Monday, April 5, 2010


We all know how it goes.

In this country, "athletic" = "black." If a white player succeeds in sports, it's because of intelligence, hard work, "gutsy play," and toughness. The white player "plays smart." If a black player succeeds in sports, it's because of athleticism, because of "God-given" athletic ability -- "natural talent."

Take a look at the sports pages in the newspaper. Check out sports magazines, or online articles. Listen to analysis on the radio or on television. You will almost never see or hear the word "athletic" used to describe any athlete who is not black.

Tonight, Duke plays Butler for the national championship. Duke was called "alarmingly unathletic" by ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb. It's no coincidence, as Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn points out, that the Blue Devils "happen to be the only top-25 team in the country with three white starters."

There's a lot to this. It says a lot about our country. It's rooted in our history of slavery. Black kids are more often expected to excel in athletics; the expectations are not nearly as high for them to excel in academics, of course.

Sports, the sports media, parents, coaches... everyone involved helps to perpetuate the stereotype. But I can't think of any one thing that keeps that stereotype alive more than the use of the adjective "athletic" to describe black athletes, when it's rarely used to describe white athletes.

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