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A Conversation About Race and Sports

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the recent changes to the names of professional sports teams, like The Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Indiansto be more racially sensitive.

Personally, I never took any offense to either name directly but I could see how the “Redskins” could be a little offensive to some people, so when they changed the name I was all for it, but my friend not so much.

“When did it become racist all of a sudden?”

His first objection was that the name only became racist because of all the Black Lives Matter stuff going on recently, but that’s not the case.

In 1992, there was a rally before Super Bowl XXVI that drew more than 2,000 protesters calling for a name change. Then in 2013 Dan Snyder says they will never change the name of the teams despite ongoing requests and attempts to get the team to change the name.

2013 would prove to be the catalyst for increasing awareness on the issue and in the same year President Obama spoke out on the subject. In 2014, all 50 Senators would call for the team to change the name and it wouldn’t be until this year when sponsors formally called for the team to change their name. Being that millions of dollars were on the line, obviously, the team would oblige, but to say that this was a knee jerk reaction to BLM is very ignorant of the truth and the struggle people have had getting the team to change the name.

The Cleveland Indians have had the same sort of battles for years as well, but this December they announced that they will be using the name through the 2022 season and will begin the process to move away from it.

Some people are saying they should do it now and not later, but I honestly think they should be allowed the time to properly change the team name because we don’t need another pro team just calling themselves “[City] [Sport] Team” unless the whole league is going to that format, otherwise its just ridiculous. Either way, teams changing their names to be more racially and culturally sensitive is a good thing.

“Well, then how come the NBA isn’t considered racist because it’s mostly black people?”

His next point of contention stemmed from the idea that sports are somehow racist because they are dominated by Black Americans. At first I was a little offended by his question because historically speaking, sports have been the only avenue for Black Americans to thrive. I had to ask him to elaborate a little on his question and comments because I felt like he was being intentionally dense or trying to make me mad.

He then went on to include affirmative action in his explanation. Basically his point was that in the regular job market affirmative action keeps white people from dominating the work force by ensuring companies are employing fair hiring practices that are represent the demographics in their area.

After hearing his thought process and getting to understand his point a little more, I had to explain to him that there were a few things missing from his assessment with the first being that professional sports isn’t a normal job market.

Sports are Exclusive

Professional sports are very exclusive for several reasons and the first being access. When we talk about access to sports we have to first look at where athletes come from and they come from schools. We all start our sports career in grade school whether it be in some Pop Warner League or with the school, we all started somewhere, but what sport depended on the access.

Kids that had access to pools regularly were more likely to join the swim team. Kids that had access to soccer through school and after school programs were probably more inclined to play soccer, but not all kids had equal access to all sports so when we look at the demographics, I think it makes sense that black athletes dominate football and basketball because in the inner city those are the two sports that schools are most likely to offer while in the private schools they may have sports like Lacrosse and Swimming so it would make sense that white people dominate those sports.

The next layer of access is college. Even though kids may have access to sports, getting to the college level is very hard because only the top athletes make it and some of us, despite our best efforts, just won’t make the cut. From college they thin the herd even more at the professional level. Some sports have minor leagues which do allow some of the more talented athletes to play longer and potentially develop, but in the end not everyone will play professional sports or even make to the college level for whatever reason.

The last thing that makes professional sports different is the players’ union. Essentially the players’ union makes it so that there’s not many ways into the league that would undercut the value of the players already in the league thus establishing a market where the players can establish their value.

Sports are a way out

My next point when it came to the racial differences in sports was that for us, sports were a way out. It was a way to a better life and not just a better life for you, but it meant generational wealth; money that you could pass down to your kids and make sure that they graduated from college debt free and had all the advantages in life our parents had to sacrifice so we could make it.

I am half Black and half Puerto Rican and when I was growing up we all wanted to play pro football or basketball. We all wanted to be the next Sugar Ray Leonard or Félix “Tito” Trinidad because those were our ways out because they were realistic. You go to school, you get good grades, you practice your sport, follow that path and you could go pro, but it’s hard work.

What sport depended on access as I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t until I got to college at 22 years old before I knew anything about Lacrosse and it wasn’t until a few years later that I would find out that they had a professional league, so was I shocked to see that the sport was dominated by white people? No, not at all. Do I think it’s racist? Only in that us black kids didn’t have access to all of those sports.

When I was in high school we had a soccer team, a football team, a basketball team, a wrestling team, and a track team. We lived overseas so youth leagues were very limited and it’s not like my parents were making money hand over fist to send me, 1 of 4 children, to expensive sports camps and such. I might have been good at Lacrosse if my parents lived in an area where that was a popular sport; same with golf, tennis, and bunch of other sports.

Obviously you can pick up some sports at any time and learn to play, but to be good enough to compete at the higher levels takes a lifetime of training which is why you don’t see a bunch people who were playing college basketball playing professional soccer because they never went pro. Tebow tried to make a run a pro baseball because he played in high school and that didn’t go well for him. Michael Jordan took a few years off from basketball to play baseball and that didn’t go well for him either.


Personally, I don’t think that sports are racist or that there is any bias in professional sports. If we look at the historical context of the conversation, Black Americans and minorities haven’t always had multiple avenues for success, but sports has always been a major one.

While sports has been an avenue for success, Black Americans and minorities historically haven’t held a lot of generational wealth thus limiting access to sports for the children to what is offered through the school system and youth leagues. School systems in lower income neighborhoods don’t always offer all sports and most are limited due to a lack of funding.

A school may have a football team and a basketball team but they may not offer swimming, lacrosse, tennis, hockey, soccer, volleyball, and some lower income areas may not offer those sports as youth leagues either thus making the main sports (i.e. basketball, football, and baseball) the only real viable avenue to make it to the college or pro level. This being the case, it makes complete sense that professional sports are dominated by Black Americans and minorities.