American student athletes have always faced stereotypes in and out of the classroom, being seen as self-segregating or “dumb jocks” that really wouldn’t be at school if it weren’t for their athletic ability. Although these stereotypes are applied to both white and black athletes, African American students, especially men, feel it more than their white counterparts. African Americans are already, for the most part, seen as intellectually inferior, so when they are seen in an academic environment they are automatically judged.
If they didn’t get into school just for being black, they got into school for being a black athlete. Excuses are made as to why African American student athletes and pro athletes dominate in the world of sports in general. From the time the black athlete stepped into the sports arena and began to compete with whites, white people have been looking for an explanation. In his article Sailes looks into the myths and stereotypes surrounding African American athletes, most of which have been created by whites.
In loosely replicated the experiment that Sailes conducted with his students and in doing so I found that the stereotypes he discusses do exist and many people strongly believe in some of the myths. I interviewed both male and female athletes and non-athletes alike and surprisingly most of their answers to my questions were the same. I asked them all the same five questions; 1. Do you think African Americans dominate in sports? 2. Which Sports? 3. Are there certain positions they are better at? 4. Why? 5.
Is their demeanor on the field or court different than that of a white athlete? and 6. Have you heard any myths about why black athletes are better? Interviewee #1, A white female on the basketball team at Gettysburg College felt that black athletes were better at all sports and in all positions, but particularly in basketball and football. She has learned from experience that black athletes are more loud and aggressive. It was her belief that African Americans are better at sports because of genetics.
She also said that it could be because historically they have done hard labor and had menial jobs, so their physical condition has evolved. The one myth she has heard is that African Americans have an extra bone in their leg which makes them capable of jumping higher and running faster. Interviewee # 2, an African American football player stated that blacks are better at all sports, but especially football, in such positions as cornerback, running back, and wide receiver. When asked why he felt that this is true his answer was “because we’re just nasty like that.
” In regards to myths he recalled one of his high school classmates expressing to him that the reason blacks were better was because they still had some monkey left in them. Interviewee # 3, a white college graduate, non-athlete articulated that blacks are better at any sport they try but not in any positions that require brain power or thought. He said that they are not usually good quarterbacks because they aren’t smart enough. When I asked him why, his response was, “because they are dumb N’s”.
He believes that they become athletes because they have no other options to get a job or get rich, unless they can rap. He also stated that the reason they can run so fast is because they are used to running from the cops. Interviewee # 4, A white male who is a former athlete said that he believes that African Americans are superior in all sports except for lacrosse and hockey, and that the reason for this is because they are much more expensive to start up and maintain- as opposed to soccer/football/basketball where all you need is a ball really.
He thinks black people on the whole start out life economically feeble compared to whites and believes in the myth that they have been evolved into more muscular and stronger people because of the process of natural selection during slavery where the slave owners bought the biggest and strongest, and they’re offspring are the ones that created the people that are dominating in sports now.
My last interviewee was a female African American basketball player who felt that African Americans dominate in football and basketball because it is the only sport they want to play so they strive for it. She also said that blacks are more aggressive because it means more to them. In the majority of my interviews the participants mentioned what Sailes referred to as the Mandingo Theory, in which the physical superiority of African Americans is attributed to the selection and so called breeding process along with the manual labor performed during the days of slavery.
The psychological and dumb jock theories were also articulated in the answers I received from the white students for they all said at some point or another during the interview that African Americans are intellectually inferior and all they have going for them is sports, and even in the world of sports there are positions that they are mentally incapable of occupying. The one thing that I believe all the participants agreed on both black and white is that African Americans are somehow genetically different.
I was really taken aback by my findings. Even though I have learned throughout this semester that people are more racist than I ever thought they were, I didn’t realize that this racism is existent in literally everything. I’m not really into sports and do not pay attention to them, so I had no idea that people felt this way about African American athletes. So, it seems as though African Americans are battling this war on racism on yet another front.