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How African Americans change Racism through the Football Industry and Sports

How African Americans change Racism through the Football Industry and Sports


Racism has been inveterate in sports for a long time. Moreover, it has been especially rampant in football that started as a predominantly white mans sport. Historically, blacks werent just allowed to play in any position they wanted to. However, this tendency has changed recently to a point where the majority of NFL players, specifically 70% of them, are African Americans. Nevertheless, various challenges for African American football have been identified such as, for example, being denied access to major leadership positions and decision-making both in college and professional sporting. Such football players lack sufficient financial support to develop their skills and competencies fully; they experience an unfair treatment as compared to their white counterparts. Pioneer players in the football industry, for example, Doug Williams, who was restricted to play quarterback (a position regarded as a white man’s), were most severely affected by such challenges since initially, racism was indeed rampant. This decline of racism has seen positive effects to both football and society as a whole, while the impact of sports can be felt inclusively, without relating it to a particular race.
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Impact of Sports on Society

Sporting events have played a key part in the advancement of societal development throughout history. Sports is beneficial to all people regardless of their age and skin color in many ways. Thus, it has encouraged a fitness culture in society as young people emulate athletes, whom they consider role models. Such an attitude has resulted in healthier society, as fitness is considered to bring numerous health benefits. Moreover, sports brings financial benefits to communities as well since, for example, “in the United States beginning from the year 1990 to 2010, approximately 100 premier level professional teams in Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice hockey have spent roughly USD 25 Billion through the construction of new stadiums or renovation of the existing ones.” Approximately 70% of financing for all construction works comes from the public sector, with the remaining portion being funded by private entities and wealthy individuals who control teams. Sports is a billion dollar industry that has a massive positive impact on local economies. This income is generated from the sales of tickets to spectators, endorsements, advertisings, sales of royalties, and tourism. An example is the New York City Marathon that has brought USD340 Million to the city in 2010. Similarly, nearly every national event in relation to a particular sport, for example super bowl in football attracts huge benefits to the hosts. This places sports as one of the major sources of income in any economy. At the same time, this industry has also created employment to many people in sport-related positions such as coaches, players, technicians, and clerks. Sports is also credited with bringing together people from various races, which creates a sense of unity, and Promotion of community relations whereby teams and leagues form community relations departments and charitable groups to support the society. . This has truly improved the outlook of sports in addition to its being useful to the community.

African American Icons in the Industry

In modern America, football has become extremely popular sports featuring key African American players. This success can be attributed to the first black pioneers who ventured into football despite the rampant racism and discrimination that had been witnessed in the early 1900s. Among notable black athletes, who had helped break the barrier of color and race and who could be credited with the integration into the popular American sports, was Charles W. Follis. This first African American football player began playing professionally in 1901 after joining Wooster College, and he was later signed to Shelby Blues. However, he had faced numerous challenges on and off the pitch due to his skin color. He constantly heard taunts and racial slurs from fans. Moreover, Follis was a primary target from the players of the opposing side who would deliberately play rough with him, which resulted in his multiple injuries. In 1906, he suffered an extreme injury that ended his football career.

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Frederick Douglas Fritz Pollard was not the first African American who played in the National Football League (NFL). However, he had made great strides in his struggle for the popularization of football among his race by becoming the first African American head coach of a football team. He attended Brown University where he played halfback for the university football team and was the first black person to play in it. He ventured into professional football playing for Akron Pros, a team that he led as a co-head coach in the NFL championship in 1920.

Pollards promotion to the head coach of the Hammond Pros came during the time when black people were heavily discriminated. Thus, he faced huge obstacles in his work, including financial constraints for the team and hindrances by the administration, which prevented him from coaching the team efficiently. As the result of numerous difficulties he had faced due to his racial identity, Pollard decided to start his own football team, the Brown Bombers. However, it was destroyed by the Great Depression of 1938. Eventually, Fritz ventured into other businesses and produced a first black-owned newspaper in New York, The New York Independent, from 1935 1942.

Among other famous football players was Robert Marshall. Like Fritz, Marshall was among the first black people to play in the NFL, and his career began at the University of Minnesota in 1901. He was considered among the best players at the time. Kenny Washington was the first African American to play in an NFL team, the Cleveland Rams. James Harris was also the first African American to frequently start at quarterback.

Despite the achievements of African Americans in the sport that was considered to be white-dominated, black players were still susceptible to the waves of racism. In 1956, Jim Parker of Ohio State became the first African American to win the Outland Trophy, a prestigious award issued to the best lineman. In 1960, some of the most racist universities in the South started losing their leagues to integrated teams, and since 1970, the majority of awards in the NFL have been won by African Americans. All these milestones prompted the change in football, eventually leading to a decline of racism.

