A discussion of racism in sports is hardly complete without the mention of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson. As the first African-American to play in a major league team in the modern era, Jackie successfully broke the color barrier as soon as the Brooklyn Dodgers made him start at first base in 1947. Even more significant than just being signed, Jackie was an outstanding baseball player, taking Rookie of the Year honors, helping his team win the World Series in 1955, and being named an All-Star six times (1949-1954).
However, despite Robinson’s success, he still faced an astonishing amount of racism. He practically ate jeers, insults, hate mail, and death threats for breakfast. On road trips, he was often forced to stay in a separate hotel from his teammates. In fact, his contract even stated that he had to turn the other check whenever he faced racial insults and prejudice. Nevertheless, through it all, Jackie remained brave because he knew that what he was accomplishing would blaze the trail for others like him. How different today’s world is from those unenlightened days of racism… Or is it really?
Without a doubt, racism today is not tolerated to the extent that it was in the past. However, it can hardly be denied that racism is still very much alive in the sporting world. The following ten cases of racism suffered by athletes in recent history serve as proof:
10. Patrice Evra / Football
On October 15, 2011, rivals Liverpool and Manchester United locked horns during a Premier League fixture. But a battle involving more than just football took place as United’s Patrice Evra was being marked by Liverpool’s Luis Suárez during a corner kick. According to Patrice’s testimony at an FA hearing, Luis said in Spanish that he had kicked Evra because the United player was black. Evra also said Suárez uttered the sentence “I don’t speak to blacks” and also used the word “negro” five times. Luis denied the allegations, but he was nevertheless banned for eight matches.
When the two met again for the first time on February 11, 2012, this took place during the traditional pre-game handshakes:
9. 2007 Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team
The nationally syndicated talk show Imus in the Morning is a loose, irreverent show, but it was said to have gone too far during its April 4, 2007 broadcast. While discussing the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship at the time, the show’s main host, Don Imus, described the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “rough girls” with tattoos. The show’s executive producer, Bernard McGuirk, then referred to the team members as “hardcore hos,” while Imus called them “nappy-headed hos.” Furthermore, McGuirk described the matchup as similar to “jigaboos versus the wannabes.” CBS Radio eventually ended up cancelling Imus in the Morning due to the outrage the racist comments sparked, but the show eventually came back on other stations.
8. Alvin Garrett / American Football
The late sports journalist Howard Cosell once said of himself, “Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff — there’s no question that I’m all of those things.” If some American football fans were to be asked, however, they would say Cosell missed out on one of his characteristics: unapologetically racist.
On September 24, 1973, during the Monday Night Football halftime highlights segment, Howard commented, “Look at that little monkey run!” to describe a 97-yard kickoff return by Herb Mul-Key of the Washington Redskins. There wasn’t much of an outcry over the comment. However, the public definitely reacted to something Cosell uttered in 1983 regarding Washington Redskin Alvin Garrett’s play. The commentator asked, “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?” Quite predictably, the question was widely condemned as being racist. Cosell, though, remained defiant and explained that he had previously used “monkey” as an affectionate term even for smaller white athletes. Howard didn’t come back after the 1983 season of Monday Night Football.
7. Joel Ward / Hockey
Joel Ward isn’t really a superstar in the NHL. In fact, he was left unpicked when he entered the league’s draft. However, he sure made a big difference during Game 7 of the first round matchup between his team, the Washington Capitals, and the Boston Bruins in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins were very much expected to advance as they were the defending champions from 2011, but Ward had other ideas. He found himself in the right place at the right time to score the winning goal in overtime and allow the Capitals to move on to the conference semifinals.
While most people would consider the story of triumph as a source of inspiration, Boston fans were not happy. Here are only two of the many racist tweets they posted, a lot of the posts and accounts having been deleted since they came under scrutiny:
6. Jeremy Lin / Basketball
In an interview, overnight sensation Jeremy Lin mentioned that he experienced quite a lot of racism in college basketball, but that it all went away when he entered the NBA. Apparently not, however. Jeremy’s Chinese roots have remained a target for offensive racist comments.
When the New York Knicks, the team Lin was playing with in 2012, lost to the Charlotte Hornets, ESPN writer Anthony Federico used the headline “Chink in the Armor” in the sports company’s mobile app. That came on the heels of the use of the same term by ESPN sports broadcaster Max Bretos:
Then there was the case of MSG Network’s cameras panning on the following fan-made poster:
The fortune cookie controversy spilled over to ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s tribute to Lin, the Taste the Lin-Sanity limited edition flavor, which featured crumbled fortune cookies.
