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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Racism in the 4 Major Sports Leagues in North America: Like a dirt swept under the rug

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With almost a century-long history of Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL), it’s no surprise that things have changed when viewing these 4 leagues, talent-wise, status-wise, and entertainment-wise, especially race-wise.

It has been a long time ago when athletes were not taken seriously as people of status in North America because they were only seen as a source of entertainment and income, and in the early 1900’s racism was so rampant and widespread, especially in the USA, that when Black People started joining and gaining success in the sports world, there was so much backlash from White People, shouting racist insults from the stands, mocking in the streets, even assaulting and throwing objects at the black athletes, but that didn’t stop the Black Community in chasing their dreams of playing the sport they love and are good at.

Racism became less and less of an issue in those 4 sports leagues thanks to the players who stood up for equality and anti-discrimination in the past, but it is far from gone, it was just not given that much attention and more like swept under the rug. But with the recent trend of the BLM Movement, athletes and former ones are now sharing their experiences regarding the discrimination and racism they faced, and now it seems like that the dirt under the rug is finally piling up and is starting to seep out. Let’s look at the history of each league regarding racism.

National Hockey League (NHL)

The NHL in its early days used to be a mono-ethnic league which consists of primarily Canadian players, but over the years it is now a league that spans over the whole continent of North America.

The color barrier for the league was broken by Willie O’Ree on 1958, but racism remains evident, just this past decade there were lots of incidents, one was when Wayne Simmonds, a black player, had a banana thrown at him, and one of the most recent one was when K’Andre Miller’s Zoom video chat was hijacked and the perpetrator suddenly started hurling racial slurs towards Miller. The good thing about the NHL is that the higher ups and the player, which are 95% white, are now standing up to fight against racism and are very vocal about it, even before the BLM Movement.

Major League Basketball (MLB)

In the MLB, one of the most famous events regarding racism happened when the late, great Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the league after 50 years of segregation in Baseball. His life-story became so popular that it was made into multiple movies, the most famous ones being, “42” and “The Jackie Robinson Story,” in which it showed the racism and discrimination Jackie went through before, during, and after making it big, and how he handled it by instead of taking revenge, he used nonviolence and his talent and status to challenge the idea of segregation. He is also commemorated in the MLB through the “Jackie Robinson Day” in which on that one day, April 15, all players, coaches, and managers on both teams, and the umpires, wear Robinson’s uniform number, 42, in respect and reverence to his contribution in the fight against racism in the sport.

Jackie Robinson

With the rise of BLM, the remaining 6.7% of Blacks in the League told that they have found support in some of their white colleagues, but there are still some traces of racism in some players and management.  

Right now, racism is still in the MLB, but it is much more subtle, existing mostly in in locker rooms, in the form of unintentional slurs and jokes directed mostly against Latinos.

National Football League (NFL)

The NFL has a long history of racism as any other sports had, from the anti-black propaganda in 1934 wherein there were no black players in the NFL until after WW2; to the Kenny Washington incident in 1946 that caused franchise owners to become furious for allowing a black guy to try out and get a contract; and to one of the most infamous case of racism and discrimination in recent sports memory— Colin Kaepernick and his teammate Eric Reid of the San Diego 49’ers kneeling during the National Anthem as a protest against the mistreatment of racial minorities in USA, which caused Kaepernick and Reid to receive backlash from the media, fans, and even the League itself, to the point of Kaepernick being blacklisted from every team.

Colin Kaepernick and his teammate Eric Reid of the San Diego 49’ers kneeling during the National Anthem

However, today the narrative has been turned around because of the BLM Movement. Kaepernick is now being considered a hero for standing up when no one else would in the day and age of Social Media where image is everything. Martellus Bennett even criticized some of the white players for only speaking up today when there is a safety net brought by the BLM Movement.

National Basketball Association (NBA)

The NBA has some of the most well-known black athletes in the world, from Bill Russell to Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James, but before the blacks dominated the basketball scene, their race faced so much discrimination to the point that some of the notable players in the 60’s like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell became an outspoken ambassador for the league and joined the Civil Rights movement of ’64 that helped the players after them to receive the liberties and freedom they enjoy up to the present.

One of the most recent issues that circulated around the league was when former Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, was banned from the NBA and was forced to sell the team because of his racist comments that can ruin the league and the franchise.

An issue that was swept under the rug was when Thabo Sefolosha, a Swedish-South African player of the Atlanta Hawks was injured by a Police Officer which effectively ended his season with a separated ligament due to constant attack on his legs after an altercation that Thabo wasn’t a part of initially, it was reported but no one dared to speak up about it after.

An activist holds a “Black Lives Matter” signs outside the Minneapolis Police Fourth Precinct building following the officer-involved shooting of Jamar Clark on November 15, 2015. Photo: Tony Webster tony@tonywebster.com 

Now with the recent Boom of the BLM Movement, many stars shared their voices in social media, and the NBA helped by allowing the players participating in the Bubble League to put messages on their jerseys regarding the issues of racism.

There were so many issues regarding racism that were hidden from the mainstream media and the casual fans, but with the help of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the dirt swept under the rug is now being discovered slowly and the voices of the oppressed are now louder than ever before because they know that they can now speak up without receiving so much backlash.

Sports is honestly one of the possible platforms that can help stop racism, and it is our job as fans and practitioners of any sports to help stop racism and educate others to see the people around them as someone that matters as well.

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