Racism usually trumps all in America. It colors the way that people are policed, educated, provided healthcare, and interacted with. For the dense out there reading these words, racism being everywhere does not mean everybody is racist. What it means is that racial bias against nonwhite people — especially Black people — is like pollen in the air (with all of the gagging) and only some people benefit. However, in college sports a different sin is helping people to see past their prejudices.
Per a Sportico/Harris Poll study, 67 percent of Americans believe that college athletes should be paid directly by the university. In 2014 HBO’s Real Sports and Marist conducted a study on college sports, and the percentage of people who currently believe the athletes should be paid is the same percentage who believed then that they shouldn’t.
Real Sports and Marist accounted for age, region, and also race in their study. Of the 67 percent of people who did not believe that athletes should be paid, the number increased to 72 percent among white respondents. In the new 2023 study, 63 percent of white respondents were in favor of schools directly compensating the athletes.
In 2015, an academic experiment published in the Washington Post concluded that the most “important predictor” in whether or not a white person would be in favor of college athletes receiving compensation was how they felt about race. For that experiment, academics from Cal State Long Beach and UMass Amherst showed one group of white study participants a picture of Black people with stereotypical names before asking the question. The other group they did not.
This experiment was conducted on two groups — white people who verbally expressed resentment towards Black people and those who didn’t. Both times there was a significant spike in those who responded against paying college athletes when they were first presented the picture of a Black person.
An outstanding scientific study could be conducted on why attitudes have changed so drastically over the last eight years. As a person who has worked in sports media since 2009 (but also has not taken a social science course past the 101 level), my hypothesis centers on how openly and ruthlessly capitalistic college athletics has become.
The initial awakening was when the Big 12 nearly dissolved in 2011, when Texas A&M decided to leave the conference. Nebraska, Colorado, and Missouri followed suit and, when Texas was looking to get out, that was supposed to be it for the Big 12. Eventually Texas decided to stay, and the conference was reconfigured by adding TCU and West Virginia— and it survived.
UCLA and Southern Cal deciding to leave the Pac 12 for the Big Ten, though, and everybody could see the emperor was naked at that point. It was bad enough that Rutgers and Maryland were added to the Big Ten, but at least interconference travel was still reasonable. Los Angeles being added to the conference anchored by Michigan and Ohio State is the tailor boldly claiming that the emperor is not wearing clothes while Rihanna is gifing a wad of cash in our face. Also, Texas and Oklahoma are off to the SEC.
Racism is usually strong enough to hold onto lies. A study published by Elon University in 2021 showed that 58 percent of North Carolina residents still believe that confederate statues — structures that immortalize treasonists — should remain standing. Even with a tome of indictments against him, 63 percent of Republicans still want Donald Trump to still run for president according to a poll from the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
This country may never get the true reallocation of resources away from militarily-armed local police departments and jails and
to public assistance programs that it needs to truly care for its people. Racism isn’t breaking there anytime soon, but the smoke of prejudice has largely cleared in college sports.
That “student-athlete” jive is no longer accepted. People know what they are watching on Saturdays and it’s minor league football. Racism no longer largely clouding American’s minds in even one industry is a step forwards. A typically small one in the 400-year trudge for justice and full humanity, but at least it’s in the right direction.