From Desegregating to Dominating the Playing Field

By: Ashley Valera

Today, we‘d like to think that segregation and discrimination based on race is a part of our history which we’ve grown from and fought for everyone to have the same rights regardless of race. When in reality only 53 years ago the government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed the segregation of people in public places and discrimination based on race, religion, and sexThat wasn’t that long ago. Most of our parents or grandparents were around for the desegregation of our public schools and other public places such as buses and bathrooms. Some may even remember the first Black athletes to be signed by professional all white leaguesWe recognize Marion Motley who started his professional football career in 1946, well-known Jackie Robinson who signed with an MLB team in 1947, and Chuck Cooper signed by an NBA team in 1950 as the first black athletes to sign with professional leagues. Professional sports teams have only grown from there with African-American athletes which now make up most of the NFL and NBA.

But have we really made as much progress diversifying as we think we have when it comes to sports and race?

Although we have since desegregated and what was once referred to as  “white sports” is now very inclusive to more diverse athletes. We see today that other minorities, such as Asians/ pacific islanders and Latinos, are still overwhelmingly underrepresented in professional sports. Some statistics in recorded in 2015 show that only 0.4% of players in the NBA were Asian Americans and 3.1% were Latino which reveals how almost non-existent their presence is in Professional American basketball. However, in the MLB Latinos accounted for 28.4% of their players which is second behind players that are White. But Asian Americans are still only represented by 2% in professional baseball. Notice these player statistics that display certain sports which have certain dominating races that out-weigh the rest by a landslide.

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So what makes one race seemingly more dominant than others in specific sports?

Some would say it’s because of certain characteristics such as height, speed, or agility that could be associated with an athlete’s race. In the sport of basketball for example, some would argue that the reason why Asian Americans are so underrepresented is because of their shorter height. But “if it were simply about height, white men — who are a smidge taller than black men, according to the CDC — might outnumber black players” when we see that there are in fact twice as many Black men than White men in professional basketball. Therefore, the excuse of a certain race having more compatible characteristics to any given sport isn’t rational.

What about the argument that not everyone needs to be proportionally represented in sports?

Sure the statistics may not always be equal across the board when it comes to representation of race in sports, some races will out-weigh others and some will be more represented than others. But when minorities are showing up so slightly in player statistics, to where they’re almost non-existent, we have to look at the society and how we as a society might look at certain races as “more qualified” or “fit” for the position. The recruiting process needs to be strictly about talent and not bias to any individual or group. Because of these dominating races in the sports industry it can lead to certain professional teams to favor one candidate over another because of their race. This can make decisions biased and unfair towards minorities within that sport and make it nearly impossible to get signed by a professional team.

Therefore, with all the process that we’ve made since the 1964 Civil Rights Act we still see signs of separation and discrimination in our society. Although it’s not as blatant as before we still see things like underrepresentation of minorities in sports. Something like sports should be all inclusive and welcoming. But our society has turned recruitment and playing professionally into a system that looks at race. Just like the rest of our society, the professional sports industry has replaced actual talent and capability with informal networks and agreements.

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