Playing with Fire: Race and Sport in American Culture
In the words of Professor Tim Davis of Wake Forest University School of Law, one the country’s best known sports law scholars, “Although sport is one of the dominating cultural practices in the social life of the United States, it traditionally was viewed as a discrete social phenomenon largely untouched by the problems of American society. In challenging this traditional portrayal, scholars often characterize sport as a “microcosm of society.” As such, sport has revealed the dominant attitudes and practices regarding race relations in the United States throughout the country’s history.”
Twenty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was first honored with a national holiday and nearly 50 years after the civil rights leader’s “I Have a Dream” speech, black and white sports fans alike view the sports world as far more racially progressive and unifying than the rest of society, according to a recent online survey conducted for ESPN. In an article titled “Survey shows split on racial opportunity,” ESPN reporter, Mark Fainaru-Wada states, “However, there remains a strong racial divide among those fans about the extent to which African-Americans enjoy equal opportunities in sports, as well as about the degrees of prejudice and discrimination that continue to pervade the sports landscape.” In response to this statement, I will see that progress has been made in creating equal opportunities in sports and the degrees of prejudice and discrimination, but there various issues that I still see to this day make me hesitate with the idea that further progress is being made.
For example, inequality and degrees of prejudice and discriminations come into play when you look at situations where Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is the only black majority owner in the four major professional sports. Another issue I see are the disparities in coaching salaries by race where at the start of the 2010 NFL season, six out of 32 coaches were black, and the average annual salary for those coaches was $3.1 million, compared with $4.1 million for white coaches. Of the 120 major Division I college football programs, there were only 14 black coaches (and one Hispanic coach) at the start of this past season; the average annual salary for those African-American coaches was $1 million, while white coaches averaged $1.4 million. Moreover, the graduation rate for black student-athletes is 53 percent compared with 63 percent for white student-athletes. And lastly, an issue where a fan survey conducted by the Hart Associates, a research company, reporting on the notion of whether African-Americans are athletically superior to whites. Across the board, blacks and whites indicate they believe blacks are superior runners, have greater jumping and leaping ability, and possess more natural athletic ability than whites. In fact, 66 percent of the African-American fans surveyed associate fast runners more with black athletes than white, and 61 percent associate natural athletic ability more with blacks than whites. A very small percentage of blacks and whites associate superior athletic ability with white athletes.
With that being said, I definitely look forward to engaging with the scholarly panel of lecturers to bring awareness to this subject at hand. My hope is that by engaging students and faculty in conversations about the connections between race and sports, one will become critical to the understanding and preservation of social life in America and, ultimately, at Notre Dame.