The Perception of African American Athletes

As a child I was excited by guns, gangs, and basketball to be completely honest. I loved seeing various movies that dealt with gangs I felt a thrill watching them illegally carry guns and be subject to illegal activities because of their upbringing. I guess you can say I could somewhat relate due to the neighborhood I grew up in. I never truly got in deep with the gangs or drug dealing but I did associate with them, but I had a different out let then most of my friends that are currently incarcerated to this date. Athletes and gangs seem to have somewhat of a correlation, but not all African American Athletes are subject to things I grew up around and the stereotypical image that pop culture displays them as in various movies.         Growing up I loved the basketball movies that had and African American athlete in it, because I felt that I could relate, but I was unaware of the microscopic messages it sent. When it comes to African American Athletes in the media, you can say that we are shined in a negative light. Multiple movies, sports ads, and television shows highlight serotypes and influence the audience to perceive the group in a negative manor. African American Athletes are seen as lazy, crime ridden, uneducated, and sexual deviants through various movies, sports commentating, sports advertisements, and a communication study dealing with the way they are perceived.

On September 6, 2013 Netflix released a low budget movie called American Milkshake by David Andalman and Mariko Munro. A regular audience would have perceived this movie as funny while having a comedic theme. This movie is about a Caucasian kid who wants to make the basketball team so he can be considered cool in the eyes of his peers. However, I watched this movie and analyzed the way athletes were perceived, so I discovered various perception of how this group is seen. Furthermore, in the first couple of minutes of the story the main character, Tyler Ross, referred to the basketball team (all African American) as “Thugged out.” Many people seem to associate this group with thugs and criminals even though it is an incorrect stereotype. Throughout the movie they showed the African American athletes being subject to crime, alcohol, marijuana, sex, and pregnancy. After the main Tyler was accepted on the team he would part take in stereotypical actions that the Maple Ave kids were subject to. For example, he got one of his girlfriend’s pregnant, started smoking weed, drinking alcohol (stereotypical 40oz of Malt liquor), and dressing the same as his teammates. He even started sagging his pants. This showed his acceptance to the group. Furthermore, this movie shows how a typical Caucasian perceives the group. This group of athletes is subject to various illegal activities and stereotypical actions that influence anyone who takes part in watching his movie. These stereotypes do not exist in every African American athlete, yet the media seems to display us as such.

download         One of my favorite movies growing up showed how African American Athletes were portrayed. The movie Above the Rim, which was directed and created by Jeff Pollack, Benny Medina showed a large amount of negative connections. As a kid I loved his movie because its main focus was basketball and Tupac Shakur (famous Artist) starred in the movie. Tupac played a character that was a drug lord and showed how he tried to get a high school basketball to join him affecting his journey to play college basketball at Georgetown University. This movie shows close ties to basketball, drug dealing, and gangs. The story explains how a high school basketball player diches the street life for basketball. This seems to be an uplifting story about an African American athlete making it out of the hood but there are more sides to this story. Furthermore, a common theme in all of these movies discussed a lack of education. For example, Duane Martin was not shown in the classroom one time which suggest that he doesn’t attend class on regular bases. I found this interesting that they did not display him in a classroom one time in the movie. It is interesting because education is very important in an athlete’s life, because if you don’t go to class you will not play basketball, simple as that. Furthermore, they focused on showing the negative parts of his life which was his close ties to gangs, drugs, and lack of education which makes for a better movie, but influences the audience to stereotype this group in a negative manor. Furthermore, they never showed his father, or even suggested that his father was in his life which goes along with the stereotype that African Americans live under a single parent household. I grew up with both my parents in my life the whole way, so I hate when individuals associate single parents with this group.

While research I found a study that explains how different races are talked about and perceived during sport events. This study explains that African Americans are not portrayed in a negative manor in sports commentating; in fact they are subject to the most positivity opposed to any of the race. Don Sabo, Sue Curry Jansen, Danny Tate, Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Susan Leggett published the study “The Portrayal of  Race , Ethnicity , and Nationally Televised International Athletic Events“ in order to find out how races were perceived in sports commentating. This study described African American athletes as “so strong,” “athletic skater,” “great jumping ability,” “not an imposing physical figure,” “very great leaping ability,” “tremendous amount of physical talent.” This study found that Black athletes were least likely to receive negative comments opposed to the other races. Furthermore, this contrasts the negative perceptions that African American Athletes are portrayed in a negative light to a certain extent. These positive comments can also influence these athletes in a negative way.

