Tomato or Tama’to: The Different Representations Among Athletes

In a study done at the University of Indiana, a researcher found that that white and male students believe that black student athletes are not as intelligent as the typical college student and that they take easy courses to maintain their eligibility. Additionally, another stereotype about African American athletes  is that they are not academically prepared to attend college, are not as intelligent and do not receive grades as high as those received by white athletes, and are generally temperamental. Conclusively, African American and female students believe that African American athletes are more competitive and have a different playing style than white athletes. While the study found these stereotypes about Black College athletes to be a typical occurrence across the U.S in NCAA athletics, are they particularly true?

With every stereotype comes some truth, but with that truth one must take it with a grain of salt. African American athletes are often  defined as “gifted individuals with superior athletic abilities” but as a result, are deemed  hyper-masculine “Brutes” that are often animalistic in their actions thus portraying themselves as uncontrollable and unpredictable characters. Yes, while this may be partly true due to genetics, it is also important to understand the cultural institution that have plagued African-Americans since their very existence here in america, the institution of slavery.

For Example, At the beginning of the 20th century, whites were considered to be superior to blacks, intellectually, aesthetically and even physically. By the 1930s, this logic began to shift as blacks are viewed as potentially physically superior to whites in matters related to sports. Jack Johnson played a pivotal role in challenging these ideas of white supremacy when he became the first black heavyweight champion of the world, which is supposed to be the epitome of superior physical strength.

Continuing on these perceptions, the Media continuously perpetuates these ideas and can be seen in the the April 2008 cover of Vogue Magazine. The magazine generated some controversy over how NBA star LeBron James is depicted with supermodel Gisele Bundchen. In the picture, LeBron has striking similarities to the classic ‘King Kong’ image carrying off Fay Wray, a racially loaded simian metaphor that draws upon white fears about black male hypersexuality and violence. The magazine cover metonymically plays with these deeply racist symbols in using one of the world’s most famous black men to portray a ferocious gorilla carrying off a white woman.

While these instances ( Jack Johnson and Lebron James) are not quite the examples within the college arena, it is pivotal in understanding the how these stereotypes affect college athletes. As stated in the first paragraph, although the stereotypes that are typical for African American athletes in college are somewhat true, it is necessary to look at many aspects that affect and shape african American athletes such as socioeconomic  dispositions and resources available that make them strong candidates as students before athletes first.

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One Response to Tomato or Tama’to: The Different Representations Among Athletes

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    As mentioned in class, there is no biological basis for race. Thus, how can we argue that there is a genetic basis for the argument that African Americans are better at some sports or more physically able than others? This is a really complex and tricky problem that you are exploring. It is very worth talking about, but we also must be very careful with the assumptions we make. You do a great job of pointing out the historical precedents that affect popular views and imaginings of the black body. This course can be a great opportunity to delve more deeply into these examples to consider how and why we want to think of black athletes in this way. The examples of Jack Johnson and LeBron James are excellent examples to explore in greater depth.

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