Race and Sports in America
By: Patrick Minnick
December 12, 2014
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives”. This quote proved true for no one more than the man who said it, Jackie Robinson. Robinson is seen as a pivotal figure in the fight for racial equality in America. However, he didn’t make his impact through speeches, civil right protests, or violent rebellion. Robinson did it by playing the sport he loved, baseball. Sports have always had an ability to bring people together, but, in the last century especially, sports have given racial minorities something they can’t find elsewhere; a chance to compete on a level playing field with everyone else. ...view middle of the document...
But, it wasn’t until the late 1800s, early 1900s that the organized sports we know today came into existence. In the 1860s, the popularity of baseball was on the rise and as one anonymous writer put it, "This was the first time in American history that grown men put on costumes and played a child's game". Unfortunately, increased popularity also came with increased scrutiny, rules, and the eventual banning of blacks from the National Association in 1867 and all-professional baseball organizations thereafter. The story is much the same with the rise of basketball and football as well. Initially, there were no rules stating blacks couldn’t play professionally and there were certainly a few who did play. But once the popularity and viewership rose, public pressure forced organizations to ban black players.
Once banned, a few African Americans decided to start “negro” leagues. One such league, the Negro Baseball League, became quite popular and very competitive, even gaining the attention of Major League scouts. This attention eventually gave rise to well-known Negro League players such as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, who also became the first two African Americans to play in the all white MLB in the year 1947. During this time, the majority of white Americans were distraught with the notion that they had to watch black players compete on the same field as whites. Jackie Robinson and many of the first successful black MLB players faced severe racism and hatred from both players and fans. Death threats and constant racial heckling were common. However, these early African American players endured and opened the way for mass racial integration throughout professional sports, leading us to the current state of sports.
Today, sports throughout America are fully integrated racially. However, the demographics widely vary depending on the sport. The following chart, from the book In Black and White: Race and Sports in America by Kenneth L. Shropshire, displays the racial composition of the three major professional sports in America in the 90s:
Judging from the above chart, it is obvious racial equality in sports has come a long way, particularly the role of African Americans, who now makeup the majority of players in the NBA and NFL. However, this increased role as players has not been equally reflected in management and ownership roles. Former African American NFL player and author of the aforementioned book, Kenneth L. Shropshire, concludes, “Paralleling society, attempts to end all but the most rigid and institutionalized racial inequalities in the business of sports have been generally unsuccessful. According to one 1995 study, African-Americans constituted the following percentages in the top-level positions in professional sports: 0 percent of the majority owners and commissioners; 7 percent of the team presidents in the NBA and 0 percent in the NFL and MLB; 12 percent of the team vice presidents in the NBA, 4 percent in the NFL and 5...