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By S.A. Prince
Have you ever heard somebody utter the stereotype, “Every Black person is good at sports?” Or better yet, have you ever been playing a pick-up basketball game (with mainly non-blacks), and the black person is one of the first to get picked, even though nobody has ever seen him play?!
Obviously every black person isn’t good at sports. One that isn’t is writing this article you’re reading right now!
As a society we don’t like to ascribe stereotypes and with good reason. Generalizations are unrealistic and make us feel uncomfortable. Still, can we all admit that these stereotypes didn’t appear out of thin air? They came from somewhere, and if we objectively think about it, this particular stereotype’s roots are easily found.
- Moses Fleetwood Walker broke the Major League Baseball’s color line, not Jackie Robinson. (1884)
- The first black players in the National Basketball Assocoation were Chuck Cooper, Earl Lloyd, and Nat Clifton. (1950)
- Kenny Washington was the first black to sign a contract to play in the NFL. (1946)
Before then we didn’t see blacks in professional sports, and in particular with baseball, blacks didn’t become a fixture until after Jackie Robinson (1947). Prejudice kept them out, and prejudice would’ve kept them out. To be frank, many whites held onto their prejudice and rigid nature while professional sports were being integrated.
Economics is what facilitated blacks integration into professional sports. Blacks took to sports well. I honestly can’t tell you why, but as teams diversified, many of them began performing better. Winning games and winning championships equals increased popularity and higher revenue.
Not only that, but integrating a sport also meant integrating the fan base. By adding a black athlete these sports increased their fan base overnight. All eyes and ears, black and white, were on Jackie Robinson and Major League Baseball at his 1947 debut.
The same could be said of Yao Ming’s NBA debut.
But what if these newly integrated black players were “busts?” What if they just couldn’t make the cut? If blacks couldn’t economically benefit the professional sports, then they would have been phased out as quickly as they were brought in. The leagues would have returned to being all-white. Maybe you’d have seen a black player here and there, but the influx of black athletes entering professional sports would’ve greatly diminished.
Seeing blacks integrated into professional sports, and watching them play for your favorite team, was many white‘s initial experience with a black person. Getting acquainted with Jackie Robinson as he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers was likely the first time many whites opened their hearts and minds, eventually looking beyond their prejudice and seeing a black as a human being, as an equal.
So, when you hear the stereotype “Every black person is good at sports,” that’s because for an entire time period the only personal relationship a white had with a black was through athletics. We’ve come much further than that now, but remnants of those days linger in our culture still.