Sports Stereotypes in Media: How They Are Portrayed in Film

Stereotypes and discrimination have been in our society since this country’s founding. In our current society many of these stereotypes are projected through one of our most popular entertainment outlets, sports. Whether it’s through unequal media coverage for women’s sports, or the perception of individual’s talents based off of their skin color, stereotypes are alive and well in popular culture. Fortunately, many films have addressed these stereotypes and have been shown to be false. Today we will look at films like 42, and The Little Giants  that represent prime examples of stereotype breaking athletes.

In this digital age we as a society have become very impressionable. We have been persuaded to believe many things, stereotypes being one of the most prominent. Whether it’s gender inequality, or a form of xenophobia, social media and popular culture have influenced us, specifically through our consumption of sport. However, through film we have been shown that these stereotypes are unfair and inaccurate.

Racial Inequality

The notion that one individual has an advantage in any physical or intellectual aspect simply because of their skin color is a stereotype. But what exactly is a stereotype? Louisiana State graduate Li describes it as “a description of the over-generalization of characterizations about the members belonging to a social group” (Li 293). Or in other words, the assumption that one person is the same as another based on the fact they are similar in appearance. As noted above, stereotyping has been an issue since this country’s founding. The film 42 takes a closer look at Jackie Robinson, and how he dealt with not only stereotyping, but racism as well. For those unfamiliar with Jackie, he was one of the most influential athletes in the history of sports. He broke the race barrier in baseball, and became an advocate for racial equality during the 1940s and 50s. One of the people Jackie had to deal with in the film was a man by the name of Ben Chapman, a player for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball organization who said to Jackie “Why don’tcha look in a mirror? This is a white man’s game!” (42). The film 42 gave its audience a great example of how stereotypes affected the perception of athletes. During the mid 1900s, African-Americans were looked upon as the inferior athlete because of their skin color. 



(Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in the film 42)

I wanted to reference this quote because it reflects well to how we view athletes in sports today. However, in our current athletic landscape, people are usually saying the opposite. That African-American’s have some sort of athletic advantage, whereas whites are smarter.

Charles Barkley is a former NBA player and NBA hall of fame inductee, he is also a black male. When he was asked about the African-American community he said, “(When) you are speaking intelligently… you are acting white” (Barkley). This quote from the video was in reference to how African-Americans talk to one another in schools. This idea that whites are more intelligent and blacks are more athletically gifted is a stereotype that has been so generalized, it even has minority kids in school believing it as a fact about themselves.


This is our core problem, that in our day to day lives stereotypes get thrown around like fact, without question. Referencing back to the film 42, it makes us question these so-called facts. When talking about a box score in the film our narrator said “it doesn’t say how big you are, or what religion you follow it does not know how you voted, or the color of your skin, it simply states what kind of ballplayer you were on any particular day” (42). That’s the point, that your ability doesn’t rely on who you are, or what you look like. That on any particular day, you can be whatever to want to be, and nothing should tell you otherwise.

Gender Inequality

There are a lot of physical differences between a man and a woman. The sports media tends to focus on the strength of men, and what accomplishments they can achieve with their strength, whereas women are more sexualized, and coverage for even professional female athletes is more about what they look like. It’s like this because“from an early age men and women are socialized differently. Men are taught to play sports or watch sports by many different agents such as family, peers, and schools, while predominantly women are taught that sporting activities are only for men” (Trolan 216). From the very beginning women are not supported in taking up a passion in athletics. And even if they end up taking part in sports they are encouraged to take part in sports that “emphasize grace and aesthetic appeal” (Trolan 217). Even during my research of film I found scarce examples of female athletes who performed superior to their male counterpart. One example did shine through, and it was encouraging because its target audience is that of kids around and under the age of 12. Becky “Icebox” O’Shea, a classic tomboy cliche who builds her own team to crush her uncle’s peewee football team in the film The Little Giants. Although her character is fictitious, we still see her battle very real stereotypes set up for young girls her age. Whether to be a member of the team, or to simply be a cheerleader. Becky makes the conscious decision to play, and she leads the team to success. It’s rare to find film or any media platform that celebrates the success for female athletes who choose to be more than just figure skaters or swimmers. Just like men, women should have all opportunities afforded to them when it comes to athletics, even if they aren’t considered ‘graceful’ by popular culture.



