Internalized Racism in Sports
February 4, 2021
“I realize that I am black, but I like to be viewed as a person, and this is everybody’s wish.”
Michael Jordan once spoke these words in an interview when referring to how he wants to be seen by the world. Sports have always been an outlet for performing through which no race should ever interfere. Whether it be on the court, the field, the pool or the track, once an athlete enters their world of competition, the pigment of one’s skin is just a color, not a defining attribute.
But even though sports are defined by wins and losses, social movements have poured into this world, and the platform given to athletes at any level of competition has been used to make statements regarding many issues.
At Cherry Hill High School East, racism may not be the most prevalent, but sports provide a safe place for all that participate. Speaking with athletes who use sports as a way of promoting their views, these men and women remain proud of who they are as people and athletes during a time where unity is necessary.
The Cherry Hill East football team allowed players to have the option of kneeling during the national anthem this year. Senior Nick Tomasselo and junior Kelvin Parris took this opportunity to make their mark, along with coach, Lynell Payne.
“I knelt during the season to make people aware of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement,” Tomasello said. “I don’t want others judging their decisions.”
Tomasello also wanted to support his teammates of minority backgrounds. As a leader, he felt his job was to promote a friendly team atmosphere.
“I wanted to keep them motivated for the next season and to hopefully have a playoff run soon,” Tomasello said. By kneeling along with Parris, Tomasello was able to provide an example of what true leadership looks like— camaraderie in the face of adversity.
Junior Pierce Atkins, on the Cherry Hill East soccer team has a different perspective of social pressure in sports.
“I don’t believe sports are an outlet for social issues because I personally don’t feel overwhelmed by the social issues,” Atkins said.
Atkins still said he does recognize that some student athletes are impacted by their ethnicity, but he does not feel that he can speak out based on his own experiences.
“Being one of the few black kids who play soccer in South Jersey, I still have not experienced any discrimination,” Atkins said.
The same cannot be said for senior Christian Brown, a hurdler for Cherry Hill East’s track and field team. Brown participates in a sport where he is not exactly a minority, but has still dealt with issues.
“There will be many times I’ll hear people talk and say— ‘he’s black, we’re not going to win,’ or something along those lines,” Brown said.
But like Atkins, he too does not believe sports need to be an outlet for social issues.
“In competition, everyone is focused on the one goal and that is to improve their ability,” Brown said. “But I do feel that athletes should be able to speak out against any oppression going on in the world given that we have to spotlight these events.”
Brown has even experienced direct name-calling and derogatory terms being flung his way by competitors and fellow students alike.
Brown said, “since I’ve moved here, I’ve had issues with racism more than once. I notice it because it is directed towards me, even if it is very lowkey.”
Senior Peyton McGregor, a volleyball player at East, has a different perspective as a female minority athlete.
“For me in volleyball there aren’t a lot of racial issues,” McGregor began. “But I have experienced a few comments thrown at me. One time a competitor called my team an ‘Oreo’ because of our diversity. My color does not define me as a person, so after we beat them I did not have a problem talking about it with them and my mom, who is white.”
McGregor goes to tournaments in which she is one of the only African-American players, but remains unbothered. She did say, though, that the parents of other teams see color more than the players.
“The girls are all just competitors, so they don’t view each other as black or white, usually. But the parents do make comments sometimes,” McGregor said.
Sports may take a back seat to social issues, but athletes everywhere have used their position to make their mark on the movement, shining light on issues that we keep in the dark. Even at the high school level, race is a topic that cannot be put on the backburner for any longer, and it takes people like athletes to help advocate for change.