Sporting Nationalisms: Identity, Ethnicity, Immigration, and Assimilation

By Mike Cronin; David Mayall | Go to book overview

Sport and Ethnicity: some introductory remarks

MIKE CRONIN and DAVID MAYALL

In 1997 Tiger Woods, the professional golfer, joined an elite band of modern sports people. He succeeded at the highest level at an early age in taking the US Masters title, he signed sponsorship deals with the major corporations and countless column inches were dedicated to him in the world's media. One issue which featured prominently, almost to the point of obsession, was Woods' ethnic origin. It was deemed noteworthy and newsworthy that a black man was succeeding in what had previously been a predominantly white man's game. In addition, Tiger Woods was not simply black. He was, in his own words, 'Cablinasian': a quarter Thai, a quarter Chinese, a quarter white, an eighth native American and an eighth African American. Yet despite this clear mix of distinct cultures and immigrant groups that had come together to make the man and golfer that is Tiger Woods, he has clearly and publicly stated that he believes his ethnic background should be of no significance:

This statement is to explain my heritage. It is the final and only comment I will make regarding the issue. My parents have taught me always to be proud of my ethnic background… The media has portrayed me as African-American, sometimes Asian. In fact I am both… The critical point is that ethnic background should not make a difference. The bottom line is that I am an American…and proud of it. Now, with your co-operation, I hope I can just be a golfer and a human being. 1

Is Woods correct in his assertion that the ethnic background of sports men and women is unimportant and should not impact on the way they are perceived by others, or indeed in the way they construct themselves?

The aim of this volume is to explore and challenge the central argument which is put across by those such as Woods who attempt to champion the view that sport plays no role in the creation and recognition of identity. Sport has undoubtedly served many different functions historically and continues to reflect and shape society in the contemporary era. 2 We would suggest, however, that there is a common theme which runs through the history and current practice of sport. Put simply, sport is a vehicle, in many

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