However, none of the racially charged comments about Lin compare to ESPN sportswriter Jason Whitlock’s tweet after Jeremy scored 38 points to help the Knicks beat the Lakers:
5. 2014 Grand Blanc Boys Basketball Team
On March 18, 2014, an all-white Howell High School team defeated their adversaries from Grand Blanc, 54-49, in a Class A regional final. There was nothing markedly special about the win, but after the game, several students from Howell proceeded to post several shockingly racist tweets. Here are only two examples:
Not only did we beat Grand Blanc but we’re all white. Howell’s the definite winner tonight.
All hail white power. #HitlerIsMyDad
According to Howell High School, the students who posted offensive tweets were disciplined.
4. 2012 South Korean Olympic Men’s Football Team
During the 2012 Summer Olympics, Swiss footballer Michel Morganella sent out the following tweet after his team suffered a 1-2 loss to the South Koreans.
The tweet in French referred to South Koreans as being mentally challenged and expressed Morganella’s desire to beat all of them up.
Michel deleted the tweet soon after he posted it and also apologized by saying that he had been experiencing very strong emotions at the time. Nevertheless, the Swiss Olympic Committee moved to ban Morganella from the rest of the Games.
3. Manny Pacquiao / Boxing
The boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has yet to materialize, but Floyd has certainly thrown some punches — some of them racist — towards Manny. In a video Mayweather posted on Ustream in 2010, he said,
I’m on vacation for about a year, about a year. As soon as we come off vacation, we’re going to cook that little yellow chump. We ain’t worried about that. So they ain’t gotta worry about me fighting the midget. Once I kick the midget ass, I don’t want you all to jump on my d*ck. So you all better get on the bandwagon now…. Once I stomp the midget, I’ll make that mother f*cker make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice.
Pacquiao seemed largely unaffected by the rant, understandable since sushi isn’t widely eaten in the Philippines.
2. Tiger Woods / Golf
Over the years, golf phenom Tiger Woods has been on the receiving end of several racist comments, not only from fans, but also from members of the media and even fellow golfers. The most infamous of these such comments was uttered by his colleague, Fuzzy Zoeller, who delivered some less-than-graceful comments about Tiger as he was sailing to his monumental 1997 Masters win. Zoeller remarked,
You know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.
Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman also made this controversial side comment in 2008 for which she was suspended for two weeks:
Meanwhile, in 2011, when former Woods caddie Steve Williams was asked why he called Adam Scott‘s win in Shanghai the greatest of his career, he explained that he had badly wanted to beat Woods and added, “I wanted to shove it up that black arsehole.”
Lastly, in 2013, Sergio Garcia appeared not to have learned from the backlash Fuzzy Zoeller suffered after his racist comment against Tiger. Garcia was asked about hosting Woods at the 2013 U.S. Open, and he responded, “We will have him ’round every night. We will serve fried chicken.” Spectators at the U.S. Open later showed their displeasure over the comments Garcia made:
1. Venus and Serena Williams / Tennis
Venus and Serena Williams have been victims of racism even before they became big-time tennis players. In fact, racism was one of the reasons that their father, Richard Williams, stopped sending the girls to national junior tennis tournaments when his daughters were little; he heard white parents talking about the girls in a derogatory manner during their tournaments. That protected Venus and Serena for a while, but when they began dominating the WTA tour, the racism continued and even intensified.
The bigotry with which the sisters were treated by some quarters was on full display during the 2001 Tennis Masters Series in Indian Wells, California. The controversy erupted when Venus’s withdrawal from her semifinal match against Serena due to injury was announced just moments before the match was set to take place. Many fans took the withdrawal as an indication of match-fixing on the part of the sisters, and on the day of the final, Serena was booed by a huge portion of the crowd as she took the court against Kim Clijsters. Those boos grew even louder when Venus and her father entered the stadium to take their seats. Richard later claimed, “The white people at Indian Wells, what they’ve been wanting to say all along to us finally came out: ‘N*gger, stay away from here; we don’t want you here.'”
Throughout the match, most of the crowd cheered whenever Serena committed double faults and unforced errors. In fact, when she ended up winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, the crowd booed her even more. “I was crying inside,” Serena admitted. Venus and Serena have boycotted the Indian Wells tournament since the incident.