In these times of race and cultural sensitivity, it often seems as though the sports world lags behind with subtle political incorrectness gaffes. Take for instance how sports reporters regularly refer to players — regardless of the skill or characteristic being described, most media people will make race/culture congruent comments. So if an African-American QB is quick and elusive, you are much more likely to hear the broadcaster compare him to Robert Griffin III over Johnny Manziel. This is very interesting as the characteristics being described are independent of race/culture (i.e. elusiveness), yet these type of sports comparisons happen regularly if you listen close.
There have been stories written about the adjectives used to describe the differences between races in sports, and the results are quite eye-opening. When you examine the data collected, physical attributes like “raw” and “athletic” are often used to describe black athletes, while white athletes tend to see more comments centered around intelligence and leadership. Of course, there are no empirical data to support that these characteristics match the races they are often attributed to, but we still see these description differences exist in 2014.
Often the descriptors are very subtle, and I wonder if the sportscasters are aware they are doing it — for example, just the other night while watching a baseball game I noticed that an announcer talked about the batting stance of a black hitter, and the comparison he made was toward another black hitter. Of course, this could have been just chance, but if it wasn’t it is interesting to note that even batting stances — which aren’t at all correlated to race — are still talked about in race-congruent ways.
Critics will immediately jump to these noticeable race/gender congruent comparisons and suggest that racism is more rampant than we ever thought, while social/behavioral scientists looking at data might not see it as racism, but instead a “teachable moment” that might be more of an unconscious error than a deliberate act of discrimination. In either case, it is important that we recognize the frequency in which these comments are made, and try and do better in the future and make comparisons based on the actual attribute(s) being discussed, and not whether someone else of the same race posses those qualities.