Racial Bias Observations: “Transracial Ideal” in Sport

Racial attitudes play a significant part in the way sports events are discussed and athletes are perceived in society. For the last decade, these perceptions have been gradually changing, and the concept of the “transracial ideal” has emerged, which refers to people who are regarded as role models equally appealing to members of all races (Newman 72). However, the “transracial ideal” is still unattainable in 21st century American sports because racial bias is still prevalent, as shown by the analysis of the modern sports media.

The concept of the “transracial ideal” is discussed by Roberta Newman concerning marketing and advertising, with Derek Jeter being cited as the most prominent example of this trend. She defines the “transracial ideal” as an all-American marketing icon, which does not represent any particular race and “can relate to everyone” (Newman 72). This definition is too narrow, restricting the role of athletes only to their advertising power and regarding race as simply an obstacle for an athlete to achieve national recognition. In a broader sense, the “transracial ideal” can be defined as a public figure whose personal qualities and characteristics surpass the common racial prejudices and are equally appealing to people of all ethnic groups.

In modern society, the idea of race is still connected with a lot of prejudice, and the “transracial ideal” is hard to achieve. According to Alexander, although racial attitudes are no longer the norm in sports and are not tolerated, they still often “influence how sportswriters discuss sports issues involving race and ethnicity” (81). In the 2000s, the quarterbacks Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger were both implicated in violent criminal activity. In his analysis of the media portrayal of the two players, Coogan (129) states that Michael Vick “received greater scrutiny and more unfavorable content in the media” than Ben Roethlisberger because the former is black. This case illustrates that even in sports, the stories of race and crime are presented with a certain degree of bias, and people of non-white races are portrayed unfavorably.

Even the perceptions of successful athletes are often shaped by their attitude towards their race. When Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record, the media response ranged from indifference to outright hostility (Alexander 80). This was partially explained by his personality and the accusations of him using steroids, but also was significantly shaped by race prejudices (Alexander 87). It can be concluded that for a non-white person to become a “transracial ideal,” they need to not only possess an appealing personality but also to overcome the negative racial attitudes, which are still widespread in sports and society in general.

In the analyzed video on the subject of racial bias, the matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes is discussed and compared to Michael Jordan playing against LeBron James in the NBA finals. Throughout the video, no racial framing devices were detected, and although players of different races were compared against each other, they were all presented in an equal manner. The reasons that the commentators provided for comparison were not associated with race and referred exclusively to the facts, such as the age of players, the number of awards won, career statistics, and the style of play (“The Brady vs. Mahomes Super Bowl”). It can be concluded that either the perceptions of race have profoundly changed towards equality, or the sports channels have become more cautious in expressing attitudes related to race. Overall, the recent trends indicate that the “transracial ideal” is still unattainable, but the attitudes are gradually shifting towards athletes being perceived based on their personal qualities and achievements rather than race.

References

Alexander, Lisa Doris. “I’m the King of the World?: Barry Bonds and the ‘Race’ for the Record.” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, vol. 17, no. 2, 2009, pp. 80–89.

Coogan, Dan. “Race and Crime in Sports Media: Content Analysis on the Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger Cases.” Journal of Sports Media, vol. 7, no. 2, 2012, pp. 129–151.

Newman, Roberta. “Driven: Branding Derek Jeter, Redefining Race.” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, vol. 17, no. 2, 2009, pp. 70–79.

“The Brady vs. Mahomes Super Bowl is Like Jordan vs. Lebron in the NBA Finals – Greeny | Get Up.” YouTube. 2021. Web.

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