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Like most minorities in America, Blacks have been victimized by the effects of societal racism. The results of racism have caused systematic oppression and incorrect stereotypes to the African American community. African American collegiate athletes also experience that same racism, oppression and stereotyping in their own college communities which can manipulate how that athlete identifies with society and vice versa. The lens of sport can also represent the lens of society, consequentially meaning that African American athletes are also subjected to injustices like the rest of the African American community. The injustices committed against Black college athletes are predominantly viewed and experienced as exploitation. Black collegiate athletes are exploited by colleges that only wish to only gain from these athletes without providing them with their due rights, such as appropriate education to further them in the future. This results in the continuation and advancement of incorrect stereotypes of African American men as athletes which in turn affect the way.
Values in society are ever-changing and included with it, the continuous shifting of the African American man’s identity. The constant shift can raise the question of whether the African American’s presence in society is capable of having a conducive purpose. This can also connect to the Africana Critical Theory that further extends to African American collegiate athletes. The Africana Critical Theory is described as philosophical notions about the empowerment of all African Americans and how they can be liberated from societal and systemic oppression (Bassey, 2007). College educational systems should regard their athletes for more than the revenue they can receive for their athletic prowess. Athletes are exploited instead of being adequately prepared for real life in society as any educational institution is meant to prepare all students. Instead these Black college athletes are feed that the desirable traits they possess surmise to only physicality and never that of intellect, consequentially befuddling their sense of identity.
These overtly racist ideologies against Black men have transformed and modernized into current societal values which, as discussed, have changed the way society and even how Blacks view themselves. The establishment and modernization of racism to create the current image African American men possess initially began with the justification of racism though science. The importance of races was measured by factors such as intelligence, value, beauty, etc. and Blacks were always ranked last (Blumenbach). In fact, the primitivity has always been compare to the animalistic traits of apes in order to promote and justify racist actions in society for centuries. This also has been problematic with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. According to studies, this “ape caricature” mentality condones the mistreatment and injustices of African American men by law enforcement and influences labels such as “savage,” “beast,” “animal” to encapsulate the character of Black men. Overall, dehumanization of Black identity in society further leads to the misconstrued portrayal of African American men as hostile and fearsome. Consequentially, leading to heightened patterns of police officers killing African American men out of fear for their lives. (Staples, 2018). Unfortunately, this same mentality shared throughout American society does not escape African American athletes. According to the Journal of Negro Education, most Black athletes are racially mistreated and view the classroom as racially hostile due to perceived stereotypes from society that has been further represented on their campus. Even the identity of being an athlete disadvantages the Black college athletes because on college campuses they are seen as “Big, Black…Dumb”. Additionally, the representation of being an African American athlete can also dismantle the positive image Blacks are trying to build in order to cast aside the negative image fastened onto them by White society. Black athletes attending prominently White college institutions face defamation of intellectual character every day because of stereotypes of the Black man’s hyper-physical body and athletic ability. Disturbingly, college students, professors and faculty believe these racist troupes and justify that athletic prowess is the only prospect allowing African American athletes to partake in higher education (Beamon, 2014).
Many examples throughout the span of American history, such as slavery, Jim Crow era, etc. have shown that primitivity has been prescribed to describe the character of African Americans. White America has shaped the stereotypes involving Black men such that they are aggressive, physically adept and unintelligent (Childs). This same ideology has been transformed to support the supposed societal understanding that Black men are dangerous to White society as discussed in the above paragraph. The conception of the African American man’s hyper-physical body especially extends to college athletes. The misconception of black primitivity was a construction by white superiority in order to commodify African American men. Since athletes are regarded for their athletic prowess the same labels of physicality and primitivity are also given to Black college athletes making it easier for them to be exploited. In collegiate sports, the commodification of athletes is used to appropriate their athletic labor which in turn is used for revenue for the college, but most of these athletes are Black. To continue this tread, Black college athletes are recruited and sought out as a way to further exploit them and allow the colleges to reap the benefits (Van Rheenen, 2012). Furthermore, college institutions even allow and push for their athletes to put more emphasis in sports rather than academics leading in them not graduating or graduating with unexceptional grades (Zocalo Public Square, 2015). The continuation of this trend exemplifies how society has an impaction in molding the African American athlete’s identity. It also shows how White America’s fixation with African American athletes and their physical prowess affects how they view themselves as well as how they view their community.
