I’m about to watch the Women’s Final Four and I’m looking forward to it. During the last couple weeks I’ve watched a lot of basketball—like many of you. When I watch I can’t help myself but watch with a critical eye. Examining sport with a critical eye is the focus on this blog. I will try to use that critical lens to challenge the common sense ways we think about sport, to raise questions about deeply held assumptions, note inequalities as well as significant similarities and differences, and to point out connections between our love of sport, and the larger social world in which we live, work and play.
When I watch sports I listen to the commentators and the coverage for patterns of gender, class and race logic language that perpetuate inequalities. (I don’t believe sport commentators purposely try to reproduce these patterns, but the effect is the same nonetheless). Tonight the match-up between Stanford and UConn will provide a perfect breeding ground for race logic to flourish—but I hope I’m wrong.
Race logic is the idea that athletic success for White athletes is attributed to intelligence and hard work, while athletic achievements for Black athletes is attributed to toughness, speed, power and athleticism. Race logic is a way of thinking and web of beliefs that people use to give meaning to the world and make sense of their observations and experiences. As colleague and sport sociologist Jay Coakley writes, “There is no evidence showing that skin color is related to physical traits that are essential for athletic excellence across sports or in any particular sport.” Today, UConn Basketball Head Coach Geno Auriemma stated in an interview race logic does indeed exist in the women’s basketball and that it is “bull” and “unfair”.
In the Final Four in St. Louis, the “smart” and mostly White Stanford team matches up with an “athletic”, predominately Black UConn team. Listen for examples of race logic and comment on them here. The problems with race logic are many, but to name a few: 1) race logic is form of racism, and 2) it is based on stereotypical overgeneralizations, and 3) the athleticism, speed, talent and toughness of Stanford and the intelligence of UConn gets erased. An NCAA Division I athlete has to possess both athletic talent and intelligence to succeed at the highest level of collegiate sport. Geno got it right…race logic is crap. Good luck to all four teams tonight that are filled with young women who are highly talented basketball players AND who are also intelligent.
If you want to examine your knowledge about race and sport, take the White Men Can’t Jump and Other Assumptions About Race & Sport quiz.