Challenges Faced by African American Football Athletes and how They Dealt with Them

At the beginning of the NFL in the 1920s, the league had only a few African American players. Between 1934 and 1946, none of the NFL teams had such players because they had unofficially established a policy against signing African Americans. The explanation, issued by club owners and team coaches was that there were no good black players in the league, which was far from the truth. Kenny Washington was among the best college stars during that period, but he always went undrafted. This forced him to settle for the less significant Pacific Coast Football League, and he won titles every year while playing in it. His breakthrough only came much later in 1946 when he was signed by the Cleveland Rams after the teams relocation to Los Angeles. This came after black local newspapers urged teams to push racism aside and integrate.

African American players were the targets of opposing teams players, whereby they would receive more foul plays, which led to injuries, as compared to their white counterparts. A clear case was Charles W. Follis who had received serious injuries from rivals, which ended his football career. Fritz Pollard stated that black players were denied sufficient financial funding to cater for their transport and accommodation during tournaments that were held in different states and they would be forced to use their personal finances to meet the expenses. The players were also prone to hate mails and constant booing from spectators due to their skin color , which contributed to the decline of their confidence in the field. The earnings of black athletes was also noted to be lower than those of white athletes, which was a sign of blatant racism in football. Moreover, exposure to racism has been shown to cause unhealthy psychological responses, such as high blood pressure7 , which was unhealthy especially to an athlete who was expected to perform in the field. Similarly, racism caused low self-esteem, thus resulting in underperformance. Long-term effects included depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

Armed with this knowledge, African American players were advised on the ways to handle racism manifestations. Thus, they were taught to react calmly, without giving their emotional response. Lobbying groups have also petitioned against the incidences of racism, experienced in the football world. For example, Redskins, the name used by the Washington football team since 1933, faced significant backlash since this name was considered racist. However, under the current governance of the NFL, thousands of African Americans have been allocated major slots, while the trend of hiring African American coaches has been observed. Thus, nowadays, racism has significantly dwindled, although some players feel it is still practiced at low levels.

Demographics of Fans and the Level of Racism in Football

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In the past, the vast majority of football fans were white. This was a natural phenomenon because the majority of football players were white as well, and most football fans preferred watching players of their own race. This further fueled racism since many people of African-American origin avoided stadiums and social places where football matches would be aired since the chants from fans, who were majorly whites, could always lead to racial slurs. However, recently, there has been a rise in the number of black spectators during the NFL matches due to the increasing number of African Americans players. This has created integration and a platform to protect players from hateful abuses. Therefore, one should state that the demographics of the fanbase is directly connected with the racial composition of teams and racism, experienced by fans and players.

Segregation of Sports in the Past and Present

Discrimination and segregation have greatly declined in football since the previous century. In the past, these phenomena were blatant and open in teams as well as among the audiences of sports events. However, in recent times, apparent discrimination is no longer present when choosing players. Thus, in the 2016 games, for example, no white person was considered in the runner position for all 32 teams of the league. Various trends have also recently emerged in the present, further focusing on inclusivity as compared to what was experienced in the previous century. Sports has evolved into an important global culture, as seen with the massive attendance of the NFL games and other activities like the World Cup. The sports industry also incorporates numerous forms of games that can be viewed and enjoyed by all people around the world regardless of their gender, age, or cultural beliefs. Fans have been actively involved as the industry players have realized the great impact that fans and spectators have in terms of ticket sales and income generation. Various activities have established broad channels of communication, especially through social media where fans issues can be solved. In the present, technology has also greatly affected the sports industry since more people have access to games through their devices and they are able to participate in the action irrespective of their race. Numerous clubs and leagues have also created websites and other online services where everyone can subscribe to and receive regular updates. Thus, people do not need to attend stadiums where one may be subjected to racism since technology has enabled them to watch games live from their devices.


Sports has created a platform, in which people come mingle freely regardless of their cultural or racial backgrounds. The presence of African American players in the league and the accolades given to them will have a great contribution to in encouraging a young crop of African American players to participate in the sport. Subsequently, more African American fans will come to the games, thus creating a further boost to their interests in the sport and promoting equality. From the past challenges with racism, football has seen a positive transformation lately, as teams have included more African Americans players and playing positions are not allocated based on race. This transformation may not have been planned in the earlier years, but it has resulted in numerous benefits to society and to the game itself. The presence of different races in the sport has encouraged a feeling of inclusion to the minority population and eliminated the white mans sport mentality. This will help significantly in building society with no discrimination but with equality.

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