Race Discrimination in Sport

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With sports come racism, it’s as simple as that. The famous Jackie Robinson said, “But as I write these words now I cannot stand and sing the National Anthem. I have learned that I remain a black in a white world”(""Jackie Robinson"" ). Saying that yes he plays a professional sport but this sport is a white man's sport and I would argue that it is still one today. Black athletes in sports have always pushed back against racism and have made lots of headway but “As Malcolm X once said: ""Don't tell me about the progress the black man has made. You don't stick a knife 10 inches in my back, then pull it out three or four, then tell me I'm making progress.""”(Skin games).Sports and racism have always gone hand in hand, there has never been a sport without racism, sports fuel the fire of racism, they fuel the uprising against racism and they fuel the backlash against it. The history of racism in sport has, in the end, despite numerous examples in which black athletes have overcome the color barrier, done more to promote racial bias and misassumptions than it has destroyed them.

Racism in sports has is as common as they come. The color barrier has yet still not been broken in sports in spite of countless attempts to break it. From the famous Jackie Robinson, who did the unthinkable and first broke the color barrier to, “when Jack Johnson fought Tommy Burns to become the first African American heavyweight champion of the world”(""Boxing the Color Line.""). These acts of bravery and courage from these men helped the dissemination of the color barrier but still today it still hasn’t been fully eradicated. We continue to tell ourselves that it is getting better yet it has just gotten worse. The work of these famous Idols will surely never be forgotten but the work they started is not done yet.

When Jack Johnson beat Tommy burns in 1908 the world was shocked. Tommy Burns was described as unbeatable, he’d never been defeated and was today’s equivalent of Mayweather. Then came Jack Johnson, Johnson beat Burns in round 14 of 20. The world was shocked, white people were shocked. Their “undefeatable” hero had been knocked down by a black man. After the match journalist, Jack London wrote, “Naturally I wanted to see the white man win. Put the case to Johnson and ask him if he were the spectator at a fight between a white man and a black man which he would like to see win. Johnson's black skin will dictate a desire parallel to the one dictated by my white skin"" (“Boxing the Color Line”).

This was the view that many white people had at the time since Jack Johnson did not have there skin color he was not the peoples Heavyweight Champion of the World, he was the black man's Heavyweight champion of the world. This all came to the racism in the country at the time, many people, like it is today, still didn’t conform under the National Identity of an American. White people still thought of themselves as the privileged race. So when an African American took the title from a white man people started looking for a “great white hope” to beat Jack Johnson. White people could not accept Jack Johnson as there champion, they had an undying fear of black superiority, so they decided to actively try to find a white man to beat him, which funny enough, they never did. Meanwhile, Jack Johnson as the new Heavyweight Champion became under major public scrutiny. His publicists came up with a list of rules to make him “less black” or “good Negro rules”.

These rules included, “""He could not gloat over opponents. He could not be seen in public with white women. He had to be seen as a Bible-reading, mother-loving, God-fearing individual, and not to be 'too black.’”(Boxing the color line). Making him “less black” was common among black professional sports players at the time. Winning the match not only propelled him forward and made him a national figure but it also didn’t help him in some ways. Because he was in the spotlight of a white man's game he was made to become less of what he already was, by doing this he showed that through sports black people are almost always tried to be fixed.

Another example of this would be the long forgotten black Jockeys. During the 1800s and early 1900s black men dominated the sport of horse racing. They couldn’t be beaten. Black Jockeys were the first African American sports superstars long before Jack Robinson or Jack Johnson came along. This was because for centuries plantation owners made their slaves work with there horses. Because of this, these men learned the inside and out of horses and horse racing. For hours they would ride, groom and train there masters horses. This caused the white horse owners to put their slaves on their horses as jockeys because they knew more about the horse than anyone else. Even after the emancipation black jockeys still destroyed any competition. During the first-ever Kentucky Derby 13 of the 15 riders were black. Not only that but African Americans “won 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby”(The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Black Jockeys).