The two films 42 and The Little Giants are two great examples of individual’s who decided to break their own respective stereotype, allowing them to play a game they love. For Jackie, it was overcoming the hatred and fear people shared with allowing a black man to play in the major leagues. Whereas Becky had to show that she should be respected just like any other athlete, regardless of her gender. Both had different circumstances, and both lead to different outcomes. However, these two films shared one main aspect in common, they gave the audience a chance to see that these ‘commonplace’ stereotypes are unfair and inaccurate. That unless we stop stereotyping between one another, they will never go away.



Learning Moments

  • I really learned a lot from the commercial analysis week. I thought it was very interesting to take a closer look at an Adidas commercial and analyze why they decided to make certain decisions it the casting of certain actors. I believe it helped aid me when I was trying to decided why one of the directors I chose, chose to portray things in a certain light during this “Looking into the Popular Culture Mirror” post.
  • I also learned how helpful using Portland State’s Library can be when looking for appropriate primary and secondary sources. I always found it hard to find the sources I need by simply Googling for them, but with the use of the tools on PSU’s online library, I feel that I will now be more prepared for future assignments. It even aiding me in finding the main secondary sources I cited for this post.



Works Cited

42. Dir. Brian Helgeland. By Brian Helgeland. Prod. Thomas Tull. Perf. Chadwick Boseman,  Harrison Ford, and T. R. Knight. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.

Barkley, Charles. “Charles Barkley with Anthony Garano.” 914 WIP Philly Radio. WIP.            Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 23 Oct. 2014. Television.

Li, Weidong, Louis Harrison, and Melinda Solomon. “College Students’ Implicit Theories on Ability in Sports: Race and Gender Differences.” Journal of Sport Behaviour (2004): 291-304. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Little Giants. Dir. Duwayne Dunham. By James Ferguson and Robert Shallcross. Prod. Arne Schmidt. Perf. Rick Moranis and Shawna Waldron. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.

Trolan, Eoin J. “The Impact of the Media on Gender Inequality within Sport.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 91 (2013): 215-27. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

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About Ben Gordon

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon I decided to attend Portland State University when I first graduated from Grant high school. It is my intention to go to the University of Oregon to finish up school and get my bachelors degree. I am a huge fan of Oregon sports (Ducks, Blazers...) and consider them to be my main interest outside of class.

3 thoughts on “Sports Stereotypes in Media: How They Are Portrayed in Film

  1. Hi Ben,
    Right from he beginning you caught my attention. I found it interesting how you distinguished the real world reality perception of sports media such as inequality with race and gender. Then I found it even more interesting how you said that the media is helping with these stereotypes. I never really thought of that but then it got me thinking that pop culture media such as movies really do a good job in making sure that these issues are addressed and that what they portray to people is not discrimination. But it had me thinking that maybe because its just the movie industry and they want to “look good” so they do this to “look good”.

    You did a really good job in analyzing Charles Barkley interview. This is a really good one that you used to pull in all of your thoughts and how it’s not about your religion, ethnicity, height it’s all about your handwork talent.

  2. Hey Ben,
    I thought you did a great job with your post. You do god job of briefly explaining your artifacts and then connecting them back to your thesis. I like how you used your artifacts to show how pop culture is branching out and trying to break the common stereotypes of sports. Nowadays, it think racial inequality in sports is nearly gone. When you look at the NBA, the majority of the players are African-American. Of course, that isn’t to say sports are free of racial injustices (just look up Donald Sterling). As for gender inequality, sports still have a long ways to go. Women’s leagues aren’t advertised or aired even close to the men’s leagues. Another film I’ve seen that focuses on women in sports is “A League of Their Own” about an all female baseball league. Anyways, great post!

  3. Hi Ben,
    I was really interested in the topic you chose, and you did very well in your post! I agree that there are so many stereotypes and inequalities among the athletic world. I, myself, was a nationally ranked and recognized athlete (soccer), playing every level there is, from club, to varsity in high school, to Olympic development programs. It is incredibly true the lack of attention women get in comparison to men. The factor that really shocks me is the fact that the women’s team usually surpasses the men’s and have been doing extremely well, and better in comparison.
    Really great job!

    Thanks for sharing!

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