Race in Sport


In the Undefeated video, Williams demanded that we stop “confusing change with progress.” Eitzen (2016) explained some of the anecdotal evidence that is used to demonstrate racial progress in sport: the promotion of dominant Black players (e.g., Serena Williams or Lebron James), or the racial makeup of the NBA and NFL, which are both often presented as dominated by Black athletes. However, Eitzen (2016) is quick to refute the sense of racial progress in sport, explaining that racial minorities are actually siloed into specific sports that are widely broadcasted. In those sports, the outlook for transitioning from athlete to leader is bleak.

One central assertion of sociologists, such as Eitzen (2016), is that the issues or the inequity we see and experience in real-time snapshots cannot be separated from the processes of society that created the issues or inequalities. What we see in race relations today does not exist only in these moments but is the culmination of a process of how racism has been constructed through symbols and meaning (like anything else in our society; Bryant, 2018).

The most critical takeaways from the readings in this unit are that race categories are socially constructed, operate as a mechanism for power, and are depicted/operate through sets of symbols that have meaning attached to them. As you work through these discussion questions, start to think critically about if the purpose of sport (i.e., inclusion and opportunity) matches how it is delivered for racial minorities.

Symbols around race and race-based stereotypes are layered into sport – a space sold as one of vast opportunity for racial minorities. Spaaij et al. (2015) explain how the Black athlete’s body is presented as a symbol of natural talent. Bryant (2018) addresses the Black athlete as a symbol of patriotism and activism. In the Undefeated video, Chris Archer discusses symbols that contrast with the “Black athlete” symbol in terms of job categories. Archer says that every team has a team doctor, legal staff, and an economist and that you can be in sport in more ways “than just on the field as entertainment.” Finally, Eitzen (2016) provides examples of symbols in terms of flags and race-based mascots, and discusses who decides their meaning.

As you work through the following Synthesis Questions, start to think critically about if the purpose of sport (i.e., inclusion and opportunity) matches how it is delivered for BIPOC athletes and leaders. For this essay, consider the following questions when responding to the prompts:

Why and how do racial inequality and segregation persist in sport while sport is presented as racially integrated? How do access and treatment discrimination toward racial minorities in sport compound across their experiences as athletes and as leaders?


Prompt 1

How do symbols (as representations of a specific group of people) and meaning produce and reproduce racism in sport?

Minimum Word Count Requirement: 600 

Prompt 2

Why and how are BIPOC athletes siloed into specific sports (across the sport system), and what are the outcomes for leadership?

Minimum Word Count Requirement: 600 

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