An Analysis of Racism and Discrimination in Sports in the US

Racism and Discrimination in Sports

Racism has been a part of sports in American society ever since we began to play here. In the early 20th century in our country, whites and blacks began to compete against each other in sports like football, basketball, and horse racing. Before this everything was separated into different races. This was a step toward integration in this country until the white athletes and managers decided to ban interracial competition because the black athletes began to dominate their sports.

This doesn’t sound much like sports. Many white competitors said blacks had low intelligence, criminal tendencies, and inferior physicality. All of this was done to hide their fear of losing to black competitors.

After black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was defeated by a white boxer in 1915, a black man didn’t have a shot at the title until 1936. That’ss 21 years that white boxers denied matches to minorities for a fear of losing. Even the media published articles promoting discrimination and racism throughout the country.

Newspaper columnist Hugh S. Johnson wrote, The average of white intelligence is above the average of black intelligence, probably because the white race, is several thousand years farther away from jungle savagery. But, for the same reason, the average of white

physical equipment is lower(Walter, 2). Granted that in some ways African Americans have certain biological adaptations that allow them to jump higher and run faster, but this was a way to kill the spirits and self-respect of African Americans.

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Negro teams were formed around the 1900s; this was the only way blacks could play baseball. Every once in a while they would compete against white teams in the exhibition. There were several excellent players on these teams but few got any recognition. In 1920, Rube Foster met with other professional black teams and formed the first organized black league to endure a full season. It was called the Negro National League, which had eight teams (Baseball Before 1920).

Due to many racist players, the integration of Baseball took a lot longer than it should have. Not to say that all white players were racist, but they were brought up in a society where stereotypes had prevailed. Some great black players never made their dreams to get to the pros. Blacks were still not allowed to play on white professional teams in the United States during the early 1900s.


A few years later the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, ordered the desegregation of schools. This reinforced the African American confidence to gain social freedoms. It also intensified the desire to excel in interracial sporting competitions. Under this political pressure, the professional sporting leagues, as well as colleges, realized efforts must be made toward full integration of sports, if not everyday life.

Even today there is discrimination in sports. Mostly it takes place at the coaching level. Black Athletes indeed face enormous obstacles in obtaining positions in the coaching, managing, and executive ranks of professional sports as well as in college sports. These obstacles are not reduced by the number of black athletes who graduate with marginal skills, who do not graduate at all, or who play successfully in the professional leagues. In short, there is little correlation between the talent of an athlete and the mobility many white athletes have between the playing field and the coaching positions on the sidelines.

In the professional leagues, the sporting organization that has been fairer than the rest in hiring black coaches has been the National Basketball Association. In the NBA, black players are approximately 70 percent and have a maximum of 5 black head coaches (Katz). Nothing approximates this in Baseball or Football. Although Bill White, a black man, served as President of the National League of Professional Baseball, very few black men have ever managed teams.

Its been only 50 years since Jackie Robinson became the first Black Major League Athlete. In the MLB there were only 3 black managers or 11 percent, and the desegregation of schools (Black Coaches Association). This number decreased to 2 in the 1999 season. The only black manager today is Bob Watson of the New York Yankees, and very few 3rd bases or bench coaches. The Baseball industry hasn’t hired a new African American coach in 5 years, all of the 23 managerial changes since 1995 have gone to white men. Though there are not a large number of blacks that play in Major League Baseball, it’s not expected to have a large number of coaches or general managers. Just like you won’t expect to find a high number of black coaches in the NHL.

In the NFL though this is an entirely different story. In the NFL, 72 percent of players are African American while only 10 percent of the NFL coaches are African American. There were only 14 total black coaches in 1980, though this number has increased by far lately there are only 3 black head coaches in the NFL, Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green, and Tony Dungy. All of these coaches have done very well in the NFL, leading their teams to playoffs and division championship games (Barry).

Dennis Green has taken his team to the playoffs for 6 of the 7 years of his career, and twice to the NFC championship game. Green was also only a field goal away from being the first black head coach in a super bowl. It’s terrible to see these coaches do so well, yet so few assistant coaches get to the head coaching spot. Of the 11 opening coaching jobs at the beginning of this season, a black man filled only 1. And there are no black owners (Greene).

Many deserving black assistants and head coaches continue to get passed over by their less experienced white counterparts. The game is not what you know, but whom you know. There are programs for minorities in coaching that help them get hired. The NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program has helped more than 30 black coaches get hired to permanent positions in the NFL. The commissioners should put more pressure on the owner to hire more black coaches. Many people are starting to say the NFL stands for N****** Forget Leading. Hopefully, NFL owners will open their eyes and see that many qualified black coaches can relate to the modern athlete (Parker).

In 1997 only 1 black head coach was hired out of 11 positions. Sherm Lewis, a black offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, was at the top of the list for one of these jobs. Even though he was very qualified for the job he wpassedast over again and again. He sat back and watched as coaches came out of retirement and got head coaching jobs. The NFL owners are telling the world they would rather bring old men out of retirement than give it to a black guy.

Even in college sports, there is discrimination against black coaches. Division 1 football has only four black coaches out of the total 115, or about 3.5 percent. This is unfair and unacceptable, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. College football thrives on the blood, sweat, and tears of black players and there have to be opportunities beyond the playing field. Becoming a coach is a natural progression for many of these players and it is obvious from the way things stand now that they don’t have a chance. (Civil Rights Leaders..).

I’ve often marveled at the ability of sports to bring people together. While on so many other fronts we find ways of segregating ourselves into groups. The sporting field has always been a place where men and women stand-alone and lets their talent speak for itself. When someone scores a goal, sinks a putt, or hits a homerun people generally don’t notice color. And for most players judging a person on their skill with the ball rather than their skin color becomes not only necessary to win the game but as instinctive as the desire to win. The ability of their talent to overcome racial boundaries has been celebrated since the integration of baseball.

