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Racism still exists in the world of sports

Fans and athletes must fight against racism before and after the game

Photo illustration of a hand raised in the air, representing Tommie Smith and John Carlos' historic act in the 1968 summer olympics.

Photo illustration of a hand raised in the air, representing Tommie Smith and John Carlos' historic act in the 1968 summer olympics.

Racism is an issue that has terrorized people in the U.S. for hundreds of years and is still at large, finding itself deeply embedded within sports.

The racism that remains within the sports we love can be seen through collegiate basketball athletes. Just this year, ASU's Torian Graham flipped off the UA crowd after they allegedly yelled racial slurs. This isn’t the only time this has happened, as about three years ago Marcus Smart, who was playing for Oklahoma State at the time, jumped into the stands and shoved a Texas Tech fan after he had allegedly yelled a racial slur at Smart

These racial attacks happen all the time, and the issue may be even bigger than we realize since many players block it out or don’t bring it up to the media.

“I think in those instances you’re seeing race used as a weapon to belittle an athlete,” said Guy Harrison, who is researching race and gender in sports media for his Ph.D in journalism and mass communication and is a member of the Black Graduate Student Association at ASU. “In the case of race, that athlete has no control over the fact that their skin is darker than other people, and yet that is the weapon that fans choose to use.”

Oftentimes we see athletes stick up for causes they believe in. LeBron James and other athletes have been known to stand up and speak out about issues in the black community.

However, instead of being praised for these actions, athletes are often attacked and told to “stick to sports.” 

“It’s primarily a privileged majority that are telling these athletes to stick to sports to, you know, just shut up and play,” Harrison said. 

“And the reasoning behind that is well sports is an escape, like sports and politics don’t mesh. Like people don’t watch on an NFL Sunday and turn the TV on and expect to hear about politics, they want to escape all that. However, for a person of color or a woman there is no escape, even if you sit down and turn the TV on.”

It isn’t right to expect athletes who have come from communities affected by these issues to simply be silent.

“A lot of these athletes have come from, in many cases, the very same neighborhoods where a lot of these shootings, these acts of police brutality (happen), these athletes are coming from those same communities,” Harrison said. “So to me, you can’t fairly expect an athlete to forget about those things and hit the court or hit the field and not even talk about it.”

While many people see sports as just a game, it factors into so much more than simply that. Sports have broken barriers in equality while also symbolizing fights against oppression for decades

“There’s that old saying that art imitates life,” Harrison said. “I think so it can be said for sports as well. Sports imitate life.”

Racism has been a complex problem for a very long time. Harrison said that as complex as the situation is, it can only die with one solution.

“I’ve felt all along that (forms of oppression) only go away when people inside the positions of power take it amongst themselves to take an active role and bring the oppression down,” Harrison said. “Racism is only going to end if an increasing number of white people take a role in bringing it down.”

Harrison said that white NBA coaches like Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have done a great job on speaking out on racism. Coach Popovich spoke up against white privilege and said that the world is systemically against people of color in the sense of opportunity. 

Coach Kerr has spoken out against President Donald Trump and his “racist, misogynist, insulting words.” People should follow in the lines of these coaches who are doing everything they can to speak up, look out and have their players backs in issues like these.

Racism has haunted the country for centuries, but there is only one way to move forward. People of all races, especially white, need to let others know that racial slurs and oppressive actions are not okay and that we as a country will no longer sit idly and allow these things to happen.   

Reach the columnist at or follow @kynan_marlin on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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