The effects of commodification in a society can cause that commodity to lose its value through involution. The involution of this commodity causes it to function inversely than how it originally operated which, in turn, reconfigures its identity causing it to lose societal value. Unfortunately, those same effects of commodification and involution plague African American college athletes. The notions of commodification and involution are enhanced, influenced and maintained through connection with the media. Essentially, the media is a carrier to all of society that allows for the creation and influence of the public’s opinion. Therefore, it can be argued that the media is responsible for what society is exposed to and how society’s views and opinions are formulated. Through the influence of the media the notion that African American athletes are all brawn with no brain is presented to society and it is used to the disadvantage of Blacks, specifically Black college athletes. Past actions of college institutions have proven to also support this ideal because they permit Black athletes to continuously engage society as this negative image due to their allowance of low graduation rates and unprofitable college degrees (Van Rheenen, 2012). To add insult to injury, most African American athletes believe that their awaited success lies in athletics alone. In this regard, the interaction between Black college athletes and colleges is a paralleled concept of the interactions of a slave and plantation owners. The plantation owner conditions slaves to only believe in and acknowledge an existence on the plantation and veering away from that would result in the ruin of their happiness and ability to thrive (Eitzen, 2015). Collegiate educational institutions have conditioned Black athletes to put more emphasis on creating a successful career through athletics by going professional once out of college. However according to the NCAA, the amount of college athletes that make it professional is very small. Moreover, if these college athletes were to make it professionally, it does not guarantee that their career will be long due to various factors and influences like depression or injury (2018). In this regard, the interaction between Black college athletes and colleges is a paralleled concept of the interactions of a slave and plantation owners. The plantation owner conditions slaves to only believe in and acknowledge an existence on the plantation and veering away from that would result in the ruin of their happiness and ability to thrive (Eitzen, 2015).
Essentially, even if a Black college athlete were to make it professionally, they are not exempt from racist concepts presented in society. Regardless of fame, fortune, and success in the Black community and/or the college institutional community, society still portrays African American athletes with negative troupes and imagery. There are many instances of athletes being mistreated regardless of their reputation as successful athletes. When 59 professional athletes were surveyed and asked if they had experienced racial injustices and racial profiling all answered yes (The Guardian, 2018). However, sport is a lens into society therefore allowing sport to be a segue into speaking power to truth that will demand change towards total equality. Thus, racial injustices in society toward African Americans results in advocators of social and racial reformation led by athletes such as Jack Johnson, Mohammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick and many others. The cyclical trend that is once again being presented is a further explanation of how the identity and image of Black college athletes and overall Black men in society are being consistently tarnished. Commodification causes involution which becomes a cyclical trend with the effects of the media which causes an implosion to the structure of Black identity. The implosion of Black identity and imagery further plays into the systematic structure of how Blacks are treated throughout society.
In conclusion, these importance issues demonstrated through the analysis of Black Existentialism seen through the struggles of Black collegiate athletes is due for assessment and revisions. African American collegiate athletes should not be beguiled to believe that their worth depends on if they make it professionally because where they lack in intellectual skill they gain in physicality. The media should not encourage these troupes and stereotypes because they are incorrect, unfair and detrimental to any Black college athlete’s self-esteem and self-worth. Instead they should give more coverage of African American Athletes that are successful as athletes and academic scholars. Additionally, colleges need to put more emphasis on their athletes being students rather just athletes and behave more like educational institutions rather than big businesses. This will help in the revision of the African American athletes’ image and put a stop to their negative portrayals. Since sport can serve as a medium to speak power to truth it is extremely significant to dissect, analyze, understand and correct the racists misconceptions, troupes, and stereotypes of African Americans in order to make society more socially habitable for everyone. Through making revisions to the misconceptions about Blacks it will also affect the overt and covert racist actions committed against Blacks which will translate to African American collegiate athletes and their experiences of racism on their college campuses. More importantly, the acknowledgement of injury to Black identity and the strive to rebuild it can result in African American athletes having a stronger belief in their future success by means of higher education, rather than solely relying on going professional. This shift toward societal equity could encourage change domestically and internationally toward how the image of the Black man is perceived. It could spark a flame that illuminates to the truth that everyone is equal regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. It could influence a small change that builds into equality for all especially marginalized minorities across the globe. These important issues demonstrated through the struggles of Black Existentialism in American society can ask the question of how racism can be conquered and how to inform the public against racist actions and thoughts while keeping society truly equal?
- Bassey, M. O. (2007). What Is Africana Critical Theory or Black Existential Philosophy? Journal of Black Studies, 914-932.
- Beamon, K. (2014). Racism and Stereotyping on Campus: Experiences of African American Male-Student Athletes. The Journal of Negro Education , 121-134.
- Blumenbach, J. F. (n.d.). On the Natural Variety of Mankind. In R. Bernasconi, & T. L. Lott, The Idea of Race (pp. 27-37). Hackett.
- Childs, E. (n.d.). Images of the Black Athlete: Intersection of Race, Sexuality and Sports. Journal of African American Men, 19-35.
- Eitzen, S. (2015). The Big-Time College Sports Planation and the Slaves Who Drive It. In S. Eitzen, Sport in Contemporary Society: An Anthology (pp. 177 – 187). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- National Collegiate Athletic Association. (2018, March 12). Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics. Retrieved from NCAA.org: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-professional-athletics
- Square, Z. P. (2015, April). Why Student Athletes Continue to Fail . Retrieved from Time.com: http://time.com/3827196/why-student-athletes-fail/
- Staples, B. (2018). The New York Times. The Racist Trope That Won’t Die.
- The Guardian. (2018, February 1). 100% of black NFL players surveyed have experience of racial profiling. Retrieved from The Guardian : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/feb/01/nfl-racial-profiling-colin-kaepernick
- Van Rheenen, D. (2012). Explotiation in college sports: Race, Revenue, and educational reward. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 551-566.
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