Feature Articles on African Americans in Sports Illustrated in the 1990s

By Lumpkin, Angela | Physical Educator, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Feature Articles on African Americans in Sports Illustrated in the 1990s


Lumpkin, Angela, Physical Educator


Abstract

This descriptive study examined whether the coverage of African Americans in the feature articles in Sports Illustrated during the 1990s was representative of their participation levels. Nearly half of the articles featured European Americans; about one-third featured African Americans. More African Americans were featured in basketball, boxing, and track and field, while European Americans were featured more often in all other sports except ice hockey in which internationals predominate. The length of feature articles for African Americans was slightly longer than those for European Americans; there were more pictures in the articles about European Americans. That African Americans were not featured in articles proportionate to their participation levels in the most popular team sports could perpetuate societal perceptions of the hegemonic domination of European Americans in sports.

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African Americans in the United States have been discriminated against for centuries. They have been enchained, excluded, stereotyped, and mistreated by those who perceived them as inferiors. Over time, these overt acts of degradation have been replaced by more subtle marginalization. African Americans have had to battle against the standard being European American, negative attitudes toward their ethnicity, and a lack of respect for diversity. While some have touted sport as the great social equalizer (i.e., Jackie Robinson's integration of modern professional baseball), deeply engrained biases and prejudices have dissipated slowly.

Sport has provided greater opportunities than found in some other areas within society. In the most recent census, this country's population included 75.1% European Americans and 12.3% African Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Yet in 1999, there were 13% African Americans in Major League Baseball (MLB), 78% in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and 67% in the National Football League (NFL) (Lapchick, 2005). That the numbers for African American athletes in basketball and football were disproportionately higher in comparison with national demographics seemed to verify that the best athletes were selected for teams, regardless of their ethnicity or race.

A very different picture characterized the top management positions in the NBA, NFL, and MLB in 1999 when between 84% and 100% of these were held by European Americans (Lapchick, 2005) (see Table 1). The number of European American coaches and top administrators was much higher than national demographics. These numbers seemed to support the claim that hiring practices in professional team sports were discriminatory. That is, these teams failed to hire African Americans, especially given the number of athletes in these sports and number of former athletes who moved into coaches and management positions.

Lapchick (2005) also reported that the number of male athletes who competed within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1999-2000 was different from the national demographics. For example, African Americans comprised 55%, 39.5%, and 6.6% of the basketball, football, and baseball teams respectively at the NCAA Division I level, while the percentages for these same teams for European Americans were 34.6%, 51.3%, and 83% respectively. Since 80%-90% of the top administrators and head coaches in intercollegiate athletics were European Americans, it could be argued that European Americans primarily hired individuals who looked like them.

Given the popularity of professional and collegiate football, basketball, and baseball and the greater number of African Americans competing at the top levels in these sports, it could be assumed the sports magazines would highlight their achievements in numbers proportionate to their presence in these sports. It would logically follow that coverage in the top sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, would favor African Americans. …

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