Huma Munir, a professor at the University of Texas explains how the media portrays African American Athletes as sub human is affecting their life. He explains how media is stereotyping these athletes creates higher standards than others. The media shows this group of athletes as sub human by comparing how high the jump, how long they stay in the air, and overall athleticism in comparison to others. Being singled out for athleticism is being carried over to the classroom where that are expected to show the same sub human actions but transferred to knowledge. Which creates problems, for example and average student has more time to study opposed to an athlete because athletes have various activities that they have to do along with their academic responsibilities. These responsibilities are practice, travelling, games, etc. These things affect their social life and how much time they are able to input for education. I have a hard time having a social life while putting so much time into basketball and my education. I am able to manage my time when I can get my homework done, excel in the classroom, and excel on the court, but my social life lacks. Athletes tend to have a hard time managing time and the expectations that are held over their heads affect them greatly.  Furthermore, this group is not always perceived as negative in the media, but the positive perceptions can translate into a problem for this group.                                                                                                                                                                                          50 Cent stared in an uplifting movie that implemented various stereotypical actions of a typical African American athlete. This movie explained how a college athlete took a bad turn due to a disease obtained out of nowhere. This story was based on a true story and had a great ending. On the other hand, it showed how much partying, illegal activity, lack of classroom motivation, and various sexual partners throughout the film. Something that stuck out to me was how many different sex partners he had. Sex seems to be a common theme in movies that deal with this group. Furthermore, this film is another example of how these stereotypes influence how people perceive African American Athletes. As a teenager a lot of my peers and family members often ask me about the number of sexual partners I’ve had and when I respond they don’t believe me. From personal experience, individual believe that this group is sex crazed. Moreover, it is thought to be common for a member of this group to have numerous sexual partners and have baby mothers instead of wives. This seems to be a line which ends with single parent homes. Some may think that it’s just TV, or a movie, but it’s more than that. Individuals are being influenced by these movies that portray them in a negative fashion.

Media has a great effect on majority of the world. In today’s society, individuals rely on media for just about everything and it consumes a great amount of time of the average individual. In my opinion, individuals who watch shows and movies are influence by subliminal messages and stereotypes. Furthermore, the way pop culture is portraying African American Athletes are affecting this group’s growth. People think that this group is lazy, crime ridden, sexual fiends, gang bangers, un-educated, and other various negative associations. I also question why they make such a difference between African American Athletes and White athletes. Most movies that have white athletes make them seem superior. They show them in class, and using an educated vocabulary. They are both athletes and are required to do the same amount of studying in order to play the sport but why does one group lack educational scenes in movies? Moreover, these media based stereotypes carry over into the real world. Individuals perceive us the same way we are perceived in these movies, TV shows, sports ads, and sports commentating. This has a larger role then what they think of us, they also change the way we are treated in the class room, public, and in the gym.


3 thoughts on “The Perception of African American Athletes

  1. Hi Bryce!

    I thought your essay was really interesting, particularly the idea that African American athletes are sub-human. I had never thought about that before, but I can definitely see it now. It’s like they are measured like machines, without much or any credit given for who they are as people, and as you said, that can be harmful. It’s like the world expects a certain, higher standard of physical capability and at the same time denies them respect as people. I liked your essay because it made me aware of a perspective I hadn’t considered before. Thanks.

  2. Hey Bryce,

    I really enjoyed reading your essay especially the fact you mentioned that people believe African American athletes have the advantage in terms of physical capability and I see this as a compliment. However, sometimes I feel that media tries to show us this is a disadvantage and makes fun out of it. What got my attention is that African American are portrayed as uneducated and I agree with you. If some people of a community are not educated, this does not cover the entire community.

  3. Bryce,
    I read your draft and this is much more polished than your earlier draft. Good job. I liked the various artifacts that you brought in as examples of how black athletes’ image suffers negative stereotypes. I found it interesting that you are concerned with both negative and often an exaggerated positive performance for black athletes as somehow super-human. I agree with you about how much our views of the world are affected by the media.

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