Racism and Sports: When the Game Becomes More than a Game

By Macee Buckley:

A Connecticut high school basketball game has sparked controversy over the tolerance of racist remarks within the athletic community, from professional to high school. A theme that is all too familiar as athletic spectators are allegedly using racist remarks as a way to jeer and ridicule opposing teams.

The most recent incident happened in a basketball game between two Connecticut towns. Video shows a black player from New Britain, a racially diverse town, at the foul line ready to take a shot. The opposing team, Wilton, is a predominately white and wealthy town. In the video, their students are yelling to distract the New Britain player. Opposing teams yelling to try to distract the other is not a rare sight in basketball. However, while the New Britain player was at the free throw line, fans from Wilton allegedly started chanting “Blackface, Blackface” to the black athlete.

The comments launched an investigation and Wilton officials determined that their fans were yelling “Leg day, leg day” to the New Britain player, suggesting that he did not go to the gym to work on his legs. A letter went out from Wilton Superintendent Kevin Smith apologizing for the incident and misunderstanding. Both New Britain and Wilton school officials were able to agree that this was a teachable moment to grow from for both teams.

When asked to reflect on his athletic experience, Assumption senior offensive lineman Jose Palomino was not shocked by the situation between New Britain and Wilton. Despite living in a different state, Palomino agreed that there were similar experiences in his hometown. Palomino recalled saying, “This happened when I started playing football when I was 6 years old. It’s hard not to hear. When you’re a kid, you don’t realize what it means. But when you look back now, it’s like how are adults saying this to children?” These are not isolated incidents, as this is an issue that is taking over athletics at any level. Athletes, no matter how young they are, are being exposed to racism just for playing the game they love.

Just earlier this year, Assumption students were found to be yelling racist remarks to players on the opposing Southern Connecticut State University team during a soccer game. President Francesco Cesareo sent an email out to all Assumption College students reminding them of the Zero Tolerance Policy towards racist remarks, as seen in the NE-10 Sportsmanship Statement. Cesareo urged student to show dignity through the college’s mission while supporting athletic teams. See Assumption’s statement on diversity and inclusiveness here.

Assumption College activist Kashmir Flood spoke about the commonality between athletics and racism, that affects not only athletes but also everyday people. She stated that racism doesn’t just happen on a college campus or a basketball court, but that there are injustices every day. She advocated for all people by saying, “There are students who aren’t on athletic teams or aren’t in ALANA who go through these experiences every day, and that’s the scary part.” Once informed about the Zero Tolerance Policy, Flood urged Assumption College to firmly stand up against racism within all aspects of the school. “There are many students who don’t know it exists. If this school has a zero-tolerance policy, it needs to be advertised. There needs to be a way to report these issues”. 

The world of professional athletics cannot be excluded from this issue, as just this month, Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook was by his team bench when a rowdy fan allegedly yelled, “Get down on your knees like you used to”, implying to the period of slavery. Westbrook responded to the fan, saying that he would “f*ck him and his wife up”. After the game, Westbrook was confronted by reporters about the incident.

Westbrook spoke about the incident and even stated that the fans continued to heckle him throughout the game. He made it clear that he would not tolerate comments like that. Furthermore, Westbrook defended his stance by proving his status as being in the NBA league for 11 years without an incident of poor judgment. He continued to push for change within the way that the fans speak to the athletes but also for security for the athletes when these issues arise.

In turn, it doesn’t matter the level of athletics, for the athletes experience racist remarks regardless. Fans are resorting to degrading players of all ages and talent levels by using offensive and racist comments. Players, officials and now leagues are calling for change from fans because, at the end of the day, it really is only a game.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.