Discrimination in sports has been a running theme across the biggest sports in the United States – National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Soccer (MLS) – and outside of it.
There are well-documented incidents of racism in the world’s most popular sport, football. Recently, a lot of questions have been raised about inequality. And this is in the playing structure, the coaching setup and the executive level of sports.
Let’s examine what black representation in sports looks like across the NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS, football, tennis, golf and formula one.
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1. National Football League – NFL
When the NFL, formerly the American Professional Football Association (APFA) was formed, black people participated in it. However, in 1933, league owners locked black players from the sport, a clear indication of racism.
The Jim Crow laws stuck around until 1946 when the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington to the team, and he became the first-ever black athlete to sign a professional NFL contract and play in the league.
Today, 54.6% of players in the NFL are African American which signals great progress from the early days. That said, when it comes to other areas like management and executive positions, the numbers shrink greatly. For example, only 36.3% are assistant coaches and 10% work in administration.
2. National Basketball Association – NBA
Since black players first joined the NBA in 1950, their numbers have steadily grown. By 2021, 71.8 per cent of the players in the league were African American.
In fact, some of the best basketball players revered today are black. The likes of LeBron James, the late Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Russel among others.
When it comes to the coaching department, the NBA reported in 2022 that half of the teams (15) have black coaches.
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3. Major League Baseball- MLB
By the time Jackie Robinson retired from the sport in 1955, 89.9% of the players were white. Unfortunately, USA Today reports that the number of black players in the league hit its lowest this year. Only 7.2% or 58 of the 945 players are black.
Disheartening as it may be, the vice president of the Players Alliance and special assistant to the commissioner CC Sabathia says that there are programs in place to ensure a rise in the number of black players in the sport.
4. Major League Soccer- MLS
Soccer is growing in popularity in the United States. But, it lags behind when it comes to representation with only 24% of black players in Major League Soccer (MLS). Black players in the league are no longer waiting for the authorities to tighten loosen ends. An organisation by the name Black Players For Change is working on increasing the representation of black players in the league.
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What Does Representation of Black Players Look Like in Other Sports?
In European football, the English Premier League has 43 per cent of black football players and only 4.4 per cent of black managers.
While other leagues like the French, Italian and German have some black players, it is not clear how many there are. As of 2022, GQ noted that the number of African players in Europe topped 500.
When it comes to tennis, which is popular in the United States, Europe and the world, black people are a significant minority.
The same pattern repeats itself in golf. Only 9.03 per cent of the players are black compared to 66.21 per cent white players. This is despite the dominance of one of golf’s greatest player Tiger Woods.
In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton is the only black driver that has ever raced in the sport in its 73-year history.
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What Is Being Done to Bring Equality in Sport?
After the death of George Floyd in 2020, sports was one of the industries that were forced to assess its approach to racism. This led players in different sports to take certain actions.
For example, players in the English Premier League decided to ‘take a knee’ to raise awareness of racism.
In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton who is the only black driver on the grid led drivers on taking a knee.
In the United States, some players in the NFL decided to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead and took a knee during the national anthem.
Executives in different sports have pledged to work with players in combating racism by reforming and adding policies that will lead to punishments.
Individual athletes have also taken the initiative and set up organisations that will help advance inclusivity. Lewis Hamilton set up The Hamilton Commission to help drive inclusivity in UK motorsport.
Social media bosses are being pressured to protect their users and put measures that can help identify racists hiding behind the keyboard.
Different organisations have been formed, for instance, Kick It Out in the UK advocates for fairness and equality in sports.
Will discrimination in sports be eliminated and will it ever be free of racism? Has sport taken sufficient action to combat these vices? What’s your take?
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