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  • Isabella Cuellar

Why is there an overrepresentation of the black community in professional sports?

By: Isabella Cuellar, 11°

Take a look at the most known professional sports teams. Really look closely at every player. What do you notice? Do they have something in common or is there a certain pattern you see? According to a study done by Interbasket, an international basketball forum that raises “personal awareness of basketball around the globe” in 2020, 81.1% of the players in the NBA are black. “This percentage of Black players has increased by 6.7% since 2015 when the Racial and Gender Report Card was released by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.” Why are there no black Elon Musks or Tim Kooks, but there are a lot of Lebron Jameses and OBJ’s in professional sports? Why does this happen and why is there an overrepresentation of African-American players in professional sports?

Many may argue that the high numbers in overrepresentation are due to black genes, musculature, or so-called “black excellence”. But that is just a poor justification and misconception people from other races have to place African-Americans in a socially constructed box.

Why do white men make up 49% of the engineering and scientific occupations in the U.S and black men only make up 3%, according to the National Science Foundation? Are black people just meant to make their profession a sport? Can this gap in profession be explained by the fact that blacks “are just such naturals for sports”? And, does this mean whites are supposed to work as engineers and scientists because they are a better fit for it?

Multiple socioeconomic factors have to be taken into account when trying to figure out this matter, such as poverty rates and an overall lack of opportunities for black demographics. A study performed in 2020 by the National School Boards Association concludes the following about African- Americans in education, “We tried hard to find a significant improvement for Black students in the Condition of Education 2020. Yet, what the data demonstrate is disappointing and discouraging.” The poverty rate is still the highest for Black students. Furthermore, according to an article by The Guardian, “Four out of five black students take out loans to go to college. They are also the most likely to hold the most debt – with an average debt burden of $28,692 as compared to $24,742 for white students, according to a 2012 report by the Center for American Progress.” This means that seeking higher education to “get out of poverty” might not be the most viable option for black demographics.

The following are multiple points concluded by studies and research made in 2020 by the Center for American Progress regarding black students and eduaction. “A lack of internet access at home has become a barrier for Black students to learn… A high percentage of Black students attend high-poverty schools… The disproportion between Black students and Black teachers has not been improved… The achievement gap between Black and white students has not been closed… The school dropout rate keeps high among Black students. Graduation rates and college enrollment rates remain low among Black students.” The evidence above suggests systematic inequality and lack of opportunities for black kids is still prevalent and is a factor that affects their professional life later on.

Also, a study performed by the United States Census Bureau in 2019 shows that “the share of blacks in poverty was 1.8 times greater than their share among the general population.” Just think about how it’s more common to see a black kid “playing ball” at the community park than seeing them attend an ICT class. A basketball is cheaper than a computer, that is why a lack of income is closely related to the overrepresentation of the African-American community in sports. The lack of educational opportunities leaves black kids more time for less money-consuming activities than kids who have access to complete and supplementary extracurricular education and focus their time and energy on things that make them competent to pursue higher education, for example in the tech field.

Just take a moment to read a couple of the most notorious players of the NBA and NFL’s childhood stories to see the pattern of challenging childhoods, some of the most notorious examples are Michael Oher and Colin Kaepernick.

Born into the projects of Akron, Ohio to a teen mom at the age of sixteen, Lebron James had a difficult childhood. His mother struggled to provide for him and neither had a stable home which led him to have to live with a foster family for the most part of his elementary. He was surrounded by bad examples like his mother’s boyfriend who was imprisoned for selling drugs. James missed 100 out of 162 days of school at the age of 8, and sports were an outlet and safer alternative than guns and drugs. Unfortunately, the chances of making sports into a professional career are as little as 1.2 - 1.6% according to the NCAA. So what would’ve happened if Lebron didn’t “get lucky” and the chances were not in his favor? It’s possible he would have succumbed to his violent surroundings and wouldn't be who he is today. This is the sad reality for many young black males who are stigmatized and susceptible to their conditions.

So, black overrepresentation might be a problem when looked at it from this socioeconomic point of view. It seems that people of other races need to be constantly placing African-Americans and minorities in stigmatized groups and boxes. All of the professional players of other races apart from black have also sacrificed many things to get a position in the professional leagues. But this stigma that blacks are “just born” with a talent for sports must be eradicated. The world must look beyond this social construct and provide support and tools for young black people to explore their full academic potential so they can be whatever they choose to be and not what society expects them to.

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