Racial Stacking in Football

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Social Constructs Behind Racial Stacking and Stereotypes in Football

Sport as an institution has seen many of its records and barriers shattered over its countless years of existence. For instance, sport has seen Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and Billie Jean King defeat former champion Bobby Riggs in “The battle of the sexes”. One barrier that still exists in sports today is racial stacking and stereotyping. The social phenomenon of racial stacking and stereotyping within the institution of sport has profoundly hindered the development and participation of particular races in different dimensions of sport. Racial stacking is a term coined by sociologists which refers to the over or under representation of certain racial group members in particular positions on a sports team (Woodward, 2002). Some instances of racial stacking seen in football include the majority of quarterbacks, centers, and middle linebackers being Caucasian, as well as the majority of defensive backs, running backs, and wide receivers being African American.

An explanation as to why racial stacking occurs is the existence of stereotypes in football. A stereotype is an exaggerated generalization of a group that can be both positive and negative. Unfortunately, even in today’s society stereotypes are still prevalent parts of institutions, especially sports. The stereotypes that affect sports can be both positive and negative, and in most cases can be a significant determinant in who excels in their particular sport. In football, African Americans are thought be to be both aggressive and athletic, as Caucasians are viewed as intelligent and hard working individuals. These are some examples of positive stereotypes in football. Some negative stereotypes that can relate to football include African Americans being unintelligent and lazy, as well as Asians being too small to play the game. Although stereotypes are not true statements about groups of people, they will not be dropped anytime soon as sport is an institution that is typically reluctant to change. Although it will be difficult, in order to implement change in the future we must first understand where these stereotypes came from and how they impact the institution of sport, in this case football. By analyzing the stereotypes of African Americans, Caucasians and Asians in football, society can look to try and eliminate the close mindedness of those who believe in such labels.

To begin with, the race that makes up the majority of football players on all levels including the National Football League (NFL) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is African Americans. In the National Football League, the largest stage for football in the world, during the 2008-2009 season, the African American race made up 67% of the entire league (Lapchick, 2009). During the same year as those statistics were released, African Americans only made up 12.8% of the entire United States population (Bureau, 2008). So the question remains why African Americans make up such a large percent of the National Football League when they only attribute to nearly 13% of the population. When asked to answer this question the general public may often attribute these findings to stereotypes. For example, the sport of football requires individuals to be both athletic and aggressive, traits in which are commonly associated with African Americans. Although there are justifiable social reasons to explain these statistics, people still want to attribute the success of African Americans in sports to biology. The stereotype is that African Americans carry genes that make them biologically more athletic than other races. This theory dates all the way back to the 1936 Olympics in which Jesse Owens put on the single greatest individual track and field performance ever in sports (Schaap, 2009). Following Owens domination of the field in 1936, questions arose as to how African...
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