When it comes to discussing the subject of race, most people will never offer their theories. Some believe tbelieftic play a major role in the athletes to compete. For others, the social aspect of race and professional sports holds the key to over or refunded-representation minority groups in athletics. What happens on the playing field isn’t the sole indicator of the role race plays in sports. Some see the absence of black coaches in the NFL.

Some coaches have racial biases that affect the game. And some athletes like John Rocker, have indicated biases of their own. But the actions of a few athletes don’t reflect on all athletes or sports in general. Reggie White, an NFL football star and co-pastor, shows that the prominence of sports can break down the ideas of racial violence.

Reggie White is a great person to show that not all athletes are money-driven, drug dealing, rapists the media has made them out to be.

Exclusion is the only reason why Blacks are not coaching football at both college and the pro level. Minorities at every level of athletics encounter obstacles, raising concerns among responsible individuals within the education and athletics communities as well as among members within the general framework of American society. The numbers for athletics directors and administrators pales in comparison to the coaches.

Besidesawaythan the numbers in the professional leagues, away they view the changing status of Black athletes way with their incomes. Throughout the 60s and the 70s Black athletes were so undervalued it made serious salary negotiations impossible. The African Americans were underpaid because they were much quicker to sign than the white players. Nowadays this isn’t a problem, Black athletes, for the most part, have the highest salaries. Very commonly with today’s athletes endorsing products, they receive additional income greater than that of their salaries. Michael Jordan alone has earned over $35 million through endorsements (Walter).

Sports Sociologists have often questioned if racism is related to positional segregation. In leadership positions like quarterback or pitcher, the roles are mainly filled by whites. But why is this? Many attribute this to the coaches since it is they who decide who to put where and who to play. Is it a fear of having a black man lead that has kept them out of the more glory positions?

Sports, for the most part, haven’t helped black but hurt them. A far greater number of African Americans youths think they can become professional athletes than white adolescents. The truth is that not many people become pros. Sports have only helped perpetuate their poverty, because of their ignorance about this.

The future goals for minorities lie in Hockey, Golf, and Tennis. As we look at these traditionally Caucasian-dominated sports, we wonder what athletes and supporters are doing to increase diversity in these sports.

In Hockey, there are 27 Minority players, 5 of which play on the same team, the Edmonton Oilers (Glass). These guys are paving the way for this sport. You might wonder why there are so few minorities in Hockey. This is largely contributed to the money it costs to buy equipment and the location of the ice arenas. This makes it very hard for low-income families. As you might have noticed black professional hockey players are fairly hard to come by. So it might also be attributed to the lack of minority role models in hockey.

In the past few years, you might have noticed an explosion of minorities in golf. Golf was once a very segregated sport, but thanks to golfers like Tiger Woodsits is becoming more popular withthe children minorities. Tiger is part African American and part Asian American, but this has never stopped him. He has risen to the top of his sport, inspiring millions and bringing the idea of black golfers to become reality. A study showed that the number of black golfers increased by 56 percent over five years (Glass). Woods who has become the first man of color to win a major championship has quickly become one of the greatest golfers of all time. It seems this sport that has primarily been held by the white upper class is finally becoming more diverse.

Tiger Woods has been a great role model for kids across the country, and with the help of his foundation more and more kids are playing golf. The Tiger Woods Foundation reaches out to theychildren who don’t have access to Golf. Like Hockey, this is expensive. This just says that if golf wishes to compete for kids’ athletic time, they must find a way to make it more affordable and convenient.

Tennis is also experiencing a growth in minority players. The William sisters, Venus and Serena have both elevated to the top of the game. Having to put up with racism on and off the court, they have become great role models for young minorities. Both sisters have had instances involving racial slurs throughout their careers, but they take it with stride and move on as a good role model should.

Arthur Ashe broke the color barrier in Tennis and became an inspiration to thousands of people. He was the first African American to ever win a Grand Slam in Tennis. Even after his career, he was still inspiring people as he fought for his life against the AIDS virus. As he once said You realize that time is short. These are extraordinary conditions, and you have to step it up. (Greenlee, 45).

Unfortunately, racism cannot be eliminated in sports today. Since sports without racism can only exist in a society free of racism, it is more realistic to keep trying to prevent it and educate kids more on the issue. Maybe their future will be better than ours. Change must come at all levels for equality, and education plays an important role. Everything that happens to an athlete after his career is over depends on what he learned

from the sport. We know individual racism won’t just go away. Therefore we must first expose it, and then teach young athletes to deal with it. Mainly by preparing them for non-athletic jobs.

In general, this society must put our efforts into the kids, the future. We must instill in their minds the evils of racism, and show them to learn about a person from their personalities, not the color of their skin. As equal rights activist Richard Lapchick says, If our children learned how to hate then we must teach them how to love again. If they’re waging war on one another, then we must teach them peace. (Hurd).

Before I wrote this paper I didnt realize how much racism this is in sports today, and how badly minorities have been treated throughout sporting history. By the end, I was surprised at how much I didnt know about this subject. NFL owners must become more open-minded and give minorities a fair chance in the coaching department. And Realize their skin color doesn’t matter, but their talent and ability do.

American society needs to look at itself and realize what it has been doing. We all must work together to initiate the transformation of our country into society without racism and prejudice. Closely looking at sports can help us change societal problems. But if we ignore the signs around us we will forever be embedded in racism and have a fear of one another. This paper was meant to counterbalance all of the writing about the joys of sports with a critical look at the less positive side. Sports are a reflection of society, and in that, it reflects both the positive and negative effects.

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An Analysis of Racism and Discrimination in Sports in the US. (2022, Aug 08). Retrieved from

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