Sports and racism: we are far from colorblind

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By Dillon Koon

Let’s say you have two athletes at the NFL combine with nearly identical results: a 4.40 40 time, 17 bench press reps at 225lbs, a 35” vertical, you get the idea. Now what if I told you that one athlete was black, and one was white? In reality, if skill levels are equal, it shouldn’t make a difference one way or another. In 2016, this still isn’t the case because racism and discrimination is alive and (un)well in sports at the professional level, and even at a collegiate level to a degree. In today’s day and age, one would think that teams could focus on the game at hand, yet white athletes are seen as hard working and non-whites are seen as lazy or simply naturally gifted.

“The National Football League was completely segregated from 1934-1945.”

Skin color is something that players and coaches use as means for ridicule, threats, and punishments in college and professional level sports. This mistreatment has been around since the early days of professional sports considering black athletes had a separate baseball league in 1880 (we’ve come a long way from last century at least, right?) and might always be to a certain point, but players and authorities are finally beginning to speak out on the issue to bring a change to the world of sports, specifically basketball and football.

Racism is prevalent in many sports nowadays, but players who have had enough of it are now speaking out, such as Matt Kemp on Donald Sterling make racist remarks against black fans at “his” games and actions are being taken to bring sports back to just that; sports and athletes busting their asses to get where they are. Compared to the 1920’s and 1930’s, the NFL and MLB seem like a vast improvement from the “Negro Leagues” (which they are, of course), but if an athlete is still discriminated against by teammates or coaches, how much actual progress has been made? Plenty of racist remarks have filled the sports world over the years , but there comes a point when it’s just too much. When it gets to the point that college athletes decide to transfer schools to find a different program when coaches refer to a race as “toxic”, something is extremely wrong.

So what is it exactly that causes racism amongst athletes and coaches? I mean, the point of any team sport is to work as a team and excel in that particular sport, isn’t it? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that even on college campuses with a small percentage of black students; they often constitute a majority of basketball and football players on these same campuses. This minority/majority split between races on campuses could lead to a mentality that black athletes (and students in general) are inferior and are fair game for discrimination because they’re not in the dominant group. Something of a human pack mentality seems to have caused a split that these athletes cannot climb up from completely, despite their talents and work ethics.

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College athletes, specifically upper-level, D1 football programs are some of the greatest sources of revenue for campuses with respectable athletic programs yet are only “paid” in the form of scholarships, which often still leave much to be desired and has even been seen as a result of racial discrimination. Some consider this exploitation of the athletes, considering they make no money off of what they do and don’t end up earning a diploma with much actual education behind it. Black athletes are increasingly more likely to desire pay for college athletics than white athletes, on top of the fact that the head of the NCAA, Mark Emmet is white. While he isn’t the only individual in charge of monetary decisions, his position as president could result in racial tension at the athlete level, especially when demanding the NCAA’s hard-earned money that the athletes had no role in earning become a salary.

Each of the “Big 5” conferences will make an estimated $50 million from the college football playoffs this year…Meanwhile, most college athletes are “paid” with scholarships that cover only tuition, room, board, books and fees.

On the professional level, instances such as the Donald Sterling remarks about not bringing black people to his games have been cleaned up swiftly (with a ban from the league for Sterling and the forced sale of the Clippers), but this is not always the case. Players like Cam Newton have received incredible backlash from football fans that don’t approve of his unfiltered “black style” during interviews, and on the field. Newton has been reported as being relentlessly unapologetic, showing no shame or censorship about his upbringing and personality. As of 2013 the majority of NFL fans and almost half of NBA fans are white, so it seems natural that when a star athlete such as Newton doesn’t conform to what large demographics want to see, then there will be some sort of backlash, such as racist remarks and attitudes towards a particular player or even black athletes in general.

“Lynch him in the back alley.”- Kelly Tilghman, 2008

Despite the Civil Rights Act having been passed in 1964 and that many athletes have influenced social movements even prior, racism still exists in many areas of both college and professional sports. Players have certain feelings towards one another (especially when it comes to majority and minorities), fans hold certain expectations for the actions of athletes, and the athletes themselves want treatment based on their performance on the field instead of the color of their skin. There are countless reasons as to why racism may forever be a part of collegiate and professional sports, but players who acknowledge the issue and make it known are continually progressing the movement towards an equal, colorblind world of sports.

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