Sports, race, and ethnicity

Over the years, race-related topics in sports have attracted popular and academic attention. Since 1960, there have been controversies about the portrayal of race and racism in sports, particularly athletics. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, sports media organizations were chastised for their discriminatory depictions of athletes of color (Brooks and Althouse, 2013). The critiques of racist depiction established the groundwork for journalists, the public, and broadcasters to explore how far racial prejudices have been mirrored in social media. Racism in sports has been experienced not only in athletics but in other sports activities such as football. With regard to a report showing how the media exhibit racism in its broadcasts, the team members in the sports analysis are identified according to their race due to various discourses in the society (Brooks and Althouse, 2013). The images and pictures portrayed by the media provide an evidence of the existence of racism in sports.

Different researchers have shown that the televised sports often reinforce the racial stereotypes. In response to the scholarly interests, interests of the growing public and the pressure from the existing minority and advocacy groups, the professionals of the sports media have taken into consideration sports issues that are associated with sports in the year 1990 (Brooks and Althouse, 2013).For instance, in 1991, CNN produced a number of documentaries which were based on the black athletes. Additionally, the NBC aired a special program about a Black Male athlete which was hosted by Tom Brokaw. According to Brooks and Althouse (2013), there have been several representations of the athletes color in most televised sports events. However, in the recent past, scholars in the fields of communication studies and sociology have reversed to the internationalization of the sports in media (Bloch and Solomos, 2010 ).

According to Burdsey (2012), most of the sports’ television producers make effort to treat all the athletes fairly. However, this has not been always successful. In a research conducted on how the television producers feature the sports news, the report showed that the visual images used in the broadcast focused and emphasized on the racial and cultural diversity (Burdsey, 2012). In most cases in the sports sector, the teams involved are from different nationalities and since they all have to be recognized especially the winning team, the media is forced to identify the athletes with regard to their nationality. Hence, in opening ceremonies of the athletes, the media shows the racially mixed groups of the athletes for personal identification. This visual representation of the athletes and general sports events have been in existence since 1980’s (Burdsey, 2012).

According to Farrington et al. (2012), producers in the media conduct interviews of the athletes across all races and ethnic groups without discrimination. However, it has been noted that the interviewed athletes are selected on the basis of the media location. For instance, the American athletes are more likely to be interviewed by the American Productions media more than the foreign athletes. However, there has not been a significant relationship between the race and the likelihood of being interviewed. An effort has been made to produce a balanced and fair multicultural atmosphere hence, avoiding the prejudicial treatments of the minority athletes.

There are theories associated with racism and sports. Social cognition theory is one of the theories which try to explain the perspective views of the racial and ethnic groups and the social discursive, social contracts and the change in the meanings over time. According to Farrington et al. (2012), people see ethnicity as a homogenous entity rather than a construction due to particular perspectives. Ethnic categories are linked to specific qualities. According to the theory, the processes involved in the racial classification are usually a product of the limited cognitive space that individuals have and the need to deal with the social environment filled with ethnicity. Additionally, the social cognition perspective requires that researchers who study ethnicity take into consideration the popular and essentialist notions about race that many individuals focus on. With regard to this, sports commentators and media users are no exceptions.

By definition, racialisation refers to an unobtrusive and subconscious activity of ethnic categorization and stereotyping that may normalize racism (Bloch and Solomos, 2010 ).White commentators draw on a hegemonic discourse that surrounds ethnicity that reinforces a dualism of the mind –body whereby the black athletes are represented as naturally physically superior to the white athletes and are mentally unstable(Bloch and Solomos,2010 ). Most individuals in the sports media are the white males who belong to a dominant racial group in whom they work with. This depicts that if the perception of blacks is physically superior to the whites, it means that the blacks may be termed as super-human and the whites can be termed as human. Conversely, the whites can explicitly be characterized with tactical capabilities as well as a brilliant work ethic( Bloch and Solomos,2010 ).Scholars have defined the blacks to be more successful in activities that require physical abilities such as sports but do not excel well in activities that involve the use of intellectual skills.

Additionally, due to the societal value of intellectual skills, the discourse in sport media reinforces a status quo which supports and privileges the social position of the whites compared to the blacks. Hence, the racialized representations may take the form of gender discrimination. In that context, the black male athletes are represented as strong and athletic. Conversely, as the black athlete women are seen to be strong and athletic, they are seen to be inferior and emotional and rely on men. This case applied to the female white athletes too.

There has always been some degree of freedom in making events; individual commentators allow the use of discourses which oppose the dominant once. For instance, according to (Farrington et al., 2012), there is minimal or no difference in the representation of the blacks and the white athletes in the American television coverage of the of the international athlete's event. Additionally, despite the athlete's natural capability and the skills, the white commentators need to be aware of the commentary practices and the possible implicit use of the racial stereotypes. Audience discourses depend on the prior experiences of the individuals as well as the location of the viewer: gender and their ethnic background. For instance, in an examination of the audience of English Premier League soccer, it was evident that while the perceptions of the white recipients of the media were congruent to the dominant course that surrounds race in British media, the black audience received different remarks from the white commentators. The blacks held the media responsible for the dominance of the British discourse that surrounds race and the sports success where the blacks are regarded as naturally athletic.

