By Deandra Duggans
originally published on November 21, 2004
Athletes, in general, face adversities regarding the stereotypes that follow them, especially African American athletes. Too often, the media depicts black athletes in a negative manner, spoiling the future of their success. Here are a few of those myths:
1. Black male athletes are out of control or violent:
This is one of the stereotypes that plagues NFL and NBA players, mainly because of the faces seen in the media. Because of one mistake, Kobe Bryant is put in the realm of negativity that plagues the NBA, fitting into the stereotype and giving those who manifest these myths all the more reason to do so. The thug mentality will not cease when you have incidents like Latrell Sprewell choking his coach, or O.J. Simpson standing trial for murder, or Damon Stoudamire, and many others getting busted for marijuana possession.
But not all athletes live life on the wild side – many of them are the honest, upright people they appear to be on TV such as David Robinson, a former member of the San Antonio Spurs. An article in the magazine “Black commentator” discusses how Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle were both drinkers, and Babe Ruth was a womanizer and often violated team rules, however their images were not nearly as tainted and they remain at the highest pillars for sports figures. The truth is, athletes are placed on a pedestal in the eyes of the public and don’t have the luxury of being able to make mistakes, but black athletes are seemingly put on a higher pedestal where any mistakes they make are detrimental to their future.
2. Black Athletes are ‘dumb jocks.’
Many people believe that black athletes made it into college solely on the basis of their athletic talents. Sure a school wants the athlete to succeed at his or her given sport, but it is also important for athletes to succeed in academics. Athletes have a lot of pressure to excel in school, because they have to meet GPA and scholarship requirements. According to a study released by the NCAA in September 2004, the graduation rate for black Division I athletes is 62 percent, and they are more likely to graduate than non-athletes. How about that! The graduation rate for black baseball players has increased 10 points from 28 percent to 38 percent, and although this is relatively low, it is still an increase and we are making strides. Black female athletes graduate at a rate of 62 percent, and this could be due to the fact that the criteria for entering into professional sports are different from that of men. For example, the WNBA requires that an athlete have college experience – there is no drafting out of high school. Athletes are equally as intelligent and make the extra effort. We have a choice of whether or not we wish to go to class, at adults in college, but most athletes are punished immediately when they miss a class. You try running at 5 a.m. because you chose not to go to PSY 200 yesterday.
3. Basketball and football are the sports for black athletes:
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports release astonishing figures in the summer of 2004. It is true that blacks dominate the NFL and NBA, accounting for more than 85 percent of played in the NBA and more than 60 percent in the NFL, but why do we only make up 10 percent of the MLB players and .029 percent of the players in the NHL? Do you know a man by the name of Willie O’Ree? What about Anson Carter? or Grant Fuhr? You wouldn’t know these names because myths get in the way. Willie O’Ree was the first black man to play professional hockey. Anson Carter was one of the 19 black hockey players in the NHL in 2004, of 650 total players in the league.
Grant Fuhr is regarded as the most successful black hockey player in history and stands in sixth place in all-time wins for goalies and was the first black man to inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame. The stereotype that sports such as baseball and hockey are not for black people is just a barrier that we ourselves have put up with the help of other factors. Sure, these sports are not popular in our communities, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t participate in them. Someone told Jackie Robinson he couldn’t play baseball and I’m sure we all know how that story ended.
4. It’s in the genes
There is a myth that floats around that states that African Americans are able to run faster and jump higher because of our genetic composition. This is one of the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard and the fact that there is no to data to back this belief up makes it even more of a brainless myth. Dr. John C. Walter, director of the Blacks in Sports Project at the University of Washington, published interesting research about this subject.
When Joe Louis defeated Primo Carnera in 1953, a reporter wrote “Something sly and sinister, and perhaps, not quite human, came out of the African jungle, last night, to strike down and utterly demolish the huge hulk that had been Primo Carnera, the giant.”
A book by Jon Entine, “Taboo: Why African Americans Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It,” made this topic even more debatable. In the book, Entine argues that “people of African ancestry enjoy a biological edge in certain sports, which helps explain why the 200 fastest times recorded in the 100-meter dash all belong to blacks and why blacks account for 9 of every 10 NBA players and why 7 out of every 10 players in the NFL is dark-skinned. In short that’s because of greater muscle mass and a greater percentage of power-enhancing fast-twitch fibers, a higher center of gravity, and more anaerobic enzymes.”
Although he is right about the composition of our bodies, there is not scientific evidence that says that this makes blacks better athletes. He then goes on to argue that “African Americans find sports as a way to escape the ghetto, so that they have extraordinary motivation to succeed.” Indeed sports are viewed as way out for some, and may be some kids only chance to get into college, but it is not the case for everyone who is engaged in sports. Most of our athletes, like athletes of other races, train very hard to excel in their respective sports. Moreover, I think it’s one’s environment and not their genetic composition.
The only way we can put an end to these myths is by erasing reasons which create them. We cannot continue making a name for ourselves as violent, uneducated, single minded individuals. We can’t tame our athletes; we can only encourage the good in them.