s lives, especially in sports. While African Americans are highly represented in such sports as football, athletics, basketball, and baseball, there are very few representatives of this nationality in such sports as swimming, tennis, golf, and sailing. There are many reasons explaining this phenomenon, beginning from biological to intellectual differences. As a result, the sport has become more important to African American children as it is sometimes the only way for them to express their personalities. Sport can be compared to life: when one considers it the entertainment, another one treats it as if every step is a matter of life or death.

The real problem lies in the fact that if people expect African Americans to be physically superior, but intellectually limited, individuals acquire the expected behavioral model. Although the biological hypothesis was not scientifically proved, it appears to be self-fulfilling divination. As soon as people refuse to accept the beliefs and stereotypes established by the collective consciousness, the pattern will be broken.

In conclusion, a closer look at the data indicates that the only possible way to eliminate race discrimination in sports is to establish and practice severe punishment and fines. Moreover, this idea has to be accepted in all kinds of sport, otherwise, there will be no result. Regardless of whether it is athletics, box, football or tennis, if sportsmen discriminate against others because of their race, they should be fined properly, suspended or even fired. Having analyzed different aspects of sports racism, it can be claimed that racist stereotypes are not objective as usually they are based on a person’s personal preferences and opinions. Moreover, such discrimination can be very harmful to the society as it teaches people intolerance and immoral things. As soon as people receive the message that discrimination is evil and is adequately punished, they can confidently claim that fight against discrimination and racism has been won.

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