Race ethnicity and sports discussion

Let me begin with some anthropological basics about the concept of race. There is no biological basis for race; there are no neat bundles of traits that cluster cleanly into groups called race. Does that mean race is not real? The lived experience or the social construction of race is very real in how society uses it and how individuals experience racial disparities. In the early 20th century, there was a great deal of so called science that was being used, in the US and abroad, as justification for inequity. This was called the “extinction hypothesis” where people saw higher rates of death and lower life expectancy in certain groups and concluded that certain races were “inherently weaker” and would eventually go extinct. In reality, the cause for these clusters of disease was racial inequality itself. (If you limit a group of people to only neighborhoods with poor sanitation, no access to resources, and environmental toxins… what would you expect? But this backwards logic helped to justify not doing anything to remedy environmental disparities and even supported the unjust treatment of groups of people. (I won’t require you to read all this but there is an interesting interview here about this; you can scan through and may find the part about Hoffman and this whole theory interesting). One of the interesting things that happened with Jesse Owens’ spectacular performance on a global stage during the Olympics was that it exploded the whole notion that one race was weaker or destined to be “extinct”. What is interesting was that, despite dispelling one set of racist notions, his performance also began to be used for another set of racialized stereotypes – that certain races are more athletic (in certain sports). This sounds like a compliment but in doing so, there is a not-so-subtle racism “conceding” physical prowess in order to maintain myths about intellectual prowess. (IQ tests themselves are more measures of familiarity with social constructs rather than innate intelligence).

As you read through this week’s readings, think about how racialized notions have changed or stayed the same since the time of Jesse Owens to now (including how society discussed the “curiosity” that was Jeremy Lin). How is race talked about (or sometimes, more indicatively, not talked about and avoided) in discussions of sports? Are certain sports discussed in racialized terms (compared to other sports)? What might be other ways of explaining differences? (For example, it WAS true that disease rates were higher in some groups than others but the logic explaining it was totally erroneous in the case of the extinction hypothesis). We also see the example of the Olympics as this moment where domestic and international issues emerged. How might sporting events and specific sports moments be reflective of society – or is it that sports is a canvas upon which society’s issues are projected (where people use a popular event to discuss and debate)? Basically, in what ways do sports neutralize race (ie, it’s just the players and the game) and in what ways do they reveal issues of race?




Latest Assignments