Cultural Inclusiveness in Sport - Recommendations from African American Women College Athletes

By Stratta, Terese M. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Cultural Inclusiveness in Sport - Recommendations from African American Women College Athletes


Stratta, Terese M., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


The recommendations in this article, which are based on and address the cultural needs of African American female athletes, can be applied to sport programs at all levels of competition, with varying degrees of racial composition, and to programs in which boys and men compete.

In February of 1992, I conducted an ethnographic study to examine the meaning of intercollegiate sport to African American female athletes. Data were collected for 15 months at a predominantly white university. The university, located in an urban area of approximately 1.6 million, consisted of approximately 31,000 undergraduate students, 20 percent of whom were African American. Participants consisted of 100 female athletes; 30 (30%) of these student athletes identified themselves as African Americans.

Drawing from methodology used by cultural anthropologists, data were collected through fieldwork techniques which included participant observation and structured and unstructured interviews. As a participant observer, I attempted to understand and describe the cultural reality of African American female athletes from their native perspectives (Geertz, 1977; Spradley, 1979, 1980). Although initially distant from the athletes, I encountered little resistance to gaining entrance into the many dimensions of their lives (Stratta, 1992).

Using inductive data analysis, varying degrees of cultural expression became manifest during this ethnographic study. In this article, I summarize suggestions that pertained to changes in the system of intercollegiate sport. These recommendations, which are based on and address the cultural needs of African American female athletes, were targeted toward three groups:

* the team,

* the institution, and

* the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Findings

Recommendations to the team, the institution, and the NCAA emanated from the experiences and interactions of African American athletes with teammates, coaches, administrators, and other athletic personnel in a predominantly white sport system. As a participating investigator, I was able to analyze and synthesize life events that additionally contributed to the overall findings of this study.

Although findings are presented to improve the quality and meaning of sport experiences for African American college athletes, many of the recommendations can be applied to sport programs at all levels of competition, with varying degrees of racial composition, and to programs in which boys and men compete.

The Team

Suggestions pertaining to the team were directed primarily at the behaviors of teammates and their fans who generally were unaware of the cultural existence and needs of African American female athletes. Moreover, many of the white athletes viewed and interacted with people from other cultures on the basis of stereotypes. In addition, I determined from interviews that many white athletes were unaware of the cultural impact their actions and words had on people of color in general, and on African American female athletes in particular. For example, when attempting to lead teammates, white athletes would frequently disregard the historical cultural relations between white and black people. Traditionally, black people have been "told" by white people what to do, how to do it, and in general, what constitutes reality. Given these historical tensions, African American athletes admitted that at times they were treated "like slaves" rather than as teammates. Being unaware of the fact that white people have historically had the "power" to define contextual relations and reality resulted in cultural group tensions on the team when African American athletes attempted to offer alternative perspectives.

White teammates also ignored and/or disrespected the cultural existence of African American athletes. Moreover, white athletes were unaware of their white privilege. For example, when socializing before or after a sport event, African American athletes were expected to enter "all white" contexts; however, white athletes would not consider entering a racially mixed or black context because of the "inherent dangers" associated with these social settings. …

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