Stereotypes and Race in Sports

by Ryan Gaviria,, May 14, 2009

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The integration of society and sports and their effects on each other provided the outlet the world needed for progression against stereotypes, race, and in some cases peace. Without sport being affected by society and state there would not have been the developments of sports, and society as it has resulted today.

Our country has taken advantage of athletes and sport to use it as means to an end, and means to acheive an outcome in the international arena of politics.

From the article "Sport in the Soviet Union" Calhoun states that, "American sport's chief shortcoming is commercialism; that of Soviet sport is politicization." (140, Calhoun) He says that Americans do not suffer the problem of being used by the state, but this claim is false with evidence showing the exact opposite where Americans have been used as pawns of the state.

The Olympics committee provides many claims that sports and politics will not mix. The Olympics and the IOC claim to have always "prided itself on keeping politics and sports separate." In the Olympic Charter are passages that attempt to keep the Games apolitical. Chapter One, Article six states that the "Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries." These are all hypocritical because national anthems, flags, and restrictions on some athletes or all sports as a whole are affected by the status of the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter used the athletes as pawns when he would not send Americans to the Olympic Games in Moscow. This was in political response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For Calhoun's claim to be true then the athletes planning on attending the Olympics would have been able to attend the games freely, with no opposition from the government.

Even in a democratic country there is handling of athletes by the state. A more recent example also disproving this claim is when Senator Hillary Clinton asked President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremony at the Olympics in China. According to ABC News' Eloise Harper, "Clinton's call for a boycott specifically cites China's reaction to recent violence in Tibet and inaction in Darfur. "The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership," Clinton said in a written statement. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government." Clinton's request for us to not attend the opening ceremony is a way in which we are using the outlet of sport to achieve a political gain or point to other countries.

From "Sport under Communism" James Riordan says that in sport in Russia the athlete is the pawn of the state. In sport there is an essential element that transcends politics; the athlete is like the scientist, less immediately and directly under political control. "At the 1920 Antwerp Games, Belgium denied visas to German athletes because Germany was still considered an enemy due to World War 1. Similarly, in the 1960s, East German athletes were denied visas to events in France and the United States." (3, Sports & Politics: A Steady Relationship) Finally, at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, eleven Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian gunmen. Individuals can also protest through sports about politics. "At the 2004 Olympic Athens Games, Iranian judo champion Arash Miresmaeli refused to compete against Israeli Ehud Vaks. He had stated that he refused to fight because of the oppressed Palestinian people." (2, Sports and Politics). Politics and sport do mix.

Since sports have been a role model for dismissing racial segregation some argue that "Those who propagate the belief that sport is free from prejudice and discrimination may be guilty of wishful thinking. Even where interracial cooperation and support is evident in a sport setting, there is no evidence that such behavior will transfer to other settings or persist beyond the players' careers." (138, Theberge and Donnelly) But there is evidence that behavior has continued through the Civil Rights Act to today in 2009.

Sports have been at the root of progressions in our nation's history. It used to be impossible for black athletes to compete with whites on an equal playing field, and now blacks are the most dominant in many sports. By the end of the nineteenth century black athletes had proven themselves in competition and sports against whites. When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 professional sports leagues were the most integrated of all American social institutions. This shows how ahead sports are with society, sports have the power to make the decisions based upon their own opinions but more importantly the nation as their backbone. The athletics with mixed races allowed society to view the phenomenon happening, as well as support it.

In 1981 at a high school football game in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex was the Texas State Championships game. The members of the Eastern Hills Highlanders team had suffered a loss at this game and said that they would not carry the defeat with them, instead they would carry, "how close they felt to the other team members, making no distinction between black and white players. What makes me cry said the captain Elisha Dickerson, choking as he spoke, "is I loved the white boys on our team. I was telling them last night, "I just love you. I don't want to leave you' I mean this is close, really close. The quarterback Vincent Spruell agreed. We'll look back on this the most. The togetherness. We call ourselves the sock brothers - made up of soul and rock." (Rees & Miracle, 140)

Without sports there would not have been such a rapid growth of leaving racism behind. Sports helped pave the path for this movement starting with American baseball after World War II. However some do not feel the racial changes have anything to do with politics and sport. "In 1946-1947 when the color line was broken it was a non political event." (55, Wilson) My question is how it can not be a political event when "black sport identity has been hedged by laws, court decisions, and executive actions. While deep-seated ideas about race have been as influential as deep seated ideas about gender, the power of the state was invoked earlier-and has been used more extensively-to legitimate and enforce race ideas in the world of sport." (51, Theberge)

Sports were the very thing that reinforced the progression and brought many on board to vote for the Civil Rights Act. If the nation had not felt strongly enough to abolish the segregation the act would not have been passed! Having successful black athletes participating equally with whites transformed thoughts of blacks in our nation. Jackie Robinson was the first player to go from Negro leagues to an all white team which began the decline of the color barrier.