Although the sports media is acknowledged as a source of information that is capable of restructuring the people’s experience, there is little-known information about how the media users read the gender related representations. In a research conducted on the reaction of the women spectators in sports, it revealed that there were sarcastic remarks about the commentary and the presented images about the sport (Farrington et al., 2012 ).The sports media have a wide capability of reaching different people in different locations at the same time. Hence, the capability gives the social media power in the reconstruction of images that are congruent in social group relations. Despite the event coverage, the women in sports have been underrepresented in the media as they are seen to be less worth, unlike the men’s sports that have great media coverage. However, in athletics, the case is different; both female and male sports events are covered equally. However, the coverage of men’s sports activities in media shows that the men’s sports have a societal importance. Therefore, the gender media discourse reinforces the status quo in the Western society.

Different scholars have analyzed how different ethnic groups have been portrayed by the media in sports. Some of the researchers suggest that the stereotyping of the black athletes in the sports media is usually conversant and systematic (Burdsey, 2012) Whites are more praised than the blacks. It is evident that there is a positive reputation towards the whites and a negative reputation towards the black. Additionally, most of the athletics events announcers describe the blacks in demeaning intellectual terms. However, there are some commentators that describe the athlete in positive terms such the world’s champion in that particular race. Further, several findings show that the Asian athletes are described in ways that suggest cultural stereotype. The Asians are described as hard workers and aim at being successful. Further, other commentators describe the Asian Athletes as conformists and self-disciplined. The Asians reason for success in the athletics is said to be tied up to religion with an incorporation of the more practice towards success (Burdsey, 2012).

Additionally, the Hispanic athletes are placed in a favorable light by the commentators. For instance, in the coverage of games such as the Pan American games, the commentators praised the success of the Hispanics and bemoaned the performance of the Americans as it turned out to be a poor performance. However, despite the different compliments by the media people, it is evident that the athletes who hold the world record for any particular race reflect in the news sports headlines and are praised despite their race, their ethnic group or their originality. After an athlete wins exemplary, most media production feature the hero and their road to success (Burdsey, 2012 ).Hence, this shows that despite the origin of the athlete the hero is adversely appreciated and acknowledged.

There has been an underrepresentation of the ethnic minority groups with regard to the announcers and the commentators. According to Miller (2014), the interviewers in the athletics events are influenced by the location of the occurrence of the event. If the sports event is hosted in London, then a majority of the interviewers are the journalists from London. However, there are other journalists of other countries who represent their own athletes. Therefore, despite the notion that the minority groups are underrepresented, there is clear evidence that at least all the athletes in a game do have representatives from their countries.

In sports, there is a relationship between culture and the chances. According to (Miller, 2014), the black culture promotes athletic success at a tender age. Commentators suggest that there are reasons why the athletes are a focal point in the blacks’ culture. Racism has put the blacks in a different position than the whites hence; most of them spend much time on training. There are few role models in other fields other than sports. Athletics success is highly appreciated at a tender age. The media plays a role in racism in sports. The media covers the success stories of athletes hence motivating the black athlete to succeed in sports. Conversely, the whites too involve themselves in sports as a hobby or as an individual talent.

The media coverage suggests nationalistic biases in sports. The commentators often regard individual in communist countries such as inhuman while the whites are regarded as human. Nationalism produces inconsistencies in the commentary. There is contraindication associated with ethnicity in sports. The changing nature of the discourses area source of contraindications, discourses create structures (Miller, 2014).As many individuals perceive racism in sports to be as a result of the physical differences, there is no clear reason as to why racism and ethnicity still are in occurrence. The unequal treatment are different recognition of athletes in sports may be seen as an ethical problem. Racism in sports is unconscious and majorities including the media do not realize the practice of racism in sports which has adverse effects (Van Sterkenburg and Knoppers,2012 ). There are legal remedies to racism in sports. However, the racism perverted in sports is may not be regulated easily. Therefore, the problem of racism in sports may be treated as an ethical issue. The media too plays a major role in spreading racism in the coverage of sports events and the identification of the athletes. The commentators should be aware of ethnic inequalities that exist in sports as the media formulates a framework for understanding for the social reality. However, the naturalness of the sport is assumed by the audience. The white commentators tend to use sincere fiction hence use biased language unintentionally. The verbal claims to the race neutrality are associated with color blind racism whereby the whites see racism as a nonissue.

In conclusion, racism and ethnicity in sports are manifested in all areas from the spectators to the commemorators. Direct racism is evident from the comments of the spectators. This form of racism is highly experienced by the male athletes and there is need to focus on the anti racism programs and racism in sports awareness as a remedy to racism. However, the racism in sports has been hidden and it is expressed against the minority groups in sports at all, as the blacks, through the gendered stereotypes. Using the stereotypes; according to an individual ability, is regarded as being the norm and suitable for the team positions. Male and female in sports despite their physique ability exhibit different behaviors. However, there is need to identify the interaction between culture and racism in sports and come up with programs that will be a remedy to racism.


Bloch, A., & Solomos, J. (2010). Race and ethnicity in the 21st century. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brooks, D. D., & Althouse, R. C. (2013). Racism in college athletics. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Burdsey, D. (Ed.). (2012). Race, ethnicity, and football: Persisting debates and emergent issues. Routledge.

Farrington, N., Kilvington, D., & Price, J. (2012). Race, racism and sports journalism. Routledge.

Miller, T. (2014). Issues in sports: Equality in sports.

Van Sterkenburg, J., & Knoppers, A. (2012). Sport as a contested racial/ethnic discourse: Processes of racialization in Dutch sports media and sports policy. Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 7(2), 119-136.

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