Athletes in sports today are revered individuals. On the professional level, an average salary can range anywhere from half a million dollars on up! This makes the prospect of having a sports-related career extremely enticing. College athletes, too, are often placed on a pedestal (despite the arguments about their right to a salary). Each year, some kid in the NCAA becomes a household name. And let’s not even begin to discuss the allure of physical ability displayed during sporting events! On the surface, it seems the only worry athletes must face are unwanted injuries (we have personal trainers to thank for the lack there of) or which team will give them the greatest opportunity to shine. But then, there is another threat being shoved right at us whenever we tune in to watch a game. This, dear friends, is sports media coverage regarding race.
Buffington and Fraley (2008) state “Black and White athletes are often presented in a diametrically opposed manner, creating a ‘black brawn vs. white brains’ distinction” (Buffington & Fraley, 2008, p. 293). This, unfortunately, is a form of racism often exhibited by sports broadcasters, journalists, and other entities in the media. Buffington and Fraley (2008) furthermore assert sports commentators often promote racial stereotypes among athletes due to subconscious beliefs, images, attitudes, and values. For example, James Rada of Ithaca College after studying NFL broadcaster comments once stated that “when they [NFL broadcasters] described individual players, they would highlight intellect-related qualities for white players, but physical qualities (particularly their appearance) for black players.” The danger in this type of sports reporting lies with audience takeaway. Buffington and Fraley (2008) highlight in their study this idea of “new racism”, which places black players into a corner where they are only accepted as athletes. It is because of this same reason why black coaches often have a difficult time obtaining head coaching positions in professional/collegiate sports such as football and basketball. Ultimately, media can have a deep and significant impact on how society views certain topics. The sports world is no exception.
There are also those, like Luther Campbell (otherwise known as “Uncle Luke”) who shed light onto other racial problems within sports media. Campbell asserts sports reporters and pundits often engage in racism though building up superstar black athletes and then tearing them down. A key example he gives is Tiger Wood’s infidelity scandal. Woods, who is of mixed race but considered black by many, was considered one of the greatest professional golfers of all time. That is, before he was found guilty of adultery.
As writer Alan Shipnuck states in his article Tiger’s Woes Aren’t Just About His Game – Everything Goes Back to His Sex Scandal, “[Tiger’s] entire identity and sense of self was taken away by the scandal.” Campbell argues, as do many others, Wood’s alleged affairs involving only white women is what lead to this outrage. Sports news outlets that reported on this acted as if it were a black-on-white crime, considering the fact that Woods is also married to a white woman. As Ghandnoosh (2014) states, “Newsworthiness in not a product of how representative or navel a crime is, but rather how well it can be scripted using stereotypes grounded in White racism and White fear of Black crime” (Ghandnoosh, 2014, p. 23). There goes your “post-racial” society…
And of course, who can forget about those Redskins?
For some time, now, individuals of Native American decent have been campaigning to change the name of D.C.’s beloved football team, the Washington Redskins. Nevertheless, in a poll conducted by the Associated Press 79 percent of Americans were reported as having been in favor of keeping the team’s original name. Some argue that those opposed are overly sensitive. However, if one were to look up the word “Redskin” in the dictionary they would see the term “Native American” written as its definition. Adding to this are the names of other sports teams such as the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Chiefs. These, too, are names associated with racism against Native Americans. Considering America’s history involving this ethnic group, maybe these names should be taken more seriously despite their longstanding history.
While most of this post highlighted people of color as being the victims of oppression, one can also point out, as did Buffington and Fraley (2008), that there is a stereotyping of whites in sports. Shall we point out the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” here? All in all, it is important to acknowledge the blatant issues seen in sports media. And if it took until now for you to become aware of racism within sports commentary, logos, and even advertisements (maybe we’ll tackle that another day…), better late than never!
**This week’s Tuesday article was quite brief. Do you think we left anything out? Would you like to see more examples? Please let us know. Thank you!!
Buffington, D. & Fraley, T. (2008). Skill in black and white: Negotiating media images of race in a sporting context. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 32(3), 292-308. doi: 10.1177/0196859908316330.