Is Sport Institutionally Racist?


While South Africa may have the most recent history of sustained racism built into the political fabric of the country, the truth is that just about the entire globe has been beset by racism in its past, through colonialism, slave trade, and the “discovery” of new lands, the blood spilled by racism has seeped through us all. Yet even today, in a time that is supposed to champion equality and freedom for all, we are still seemingly trapped in a pit of distrust and ignorance. Sport, the business of recreation, of play, of games, that has become one of the most popular and lucrative enterprise in the world, has not managed to escape this fall. Sport should be vestibule of equality, where teams come together, forged by all colours and creeds under a unifying flag, and in a spirit of fairness and togetherness, compete for a common goal. Yet it seems, just like everything else where power and money meet, the needs of a few will out weigh that of the mass.

America has, since freeing the slaves, preached all who will listen that they are the land of the free. Yet if you take a look at their sports make up it becomes very clear that it is the land of the white. Forgetting hockey, which is as white as an Olympic swimming final, the three big sports in America, baseball, American Football, and basketball, all suffer from this senseless problem. Baseball, which many see as the national pass time, has a ridiculously low percentage of black players at only 8.9%. With the numbers so low it is no surprise that there are only 2 black head coaches in the league. The problem may not be as racially motivated as the numbers suggest when you compare the numbers of players involved in the two other sports. Baseball just seems to take a back seat to Football and Basketball amongst black athletes . In the NBA 75% of players are black, while in the NFL that number has slipped a bit to around 65%. With by far a majority of its players being black both sports of terribly low numbers in positions of authority and leadership. While there are virtually no black owners in the sports, save the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats Bob Johnson, there are only 6 black head coaches out of 32 teams in the NFL and only 3 general managers, and 11 black head coaches from 3o NBA teams and 8 general managers. How can sports made up of 65% and 75% black players produce so few head coaches and general managers? The NFL also only has around about 5 starting Quarterbacks each weekend. The message they are sending out to the world is that you can do all our running and catching, but nothing that involves thinking. They are mentally handicapping black players by not trusting them with positions of leadership. The NFL has even issued a rule, called the “Rooney rule” after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, that requires owners to interview coaches of colour for coaching jobs. The issue is systematic of the society and culture of the country, one that openly acknowledges that black athletics may be superior athletes, as evidence by their large numbers in the NFL, NBA and track teams, but does not think much of them academically. Until society gets to grips with this cerebral phobia sport has no chance of over coming it – but they can begin to show the way.

The problem is not of course endemic of America alone, and examples can be found in all the leading sports throughout the world. The worlds most popular sport is soccer, and the most popular league is arguably the English Premier League. While black players in England are the minority, as the population is predominantly white, the issue of a lack of black club managers and even coaches is one that has to be looked at. Since the advent of the Premier League, some 15 years ago, and before that the old First Division, the only black managers have been Jean Tigana and Ruud Gullit. Only two black managers in the history of the top flight? That’s a frightening statistic. At the moment there are only 2 black managers in the league, Paul Ince and Keith Alexander, out of 92 teams. Around about a third of players in England are black, yet they aren’t being given the opportunity to manage teams. While it is true that black players have not always been viewed as equal, Viv Anderson was the first black England international and won his first cap in 1978, and thus it should take time for black managers to start coming through, two black managers today, could be 10 in ten years, 20 in fifteen, and so on. That may be a justifiable point, but is offset by the appointment of white managers, such as Gareth Southgate, who don’t possess the necessary required UEFA qualifications. I am in no way saying that Gareth Southgate, or Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson, are in any way or form racist, but am simply asking how can it be argued that black managers are not as yet ready when others are being employed without the qualifications? Like in America, it seems that there is an intellectual mistrust amongst chairman, all of whom are white, for black managers. They can run and kick a ball but not tell our players what do do or how to win. In a British society that is becoming more and more cosmopolitan, increasingly culturally and religiously mixed and blessed, this is an issue that has to be faced.

Sport has always had the opportunity to bring people together. It has been the perfect vehicle for anti racism campagins, such as soccers Kick it Out, and Unite Against Racism. While it seems to work on the field it needs to take better care and understanding of its off the field management and thinking, to better reflect society and to ensure that equal opportunity for all is a reality and not merely a slogan. Sport has that power and reach. It now needs the will.


One Response to Is Sport Institutionally Racist?

  1. Soulberry says:

    I came to this blog while searching on Google for blogs which trace the history of quotas in sport.

    I find your blog extremely informative and well written in this regard. It will take me a little bit of time to read through all the posts on this topic here and digest the information from different sources.

    Thank you.

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