Despite the opposing viewpoints against my claim I have shown the evidence of why sports and society are the effects of each other. The state uses sports as a pawn in the international scene, and society receives progression through sport. Blacks' performances in sport is one of the main factors in whites overcoming racial prejudices.

Although our nation strives for the separation of church and state in the classroom there is little, if any separation of sport, state, and society. The strong correlation of sport and society has broken down racial barriers surrounding our nation using all-star athletes and key incidents throughout history. The growth of sports and social developments rely upon our sports in society.

Howard Cosell, a famous sports journalist and commentator is known for saying "sport is human life in microcosm." This statement holds truth as sport has become a society and world within our entire shared world. Whether people are interested in sports or not, their lives are affected by them. Sports are affected by our society; and state uses sport inside our worlds rather then having it be solely independent. Sports cannot help but to be affected by the politicians, fans, rules, and international factors like war and protests.

In the Soviet Union, sport could not have been allowed to develop haphazardly just by enthusiastic players who would have made the teams exclusive to one gender, race, or social group. "Sport has been used quite consciously by Soviet leaders as a means to change society." (Riordan, 51) Here is a perfect example of what I believe in. The Soviets did exactly what other countries were found doing including my country in the United States. We use sports as a means to make a change and sometimes it is not even planned. When the first black athletes joined sports leagues it was not because someone wanted to stop segregation as a nation; but more because the black athlete had a strong sporting ability and the whites wanted that incredible player on their team. This lead to the change of our nation and was not foreseen.

Our troops and soldiers in the armed forces protect our country and are heroic to our nation. Athletes and sports icons that defend our country's reputation through athletics can also be found heroic. These "jobs" both have duties; but do athletes have the responsibility of being heroic for our country on the political forefront as the armed forces do? Although it should be that sports and society are separate, they are in fact highly correlated, and each one affects the other. I don't think athletes have the same responsibilities, and cannot have the intensity as our troops do. But at the same time the athletes do hold a great deal of power on the political field and have the position to effect change.

Baseball was a symbol of liberty at the time of the war against Japan and Germany. "The war had been billed as a crusade against racism and for democracy, causes which blacks conspicuously fought and died. The continuing absence of integration on most clubs inspired protests by fans, reporters, and political action groups on many cities. The city council of Boston threatened to deny the Red Sox and Braves permission to play ball if they continued to field all-white teams. Another example is when blacks in Los Angeles demanded that the NFL's Los Angeles Rams would not be allowed to play if they didn't sign a black player. The Rams broke the racial barrier and signed Kenny Washington. (54, Wilson)

With baseball setting the tone in our nation, football followed. The Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions were the only teams who had a black player. "Stewart Udall had warned George Marshall, owner of the Redskins, to hire black players or face federal retribution.
Sport has often served minority groups as the first rung on the social ladder. As such, it has helped further their assimilation into American life. It would not be far-fetched to say that it has done more in this regard than any other agency, including church and school. In "Organized Sport in Industrial America", John R. Betts writes that nowhere is "the process of Americanization more evident than in sport." To Betts, it is significant that "the greatest fighter of recent decades was a Negro, the most spectacular ballplayer a German, the most publicized wrestler a Greek, the most respected football coach a Norwegian, the most successful baseball manager an Irishman, the most highly paid jockey an Italian." Sport can accept anyone based on ability, not race.

Sport has that moral and honest dimension that allowed the growth in society and politics, creating some of the most ground breaking advances to people in the United States.

Bibliography Page
1. Betts, John. Organized Sport in Industrial America
2. Calhoun, Donald W. Sport, Culture, and Personality 2nd Human Kinetics Publishers Inc. 1987
3. ABC News' Eloise Harper Report "Clinton Calls For a Boycott"
4. Riordan, James, Sport Under Communism McGill-Queen's University Press Montreal, 1978
5. Sports and Politics: A Steady Relationship
6. Theberge, Nancy; Donnelly, Peter. Sport and the Sociological Imagination, Texas Christian University Press Fort Worth, 1984.
7. Rees, Roger; Miracle, Andrew. Fort Worth Star Telegram "
8. Wilson, John. Sport, Society,and the State Playing by the Rules. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1994.

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