Law in Contemporary Society

Professional Sport as a Tool of White Supremacy

-- By RobertCorp - 11 June 2008


Professional sport is often offered as an example of racial equality in America. Young black men earn great fame and fortune and are adopted as “heroes”, all of which is used as evidence of a lack of racism. In reality, sport is a mechanism that reinforces and maintains white supremacy.

Where is the Social Progress?

To characterize the prominence of African Americans among star athletes as evidence of an egalitarian society is to greatly misinterpret the evidence; it is a result of highly limited opportunities for upward mobility in a racialized, capitalist society.

A lack of opportunity in other facets of life results in a great number of black youths dedicating their lives to success in sports. A small number of athletes achieve financial success, but a great percentage of those who pursue sports careers fail.

The claim is not that the sports industry is a conspiracy formed with the hopes of creating a cycle of failure predicated on pipe-dreams about sports careers within poor black communities; rather, the point is that the economic effects that result from the cycle are bad for the communities.

Where are the Black Coaches and Owners?

The utility of sports as a means for social advancement is stunted by institutional racism. Discrepancies between the percentage of black athletes in a sport and the percentage of black coaches and executives appear in every major American sports organization. The most egregious example may well be college football, where 5% of coaches are black, compared to 45% of players. .

Another statistic worth considering is that only one owner in all of major American sports is black. The ownership issue is more of a reflection of economic realities that are the byproduct of social forces far more powerful and perverse than sports, but the fact must be considered in any consideration of race in American sports.

These facts refute the suggestion that sports are a vehicle for black empowerment. While many blacks have made fortunes in sports, the lack of ownership demonstrates the lack of power held within the very institution that would appear to be the best avenue to equality.

A lack of ownership results in a lack of autonomy. Black athletes work in settings where those of different backgrounds set the norms. The underrepresentation of blacks within coaching, executive, and ownership ranks is also demonstrated in the stands of sporting events; ticket costs largely price out the classes from which many athletes arise.

Blacks have very little potential to rise from employee to employer, a demonstration of the persistence of segregation within the system. The modern athlete is thus a servant, albeit a well paid one. The ability of professional athletes to have a voice in their workplace is weakened by the public outcry that comes with high salaries, making their cause an unsympathetic one.

Where is the Consistency?

Racial undertones drive the love-hate relationship that the public has with professional black athletes. The public participates in self-righteous and duplicitous critiques of supposedly raucous behavior and outlandish lifestyles. The adoration for celebrity athletes occurs alongside a thinly veiled discourse depicting these stars as overpaid thugs, unable to handle the rewards of upper-class status. Their lives are characterized as an endless routine of drug arrests, assault charges and paternity suits. While this stereotype is common for black athletes, the term “character guy” often arises when discussing white athletes.

The subtext of discussion about character is important to consider from a racial perspective. Professional baseball has faced an onslaught of public criticism, and a congressional investigation, over a steroid controversy which may have involved 50% of the league. . Despite the scope of the abuse, the “character” of ballplayers has not been questioned intensely. While homerun totals are looked at skeptically, the scandal has been mostly compartmentalized.

The league that endures the most damage as a result of its “image problem” is the NBA, the sport with the highest percentage of black athletes. The league has a generation of young, likable superstars, yet constantly struggles with the “thug” label. The NBA has embarked upon a successful charity campaign, NBA Cares, and has made a concerted effort to help in the recovery of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (by ensuring the longevity of its NBA franchise and hosting the 2008 All Star Game in the city).

The scorn the NBA faces seems to be a result of tattooed players, a perceived closeness with the rap industry, and an infamous in-game brawl. These issues within the league would seem far less egregious for the overall moral integrity of a sport than the unabashed cheating of up to half of its players, but this has not been the case

Where is the Autonomy?

The NBA’s reaction to increasing complaints about the identity of the league was to implement a dress code requiring all players to wear suits on the bench if not playing. Preventing basketball players from wearing jeans and jewelry during games does nothing to alter behavior; it allows a certain class to feel comfortable with the product they are purchasing.

It is the league’s right to enforce a dress code to uphold its image; however, the timing of the recourse demonstrates its purpose was to address the league’s “hip hop” image. Such efforts highlight the conformity that is forced upon black athletes through the norms of a class that they mostly do not come from. The empowered class, through such measures, rejects the culture of those athletes that the league depends on; this is alienation.


Through franchise ownership, league governance, and position as the leagues’ most valuable consumer, the upper class dictates the culture in professional sports. This leverage allows the elite class to use sport as a mechanism to assert white supremacy. Whether it is in the great discrepancy between percentage of minority players and minority coaches, or the veiled stereotypical commentary, there is a racist undertone that drives much of professional sports. This is a particularly disturbing reality when considering that sports are generally considered an egalitarian enterprise and instrument of advancement in race relations.



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r6 - 22 Jan 2009 - 02:09:43 - IanSullivan
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