Institutional Racism Against African-American Student-Athletes

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This article addresses the issue of racism in regards to male African American student-athletes at Predominately White Institutions. To obtain an efficient understanding of this issue, individual and group interviews were conducted to obtain the perception of the racism regarding male African American student-athletes. In-depth and engaging interviews were administered to get a clear understanding how racism affects Male African American student-athletes. This study utilized critical race theory (CRT) as an epistemological framework and theoretical tool for understanding African American male student-athletes’ perceptions of racism and the potential impact racism might have on their educational experiences and overall development (pg. 365). Two very important findings were concluded from these interviews regarding African American males experiences in collegiate athletics and racism. The first was related the feelings of being denied access to leadership and decision-making opportunities in college and professional sport. The second is in regards to being treated differently than their White teammates. According to Singer, the purpose of this study was to engage in critical dialogue with a group of African American male football student-athletes in efforts to understand and document their perceptions of racism (pg. 366)

Singer highlights and illustrates many instances of racism in college athletics. A significant and common issue addressed was the underrepresentation of African Americans in positions of power in college athletics. There is lack of African American in these positions and it can be said that this can serve as a mode discouragement for current and future African American student-athletes who desire to hold these positions. Brooks and Althouse (1993, 2000) have led a contingent of scholars who have asserted that a lack of access to the existing administrator and head coach recruiting networks has limited and inhibited the ability of aspiring African American coaches and administrators to obtain the major decision-making and leadership positions within athletic departments at PWIs and in professional sport organizations (As cited in Singer, 2005, p. 367). Another important finding shows that African Americans are highly represented in the visible playing positions of wide receiver, defensive back, and running back in college football, and a few have gained the status of quarterback at the college and professional levels, research has shown that they still continue, for the most part, to be excluded from the ‘leading’ decision- making positions off the field of play”. (p. 368)

In addition to a lack of positions of power held by African Americans in college athletes, African American student-athletes fall below the ranks academically in relation to their White counterparts. Singer believes that African American student-athletes are academically exploited and underprepared for college. It can be said that this is common belief among scholars in the realm of intercollegiate athletics regarding African American student-athletes. Anderson and South (2000) contended that there is a considerable amount of academic exploitation of student-athletes in general and African American student-athletes in particular (As cited by Singer, 2005, pg. 369). There are various studies that are reflective and supportive of these allegations. A study conducted by Anderson and South (2000), showed that nearly twice the percentage of White athletes compared to African American athletes graduated from college over the past year (As cited by Singer, 2005, pg. 369). In addition a study depicted an alarming trend, it was reported that of the 117 Division 1A schools 63% of White football student-athletes graduated versus only 47% of African American football student-athletes (pg. 370). It can be said that these graduation rates are to due the fact that students-athletes are unprepared academically upon attending college. Singer believes that African American student-athletes academic success and development are overshadowed by their participation in college athletics. He further asserts that the current system of big-time college sport has been and continues to be a detrimental force that exploits the African American student-athlete.

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To get a clear insight of how African American student-athletes perceive racism, Singer utilizes the Critical Race Theory to effectively understand their perceptions. According to Singer, “In sum, CRT is an appropriate epistemological and theoretical foundation for studying racism in college sport because it provides a context or broad map for the research process (p. 371). The CRT utilizes four specific points of criteria when studying the issue of racism. The first point is based on the realization that racism is keenly embedded in today’s society. To further illustrate this point, Singer describes it as an endemic which roots have intense roots legally, culturally, and psychologically in American Society. It can be said these implications are normal and well aware of by individuals in today in today’s society. The second point is a new and profound understanding of civil rights laws. It is believed civil rights laws are undermined before they can fully be implemented. Besides that the CRT questions legal claims regarding dominant legal claims that claim to promote racial equality. Singer believes they are camouflages for self-interest of the powerful entities in society. Lastly the CRT strongly encourages the examination of civil rights law in a contextual/historical examination of the law and the acknowledgement of the experiential knowledge of people of color in analyzing the law and society (p. 372). Singer utilizes each points of the CRT to analyze and interpret the perceptions of racism through the eyes of male African American student-athletes.

Four African American football players participated in Singer’s study. They were required to meet two criteria. They needed to be obviously African American males and maintained eligibility in a big-time college sport program and were willing to partake in the study. These participants attended a prominent Division I university in the Midwest, which was nationally ranked. The finding and responses of the participants were linked to their experiences and interpretations regarding the issue of racism. Each participant agreed that they somehow experience racism and it was embedded in their institutions. The core findings were connected to issues with opportunity structure and differential treatment.

The participants all agreed that there were opportunity disparities on the football field in regards to race. They collectively shared the belief that some positions were off limits for African American players. As according to Stinger, “Specifically, the issue of African American athletes being denied access to the quarterback position at these PWIs continually emerged throughout the focus group and individual interviews” (p. 373). One participant expressed his belief that White individuals feel that African American football players are not capable of being intelligent enough to be an effective leader of the team. These players expressed extreme concern with that fact that they were not many opportunities for African Americans to be decision makers and leaders on the field. Their concerns were further expanded beyond the playing field. In addition to the lack of opportunities on the playing field, there is shortage off the playing field as well. There is a shortage of African Americans in positions of power as coaches, athletic directors, and owners of professional teams. These participants were well aware of the fact that there may not being position off the field readily available to them. They feel that this implication is just the way things have been for years and will continue to be that way.

The issue of differential treatment became apparent as well as the interviews were conducted. These student-athletes felt that there was a strong line between how African American student-athletes are treated in comparison to their White counterparts. The participants illustrated these differences regarding enrolling in certain class in which White student-athletes had precedence over them. A shocking account by one of the participants is as follows.

“They allow African American students to take classes they really don’t need and that’s why they are here forever, because they are taking all the classes they don’t need, where the White guy, he’s just, you know, all classes you need. .. or, or even if he doesn’t know, they might, I think they might give him a little advantage. They might tell him, ‘well, you need this’, where the Black person, they just, you know, ‘we just want you to play football pretty much”. (p. 374).These student-athletes felt like they were seen as inferiors to their white counterparts as a consequence of their race. The issue of differential treatment was also illustrated regarding punishments and infractions. They participants all agreed that they would receive a harsher punishment if they engaged in any wrongdoings in comparison with their white counterparts. Where as there white counterparts would receive a lesser punishment or a slap on the wrist.

This study shed light on issue of institutional racism in college athletics regarding four African American student-athlete’s perceptions and experiences regarding racism. This study gave voices to particular subgroup of student-athletes. This is significant because it can be regarded as a good start to addressing this issue. If it were not for this article I would have continued to be oblivious to this form of racism. The reason this article is so important to me is because it illustrated these players’ actual perceptions, which were not hidden behind fancy words. It was their true accounts and experiences which their voices being strong and clear. This article will be very pertinent to my literature review because it has depicts actual accounts and experiences in conjunction with significant theories in regards to racism. This article was will written and conveyed a strong message that needs to be heard. The more research I do on this particular group student-athletes it further strengthens my desire to work with this group and to conduct more research regarding male African American student-athletes.

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