The prevailing issue of racism in professional and collegiate sports
A dominant ideology that strings together athletes, coaches and fans is the notion of sport,”being pure and good,” an arena separate from corruption. Unfortunately the FIFA administration, ruthlessness of fantasy football (see John Oliver’s rant) and continued socioeconomic inequity on the field have destroyed this desired sociological reputation. Although we yearn for sport to be the branch of culture free from prejudice, it appears that issues particularly those driven by racism are reflecting back onto the spheres of our athletes in a forthright manner.
Sports history is defined by the moments where athletes such as Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Thommie Smith overcame obstacles grounded in the colour of their skin and ignorant mindsets. Although these athletes’ successes dramatically contributed to a transformation in the perception of differing ethnicities, the use of racial slurs to eliminate an individual’s power during a competition persists. In North America we see this most clearly at the collegiate and professional level.
Last year, Donald Sterling former owner of the NBA’s L.A. Clippers was recorded saying to his significant other, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is ... not to bring them to my games.” These astonishing statements were followed by an (obvious) protest by his players, fan uproar and lifetime ban from the NBA issued by commissioner Adam Silverstein alongside a $2.5 million fine.
Racism in sports is hardly left behind the scenes. In fact its often displayed in the most public manner: social media. Following a game winning goal by PK Subban against the Boston Bruins in 2014 a flood of discriminatory tweets flood the internet on behalf of Bruin fans to the point that the n-word was trending.
CIS is renowned for producing individuals driven equally by character, athletic and academic success but even this group of reputable leaders are not segregated from incidences of racism as experienced by X-men hockey player Trey Lewis. When Trey is not in Antigonish he resides in Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick (his mother is Mi’kmaq). Playing major junior and in the AUS Lewis has encountered slurs aimed at his native roots, experienced mostrecently in a game against the University of Moncton. When asked how the scenario with the opposing player evolved Lewis states, “After a whistle in the game against Moncton I was talking to one of the Moncton players when another one of their players skated by calling me a *bleep*-ing Indian. It wasn’t the smartest decision because the linesman again was right beside us and heard the comment, (Trey politely substituted the word fucking for a kinder option).” He continued by describing his response to the remarks, “I turned to see if the linesman or ref had heard it, and then I’ll admit I overreacted and was quite mad at the player, but he was kicked out of the game, so nothing more came of it. I wouldn’t hold a grudge or anything, usually if anything like this happens I understand that it is a heat of the moment decision, and more often than not the player is not truly racist.” Although this athlete displays an uncanny level of sympathy that can only be associated with incredible maturity he doesn’t deny that ignorance flows from the ice to everyday life regarding his heritage, “I have experienced more or less uneducated comments, for example someone upset that Natives get a treaty day holiday, or someone thinks it’s unfair that Natives have reduced taxes. I think this simply comes out of lack of education, throughout grade school and such we’re not taught nearly enough about Aboriginal histories and issues. This can lead to “accidental” racism in my opinion.”
There is no denying racism is prevailing throughout Western society via police brutality, continued cultural appropriation and absurd Islamaphobia propaganda on Facebook. However our idea that the world of sports is isolated from this cruel, disempowering language is wrong and must be acknowledged if we desire to one day completely abolish racism.