Race and ethnicity

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In reviewing race and gender in sport we probably should apply a critical theory approach. According to Coakley: “Critical theory is based on the notion that sports cannot be understood or analyzed apart from the specific historical and cultural circumstances in which they exist.” In studying race and gender in sport there are several historical social forces that need to be reviewed so that we can better understand why we pay considerable attention to race and gender in sport.


Pre Civil War Era

Slaves engaged in a number of sportive activities:



Horse Racing
Incentives: freedom and privilege

Motivation: success

Examples: a number of jockeys in horse racing were African American; Tom Molyneux, a Virginia slave, in 1800 became a successful heavyweight boxer.

Post Civil War Era

Following the Civil War Social Darwinism took rise in American society. This was a social philosophy calling for survival of the fittest. This philosophy contended that certain groups in society should not be allowed to integrate with white society. This philosophy resulted in the Eugenics Movement spearheaded by Francis Galton, a nephew of Charles Darwin. This movement called for restricting immigration and segregation of the races.
The rise of Jim Crow legislation: separate but equal laws. Jim Crowism refers to the color line that existed in American society.
A paradox: given the conditions available the opposite should be the case. Emancipation should have provided greater opportunities but in fact the opposite prevailed.
The color line had an effect on sport: in 1867 the National Association of Baseball Players decided to exclude all blacks from their organization. Although there were several African-American in baseball such as Moses Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler, owners never allowed African-Americans to enter the major leagues until 1947.
The Kentucky Derby: in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 14 of the 15 jockeys were African-American. By the second decade of the 20th century the Kentucky Derby disallowed African American jockeys.
Separate “colored” leagues were created in baseball. There was however exhibition games between the separate baseball leagues. The period between 1900-1950 there were approximately 436 interracial games. Whites won 168; blacks won 268.
Breaking the color line:
Football, 1945, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode sign with the L.A. Rams of the NFL.
Baseball, 1947, Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/jrhtml/jrhome.html

Basketball, 1950, Chuck Cooper signs with the NBA

Baseball hires first African American manager in 1974
NFL hires first African American coach in 1989


It was not until 1972 with the enactment of Title IX that women were given any opportunity to participate in school and college organized sport. The prevailing view was that women should not take sport as seriously as men and that due to physiological differences between the sexes women were not suited for intense competitive sport. These views were perpetuated in the form of the Anti Competition Movement. This movement embraced a philosophy that women should use sport as a social event as opposed to competitive behavior. This view was perpetuated by women physical educators who were taught in physical education teacher training programs that were usually dominated by men (hegemony). It was contended that due to physiological and psychological differences between men and women, the sport programs for females should emphasize “ladylike” behavior. Thus, Play Days were the form of sport programs offered females.

Social gathering of women from different colleges to get together for social interaction and low emphasis on sport competition (1940-1960). Activities included ladylike sports such as tennis, golf, and swimming.
Female Athletes who were Pioneers in Sport

Eleanora Sears Pre WWI





Glenna Collett Golf
Helen Wills Tennis
Gertrude Ederle, in 1926, at the age of 19, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel
Babe Didrikson 1930-1950
Track and Field – 1932 Olympic games


Title IX highlights pp. 238-243
Proportional in relation to the attendance of the school

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