'Race' and Sport: Critical Race Theory

'Race' and Sport: Critical Race Theory

'Race' and Sport: Critical Race Theory

'Race' and Sport: Critical Race Theory


Critical Race Theory provides a framework for exploring racism in society, taking into account the role of institutions and drawing on the experiences of those affected. Applied to the world of sport, this framework can reveal the underlying social mores and institutionalised prejudices that have helped perpetuate those racial stereotypes particular to sport, and those that permeate broader society.

In this groundbreaking sociological investigation, Kevin Hylton takes on the controversial subject of racial attitudes in sport and beyond. With sport as his primary focus, Hylton unpacks the central concepts of 'race', ethnicity, social constructionism and racialisation, and helps the reader navigate the complicated issues and debates that surround the study of 'race' in sport. Containing rigorous and insightful analysis throughout, the book explores key topics such as:

  • the origins, applications and terminology of Critical Race Theory
  • the meaning of 'whiteness'
  • the media, sport and racism
  • anti-racism and sport
  • genetics and scientific racism.

The contested concepts that define the subject of 'race' in sport present a constant challenge for academics, policy makers and practitioners in the development of their ideas, policies and interventions. This innovative and challenging book is essential reading for anybody looking to fully understand this important subject.


At a recent conference for black parents and educators, I shared the platform with a colleague who leads a youth advocacy programme. In the midst of a discussion about institutional racism and the education system’s perpetual ability to define black young people as ‘less able’, ‘less motivated’ – as just plain ‘failures’ – a delegate argued that the youth shared some of the responsibility because of their ‘low aspirations’. My colleague begged to differ: ‘there are a lot more brain surgeons than pro basketball players in the world, but the boys I work with still want to be in the NBA [National Basketball Association]. It would actually be easier to be a brain surgeon but they’re sold the dream …’

The point was well made. Racism operates in multifaceted and complex ways. Sport provides a highly visible area where the prowess of black athletes (built through training and dedication) can simultaneously offer an apparent site of ‘success’ while supporting the crudest of racialised stereotypes. The endless hours of commitment and struggle are magically reinscribed as a ‘natural’ talent or gift by teachers who view black bodies as fit for physical rather than academic excellence. The racial structuring and commodification of sport – not least as a multi-million-pound enterprise – provide a vitally important context where racism works (sometimes subtly, sometimes more crudely) to protect particular interests while maintaining the racial status quo.

In this landmark study Kevin Hylton makes a powerful, sophisticated and original contribution to critical scholarship on the racialised dynamics of sport. The book deserves a wide readership, not only within its specialist field but also more generally, because it represents one of the first full-length applications of critical race theory (CRT) in the UK.

CRT is a movement of activist scholars who seek to expose and resist the workings of racism in contemporary society. Its origins lie in US law schools and the ground-breaking work of writers such as Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Williams. Since the late 1980s, CRT has expanded and now finds a place in numerous disciplines including economics, anthropology, sociology and education. In each of these fields critical race scholars are asking radical questions that trouble the accepted assumptions and push for action to resist and reshape race inequities. Although CRT started in the US, it . . .

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