Featured Subject: A Look at Racism in Sports

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We examine racism, racial inequality and representation in sports after recent events have continued to keep the subject matter in the headlines.

There were so many deserving items we considered for kicking off our feature segment … from impact of COVID-19 on high school athletics, to the ethics of collegiate scholarships, to the lack of female representation in the high school coaching ranks.

And while we promise to cover those topics in future shows, we want to start with a term that has dominated the news since May…

Racism in Sports

Systemic racism

Admittedly that’s a very broad topic and there are endless inroads in discussing it.

Specifically, I want to talk about racial inequality, and we’ll do so through the lens of sports.

Shocking… I know.

A sports show looking at a societal issue from a sports point of view… it’s about as unique as the name John. And, just to be clear… that’s not very unique… seeing as there’s been 4.5 MILLION John’s in the last 100 years in the United States. 4.5 million… imagine Panama… a nation of 4.3 million people… where everyone is named John… or I suppose… Jim, because John is simply too long.

Back to on topic… racial inequality in sports is anything but new. Minority athletes have often been ahead of their time, persevering through discrimination to raise awareness for critical issues. And once again, the sports world did not disappoint.

Incredibly, professional athletes from the WNBA, NBA and MLB all effectively postponed games.

Professional Sports

And while these professional athletes are actively aiming to provide a catalyst for change externally, minority athletes are still battling for racial equality internally.

Looking specifically at the four major sports leagues, the parity, or severe lack thereof, is grim.

Take the NFL, a league where – according to a 2018 article in Quartz (which is fairly non-biased economic news outlet), data from “The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports” shows 70 percent of NFL players in 2017 were black. And yet, at this moment… only 3 of the 30 head coaches are black.

Rooney Rule

Yes, it’s true, the NFL has the Rooney Rule, put in place to effectively force team owners and executives to interview minority coaches for vacancies. But interviews and actual consideration are two entirely different things.

In a recent article by statistics website FiveThirtyEight, the hiring level of minority coaches of all position types is plummeting… saying:

“It’s a discouraging trend and a major decrease from the 25 percent level seen in 2017, which at the time was hailed as a sign of the progress made by minority coaches in their decades-long struggle for recognition and influence on the sidelines. (The all-time high-water mark for coaches of color was 27.1 percent of games, set during the 2011 season.)”

Far too often, it seems the Rooney Rule is the fast food sandwich you’re advertised… and the application of the rule is the microwaved mystery meat that’s supposedly chicken.

At a high school level, the situation isn’t exactly any more ideal. The 2010 census data for Naperville shows the population is 72 percent white… meaning 28 percent of the city identifies as a minority. And yet, a quick scan of high school coaching lists show far less than 28% minority representation.

The situation has slightly improved recently. Just this past year, Metea Valley hired two black head coaches to lead its boys and girls basketball programs.

But now it’s time we circle back to one of those 4.5 million Johns born in the US over the last century.

John Thompson.

John Thompson died this past week at the age 78. He was a Hall of Fame basketball coach, leading Georgetown University to a NCAA Division I championship in 1984… and in doing so, became the first black head coach to raise that trophy.

He was a legend… but for more reasons than just his prowess on the sideline.

He changed lives. Don’t take it from me… take it from Hall of Fame basketball player, Allen Iverson

Those are some powerful words… and they punctuate the importance for minority athletes to have powerful role models who have experienced what it is like to be a minority.

The point I’m getting at is this… John Thompson didn’t just start at Georgetown. He spent six years as the head coach at St. Anthony High School in Washington D.C. He launched himself from the opportunity that many of our local coaches have right now. He changed lives for the better because he was put in a position too… a position currently dominated by white, male coaches.

That’s why it is vital that coaching opportunities, and quite frankly all opportunities, are offered equally… for the sake of the coaches… and the athletes who depend on them.

For more content, visit our Naperville Sports Weekly page

Abraham, S. A. (2020, August 26). Boycott: NBA playoff games called off amid player protest. WBMA. https://abc3340.com/news/nation-world/bucks-players-dont-take-the-court-for-nba-playoff-game-08-26-2020-205250582?fbclid=IwAR27HovhNiuXi-bbT51IKJW9f7UFUrOaYFVmlg_MUGUrUfXsGAeJazwrozs

Gasaway, J. (2020, August 31). John Thompson took a chance on hapless Georgetown … then worked a miracle. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/29778123/john-thompson-took-chance-hapless-georgetown-worked-miracle

Goldstein, R. (2020, September 2). John Thompson, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach, Dies at 78. Https://Www.Nytimes.Com/#publisher. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/31/sports/ncaabasketball/john-thompson-dead.html

Milwaukee Bucks [@Bucks]. (2020, August 26). Full statement from the Milwaukee Bucks: [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Bucks/status/1298763794986995718

OfficialHoopHall. (2016, September 10). Allen Iverson’s Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Speech [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x67RQKknl-g

Owens, J. O., & Vincent Goodwill, V. G. (2020, August 26). NBA playoff games postponed Wednesday after Bucks strike in wake of Jacob Blake shooting. Yahoo. https://sports.yahoo.com/bucks-players-dont-take-court-for-tipoff-vs-magic-amid-discussions-of-nba-player-boycott-201058529.html

Paine, N. (2020, January 14). The Rooney Rule Isn’t Working Anymore. FiveThirtyEight. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-rooney-rule-isnt-working-anymore/

Population by Country (2020) – Worldometer. (2019, January 1–December 31). [Dataset]. WorldOMeter. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/

Sonnad, N. (2018, May 28). The NFL’s racial makeup explains much of its national anthem problem. Quartz. https://qz.com/1287915/the-nfls-racial-makeup-explains-much-of-its-national-anthem-problems/

Top Names Over the Last 100 Years. (1920–2019, January 1–December 31). [Dataset]. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/century.html

U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Naperville city, Illinois (Version 2010). (2010). [Dataset]. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/napervillecityillinois