Home 2018 Collegiate Magazine Racism in Sports

Racism in Sports

Photo by Harrison DiCocco.

By Andrew Schau

Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved playing sports. I grew up playing basketball and football in the Grand Rapids Inner-City leagues. I didn’t want to stay in Grandville my whole childhood, so I wanted to play ball in Grand Rapids. I made so many great friends, while having the diverse group that I always wanted. I happened to be the only white kid on the basketball team, and we had to bring our weekly progress reports for school to our coach. Being white, I guess my coach expected me to have all A’s and for these progress reports not to be an issue, but I did unfortunately struggle in school. My coach jokingly said that I should be the smartest on the team, due to me being the only white kid on the team.  

Racism always has been, and will most likely be, a problem in this country. Racism is seen in schools, workplaces and even sports.

Student athletes here at Grand Rapids Community College are exposed to the possibility of racism during games. Will Otule, 19, of Grand Rapids is on the basketball team at GRCC.

“Racism hasn’t directly affected me on the court,” Otule said. “I know that it’s alive and happening in sports. You see it all the time. It may not be as bad here in Grand Rapids because it’s a diverse city, but it is a major issues in other parts of the country.”

Otule knows that racism in sports is an issue, but he also believes that the power of sports can bring races together.

“Different races in sports doesn’t always have to be a bad thing,” Otule said. “Sports are like a language that everyone understands. No matter the race, ethnicity, or background, it’s a way that everyone around the world can relate to.”

Chris Moss, 19, of Kalamazoo and a student at GRCC echoed Otule’s comment.

“Guys like LeBron James are the guys that we look up to,” Moss said. “When guys like that are speaking out against the headlining things, such as racial issues, my friends and I want to be like them. So if they speak out against racism in sports, it makes me more aware of the issue.”

Yes, sports do have problems and race is still an issue, but sports do so much good for the world when it comes to improving the racial divides. It isn’t easy to overcome these barriers, but people have worked there way to making equality as prominent as possible.

Jackie Robinson is an example of how one person can pave the way for an entire race. Robinson, the first ever African-American Major League Baseball player, dealt with constant hazing and brutal racism throughout his journey as a ball player. Whether it was at the game itself, traveling with the team, or just living everyday life, Robinson couldn’t escape the constant hatred for being a black man in a white profession. Robinson would get hit with cleats, get spit on, get struck in the face by multiple pitches, and would always find a way to contain his anger. The brutality of what Robinson had to deal with was the beginning of racism in professional sports.

What Robinson did for the history of sports is so remarkable. He made it obvious that African American athletes can excel at sports. The National Basketball Association is one of the most beloved and talked-about leagues in all of sports, and the league would not be what it is without player diversity. In 2015, according to racial equality activist Richard Lapchick, 74.4 percent of players in the NBA were black. It’s pretty similar in the National Football League too. In 2017, statistics show that 70 percent of NFL players are black. It was absolutely ridiculous that back in Jackie Robinson’s time, African-Americans were looked down on as less skilled and capable. He paved the way for black athletes, so now it is “the norm” to find black athletes at the top of their respected sports. Yes, he made it easier for black athletes ahead of him to excel, but there is still other problems that have yet to be solved.  

Stereotyping is one of the most common ways that we see racism today. One of the most common places you can find stereotypes is in sports. For example, in our society, a main stereotype is that black kids are supposed to be good at basketball and football, and white kids are supposed to be good in school and good at baseball or hockey. When one race happens to break the stereotype and excel at the other race’s sport, it is viewed as strange and out-of-place. For example, P.K. Subban, an African-American National Hockey League defensive-man for the Nashville Predators, has dealt with racism throughout his entire career. People think that black hockey players don’t belong, and people find it weird at times. Just as if a white man played the running back position in football. These are each examples on how stereotypes are still such a problem in today’s society.

Jeremy Lin is another athlete who didn’t fit in as a professional athlete in his sport. Lin, an Asian-American, played college basketball at Harvard, and had the ability to play in the National Basketball Association. Even after averaging 18 points a game at the highest level of NCAA play, Lin didn’t get a single chance at getting drafted. The young college star went undrafted after his senior season, and the fact that he is Asian was the main reason for the disappointment. Lin ended up playing at a high level in the NBA Development League, and finally got his chance at playing in the NBA. Once he got comfortable playing for the New York Knicks, his game soared to new heights, and the world went crazy. He got so much publicity for his play, some good and some bad. The reason for so much publicity, was simply because of his skin color. He was stereotyped his whole career and was even mocked after his career took off. Many stars complained that Lin was only a topic of discussion because he is Asian, not because of his high level of play. Today, Lin is still a productive NBA point guard. Thanks to him paving the way, Asian-Americans are now more comfortable playing in the NBA.

That is how we should look at all sporting events. Race shouldn’t be a topic of discussion when it comes to sports. Many think it will always be an issue, but I hope for one day that the good in sports will overcome the bad and racism in sports will be no more.