Perspectives on Race

A Discussion about Events Concerning Race

Sports and Race

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Every year around this time(The month of march, specifically) College Basketball comes to the forefront of the sports world.  There are 64 teams involved in the tournament, from across the nation, including powerhouse programs and middle of the road programs.   Upon watching some of the games from the opening round of the tournament, a friend of mine made a comment about the Cornell Basketball team along the lines of “Cornell can’t win because all of their starters are white.”  My friend’s ignorance was quickly shown to be just that as Cornell rolled along to a double-digit victory against a higher ranked program.  While his comment was no more than an attempt to be funny, the statement itself and the conversation that followed inspired thinking about racial stereotypes and the effects that systemic or structural forms of racism such as segregation have on the world of sports(a world that I have a significant amount of interest in).

What has always made sports interesting to me, at least on the semi-professional or pre-professional level, has been the even playing field that it allows for in the way of opportunity.  If a player is good, he can play.  Now, this idea is a bit different for college sports programs where coaches will recruit the bigger, faster athletes that have comparable levels of talent.  But, at least at a high school level, or playing a sport recreationally at school for a club team, or an intramural league, sports offers an outlet for everyone to engage in a physical, team-driven, goal-oriented activity.  Black, White, Brown, Yellow, or Green, when it comes to a game of pick-up basketball if you have skill, then you will play.

Sports have a unique way of bringing people together and breaking down stereotypes(this is perhaps best showcased by the Olympic Games, where athletes become nationals instead of individuals).  But, at the same time, it is strange to see a majority of NBA, and NFL players being Black, while the Majority of the coaches in the respective leagues are white.  Also, it is strange to see an Ivy-League school, like Cornell mentioned earlier, with an All-White starting line-up.

Why is it stereotypical that white people that play basketball excel at jump-shooting, whereas black people excel at the more athletically demanding aspects of basketball like ball-handling and passing?  It makes me wonder if the “white kid” growing up in the suburbs whose family can afford a basketball hoop in their front yard has an advantage developing a shot.  Or, if the “black kid” who is forced to grow up in project housing or in a household that can’t quite afford a basketball hoop, develops dribbling and passing skills from walking to the local park to play basketball instead of shooting in his driveway casually.  The previous “kids”, of course, are hypothetical examples and are not intended to suggest that all white people or all black people live in a certain way or are subject to certain things(or even that all kids play basketball).  These examples, when added with some of the facts and statistics from America Apartheid, might explain how systemic segregation might play a role in the development of athletic skill-sets.  Also, besides individual skills, the more affluent families might be able to afford to send their kids to camps, clinics, or combines in order to further their child’s chances at playing sports on a more competitive level, opportunties that families living in poorer neighborhoods might not have.

Again, while this might seem to be just an issue of wealth, the statistics in American Apartheid seem to suggest that race and poverty have a significant impact on one another, at least in regard to where a family might live, or their ability to change their status within society.  Given that relationship, it would only make sense that where a person lives would effect the opportunities he has, even if it is as simple as picking up and playing a sport. 

If nothing else, it is food for thought…


Written by dmeckley

March 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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