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Dangerous stereotypes stalk black college athletes

Copyrights: The Conversation / Brynn Anderson/AP

Dangerous stereotypes stalk black college athletes

Brains vs. brawn: Does big-time college sports value black student-athletes?

If you go strictly by the official account, heatstroke was the cause of death for University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair. McNair died earlier this year following a grueling practice in which training staff failed to properly diagnose and treat his condition.

But there’s another culprit – or at least a contributing factor – that should not be overlooked.

As I argue in my forthcoming book – “From Exploitation Back to Empowerment: Black Male Holistic (Under) Development Through Sport and (Mis) Education” – what threatens black college athletes such as McNair is not just the brutal treatment to which they are subjected on the field.

Rather, it is a long-standing and deadly stereotype in American society that views black males as subhuman and superhuman all at once.

This stereotype, which is complex and has many layers, holds that black male athletes have superior athletic abilities that enable them to excel at high levels in sports such as football. The stereotype also holds that black males have a distinct physicality that allows them to endure extreme amounts of pain.

This is the same myth that was used to justify the enslavement and mistreatment of black people in America from before the Civil War through today’s era of mass incarceration. In fact, a case can be made that there are many parallels between the exploitation of black student-athletes today and how black labor was exploited during American slavery.

McNair also appears to have fallen victim to a sports culture in the U.S. that promotes a win-at-all-costs mentality. This culture also places an inordinate amount of emphasis on generating revenue. And it represents a damaging view of masculinity.

I make these arguments as a scholar who focuses on the nexus between sport, education, race and culture.

Perceptions of black strength

I assert that black males in general, and black student-athletes in particular, are viewed primarily as physical beings – sometimes seen as “beasts” and the like. This dehumanizes them in ways that threaten their well-being.

Although such terms as “beasts” are widely embraced in mainstream culture and in some instances by black athletes themselves, such as Marshawn Lynch, whose “Beast Mode” clothing line is drawn from his nickname, these terms are still harmful. This is especially the case in sports, where masculinity is equated with toughness, playing through pain and not giving up.

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It may be true that these ideas are applied to male athletes in general. But these views impact black males even more due to their unique experiences in the United States. Just as they did during the days of chattel slavery, I argue that deeply embedded stereotypes about the physical capacity of black individuals to endure pain results in their perpetual mistreatment in the sports arena.

The stereotypes about black males’ work ethic in sports like football and basketball has resulted in their higher incidences of cardiac deaths.

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News

Author

Joseph Cooper, University of Connecticut / The Conversation

Published

Thursday, August 30, 2018 - 12:37