Racism in Professional Sports Based on the Case of NBA

In a world where racism still exists, sports transcends this racial barrier and presents itself as a platform where individuals are judged based on their athletic abilities rather than the color of their skins. Sports unites all; from the players to their supporters who fill stadia to support their favorite teams whenever they’re playing. Regardless of who you are, the social institution that is sports is virtually unavoidable. So while this sounds all right, a closer look at the statistics tell a different story, in contrast to the popular depiction of sports as a colorblind ‘oasis of tolerance.

’ The NBA is 75 percent black whereas the NFL is 65 percent black, which paints a picture of blacks’ overrepresentation in professional sports. While at a glance this may seem like a non-issue, is it really just another random occurrence? Why is it a big issue? Is it not a good thing?

What the above statistic implies is that blacks are limited to only achieving success physically more than mentally; more so because the tech industry is only made up of 7 percent blacks.

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The cause of this is the pre-set social processes and systems which depict sports as colorblind and a symbol of equality despite of the ubiquitous racialized histories, tensions, and stereotypes about sports and the relationship between the blacks and whites.

Let’s take a brief detour back into the history of the black man. Back in the day when slavery was a norm, black people were ideologically fixed as animalistic, dangerous, and hypersexual.

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These stereotypes were reproduced and at the same time contested by black male participation in sports. Blacks were often forced to take part in sports for the entertainment of the white man – especially in fighting pits – and their athletic triumphs ironically affirmed the assumptions that they were naturally physical and violent. The black man was branded as having an animal-like killer instinct. However, although rendered impotent in virtually all other social spheres, blacks were also able to assert their strength, dignity, and humanity by displaying their athletic talents.

Despite of the potential of sports to serve as a form of liberation during slavery and many years of forced segregation, blacks were at the mercy of the whites who controlled the sports industry. Indicative of this reality is the fact that, it wasn’t until 1950 that the first black man played in professional basketball. These were the first steps towards racial integration in sports. In 1966, Bill Russel became the black coach after being hired by Boston Celtics; Ken Hudson became the first black referee in the NBA in 1968 while the first black general manager of an NBA team can in 1972 i.e. Waybe Embry. Recently, Robert Johnson became the first African-American majority team owner when he purchased the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2000-2001 season.

Though this racial integration into professional sports was claimed to be progressive by blacks and whites alike, it has also received massive criticism as a tool of white supremacist persistence. At the time of integration, the NBA was struggling to maintain consumer interest and generate profit. Games were slow, their fan base was dwindling, and the economic stature of teams was really bad. To resuscitate the game, the style of basketball played by the blacks at the time surfaced as a potential means to increase league popularity and revenue. This style was characterized by speed, energy, and creativity, which was particularly different from the conventional white style of play. To the administrators of the sport, this was merely a means to an end.

So let’s now get back to the modern day where the majority of players in the NBA are blacks. A common myth is that the overrepresentation has something to do with black genes, black athleticism, and black African musculature, but no, think again. Yes, the blacks may have revolutionized the game and even made it better but this doesn’t justify the overrepresentation. Why then are there less black coders, programmers and electrical engineers? This myth justifies white dominance and encourages black inferiority even though this isn’t the actual case. The other side of this myth is that, whites have the genes for coding, programming, electrical engineering, etc. to justify white dominance in the tech industry. In this view, white dominance in brains is naturally balanced by black dominance in brawn. How is this balance imposed on blacks you ask? Through underfunding schools in black neighborhoods such that the remaining opportunities for black success are found in the gym and not class.

This, however, doesn’t make it any better. Despite of this appearing as one of the few opportunities left to make something meaningful of their lives, the chances of making it into the NBA are very slim. A recent survey showed that about 0.03 percent are drafter by an NBA team. That is a mere three in 10,000 which is a rather slim chance. To put this into perspective, that’s about the chance that you have an IQ of above 150 (measured by Standard-Binet test) while the average IQ of Ph.D. students is about 130. This means that the odds are set against you from the word go, and even if you are very talented, many things could still go wrong along the way. Becoming a programmer is by far much more practical as it is achievable and yet we very few black computer programmers in the country. In fact, at Google, blacks account for about 3% (give or take) of the employees.

Overrepresentation of blacks in professional sports is a tragic feedback loop that’s meant that’s obscured in the impracticality of basket balling and the practicality of programming. Moreover, the poorer a black individual is, the more practical the impractical appears (playing pro-basketball) and the more impractical the practical looks (becoming a techie). This hasn’t always been the case because in the 1950s, kids were taught that they had a much better chance becoming a surgeon, or doctor, or lawyer, or teacher that a professional athlete. This why we now have people like Ben Carson who’s now a very successful neurosurgeon. Today, basketball is considered a popular black culture but back in the ‘50s, becoming a doctor or a lawyer was the “blackest” thing a kid could aspire to be. All this has changed in just half a decade and everyone, including the black folks are responsible. Back in the day, educated black men and women were the heroes of race but today, we hold pro-athletes in such high regards as if they are gods - don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to minimalize their talents.

The society doesn’t give enough credit to the other black professionals doing exemplary work at their daily jobs. The society needs to go back to the drawing board and redefine what ‘making it big’ means, especially to the black kids. We need to change the way they look at success and also make sure they know that there are many opportunities out there. Just because they’re black and probably have the physique of an athlete, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to follow that career path. Furthermore, statistics show a high probability of making it in another profession than it is to become a pro-athlete and today, there are more neurologists than there are professional basketball players. We need to extend this discuss to be about them by expanding their available options. Focusing too much on sports without looking at the other viable career options limits your options in an event that that plan backfires. In a nutshell, they shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket, especially when the eggs are a lot and the basket is too small.

In conclusion, I ask that we celebrate the individuals who struggle and become successful in all professions, starting with NBA player to the doctors, teachers and preachers while still remaining adamant to hold steady and yet get rid of any biased preset policies, structures and process.


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  4. Race And Sports - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_sports. Accessed 2019.
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Updated: Jan 24, 2024
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Racism in Professional Sports Based on the Case of NBA. (2024, Jan 24). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/racism-in-professional-sports-based-on-the-case-of-nba-essay

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