Racism can have a huge effect on people’s involvement in sport. It can affect their motivation and enjoyment as well as levels of participation and, left unchecked, may result in potentially unacceptable, dangerous or even violent outcome. Racial discrimination and harassment have no place in any sport, in fact in any facet of life.
One of the ways that racism takes place, especially in the media is athlete stereotyping, which has taken on subtle forms. Racist slurs are routinely directed at colored athletes, and the media, who style themselves as fair and unprejudiced, often fan the flames. Black athletes clearly tend to receive much more negative coverage in the form of stories about domestic and sexual violence, while their white counterparts are spared the sword when they err and fall.
Racist reporting doesn’t just reinforce false notions about black athletes being more “naturally talented” than their white peers, it lends credibility to a false concept known as stacking, in which athletes are viewed as being particularly well suited to play certain positions based on race or ethnicity. For instance, Hispanic baseball players get typecast as shortstops and second basemen. One common stereotype is that black kids are good at basketball and football, while white kids are good at baseball or hockey, or even more, should be in school. When a particular race happens to break the mold and excel at the other’s sport, it is seen as strange and an exception. For example, people find it weird to see a black hockey player, or a white football player playing running back. These examples show how stereotypes are a big problem in today’s society.
Racism in sport invites some really disturbing behavior. It is why Donald Trump gets to mock LeBron James’s intelligence from the highest office in the land, even as the NBA superstar was opening a school. It’s why Tim Tebow can be viewed as reverent for bending a knee on a football field, while Colin Kaepernick is reproached as a traitor for doing the same.
However, that is just the tip of the iceberg; there were 104 reported incidents of racism in sports internationally in 2016. No wonder then that athletes are increasingly resorting to their Instagram and Twitter feeds, from where at least, they are free to push back against the ugly tribalism in the playing arena or around it. The best way for athletes to change things around them is by leading the change themselves.