The most famous of these Jockeys was called Isaac Murphy who, “was the undisputed king of jockeys and rode consistently for the top stables of the day”( Isaac Murphy). That is like saying he is today's version of Lebron James. He won an impressive 49 out of 51 starts during a stint in his career and near the end of his career he was making 25,000 a year. Murphy was part of the domination of black jockeys in horse racing. Then slowly they started to disappear. “The rising tide of institutional racism that swept across Gilded Age America finally seeped into the world of horse racing.”(The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Black Jockeys). Jealous white riders at northern tracks started to conspire against black Jockeys. Made more confident by societal changes started to force black jockeys out of the races. They warned the owners of the horses to not put black jockeys to ride their horses if they wanted to win. To carry out their threat they would block black jockeys into the side of the inside railing of the course and force them to go over the side. They would also whip the Black Jockeys with the whips meant for the races.

All the while race officials would look the other way and ignore the misdoings that were happening in the sport. Quickly all black jockeys were out of jobs because the horse owners would know they would lose. Even Willie Simms, the only African American to win all three of the Triple Crown events had to beg for a horse to ride. This is an example of how sports promote racism, if still around today black jockeys would still dominate the sport of horse racing. But because the white population was scared of black superiority they methodically pushed all black jockeys out of the sport and now even today there is barely any black jockeys. This is what was happening in almost all the sports in that time period if it hadn’t happened already.

“The NBA, where today nearly 75 percent of the players are black, originally had no black players. Zero”(In its early years, NBA blocked black players). Today one of the most famous sports in the world the NBA is almost all black players but back in the days, there were absolutely none. It was a completely white-dominated sport even though black players were clearly the superior at the sport. The best of the black players played on teams like the Harlem Globetrotters. They were so popular that owners of NBA teams would hold doubleheaders on the same night where the first game was played against a regular NBA team while and then afterward they would play against the much more exciting Globetrotters. “The Globetrotters traveled around the country beating all sorts of teams, including the NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers”(In its early years, NBA blocked black players). Beating the Lakers clearly pissed a lot of white people off, the Lakers were their all-star team and the Globetrotters came in and easily whupped their asses. The Globetrotters with all their new found fame got a ton of hate. They had to use fake buses to distract hate marches from getting to there buses. But with all this fame the NBA owners started to notice.

The owner of the New York Knicks finally decided that he wanted to draft Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton a current player on the Globetrotters. At first, every single owner of the other NBA teams refused to have him play in their games but when the Owner of the Knicks threatened to leave the league they finally caved in. Clifton also came into the NBA with two black men named Chuck Cooper and Earl Lloyd. “The fact that all three players joined the NBA during the same season. Thus, no single player had to bear the burden on his own”(Nat Clifton). Since they all came in at the same time they all got less amount of hate since it was all divided between the three of them. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t get any hate. Some games that they played in fans would boycott because they didn’t think that black players should play in the league. Being in the spotlight gave the white people someone to hate and someone to blame when something went wrong. No longer were white players for the faults that they did but those faults were put on the black players even if they didn’t do the fault.

A university in Colorado did a survey where the main thing found was, “false notions about black athletes being more “naturally talented” than their “gritty” white peers”(How the 'natural talent' myth is used as a weapon against black athletes). Meaning that people believed that white players had to work hard to where they had to get to while black players were naturally gifted and didn’t have to work to where they are now and didn’t have to overcome any obstacles. This how sports truly promote racism because we can not find it in ourselves to believe the black players deserve to be good at sports and do not deserve to be in the position in where they are now.

Throughout history we have seen this, starting with Jack Johnson and how he had to conform to rules to make him less black. Then on to the black jockeys who were the first all-star black superstars in sports who were pushed out of the sport violently by jealous white jockeys and white owners. And finally on to the NBA who now is almost completely dominated by black players used to block black players from playing and hated on the ones who eventually did. Why must we continue to think of our Nation in sports as two separate races? Why can we not be proud of both races under one Nation? That is the question that we still ask today and are yet to be answered.

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Race Discrimination in Sport. (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved July 18, 2024 , from

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