Will White People and Athleticism Ever Get Along?

If you have not heard the stereotype that white men can’t jump, you must be living under a rock. If you turned on a random NBA, NFL, MLB, or Track and Field competition, you will likely notice there are way more black men and women than white. What could cause this correlation? Since correlation does not equal causation, there might not be a biological difference between white people and other races that leads to the extreme ratio of black to white athletes, but there is a causing factor.

In a study conducted by two University of Arizona and two Princeton University researchers, the¬†guiding hypothesis was “many people who participate in sports hold negative racial stereotypes about athletes, and when these stereotypes become salient in a performance context, they may threaten the self-worth of those to whom they apply.”

The experiment tested 40 men and 40 women on four athletic categories. Black and white participants were tested on their knowledge of golf through a questionnaire then all played 10 holes of golf and were later asked to rate their performance. The results of the experiment were fairly consistent with the hypothesis. The black participants played slightly better than the white participants on the golf course, which proves there was no advantage nor disadvantage in golf– a game that is professionally dominated by white athletes. In the post-golf diagnostic questionnaire, white and black participants believed the test was biased towards white peoples’ athletic strengths. When the black participants were told they were being observed on their sports intelligence they performed significantly worse than when they were told the test was framed as a diagnostic for natural athletic ability, which is a stereotype of black athletes. Also, white participants played worse golf when they believed the frame of the test was on natural athletic ability; many did not think the test was fair. These results show¬†that when people were threatened with a negative stereotype, anxiety affected performance most of the time. Therefore, when an athletes self-worth is threatened by a negative stereotype, they will be affected and perform worse, thus confirming the stereotype.


2 thoughts on “Will White People and Athleticism Ever Get Along?

  1. Corey Michael Lapenna

    I feel as though no matter how many studies we do the stereotype is too far embedded into our modern day for us to get rid or it. Yet the study done was definitely not one that I expected due to the fact that golf was the last sport that i would guess that they would use. I was also surprised that the anxiety caused by the stereotype was able to boost the performance to a point where it almost gave them the edge. This idea of anxiety as almost a performance boost is definitely something to do more extensive research about because i would like to know for sure if that is the only thing in which is acting upon these athletes on both sides of the trials.

  2. Caitlin Marie Gailey

    I loved reading your study. When I first read the experiment was done on golf I immediately thought that it would be unfairly biased towards white participants because golf is a white dominated sport. However I was surprised by the results that the black participants still performed better regardless of familiarity. The anxiety perpetuated by the stereotype does not surprise me. An article posted in the New York Times discusses why this is such a hotly debated issue. The African American community doesn’t like the stereotype that comes with black athletes, that their IQ is lower because they are better at sports. This is obviously untrue but could be a cause of the anxiety that effected their performance. The white community fears that this is true and causes anxiety that they are at an unfair advantage in athletic events. So although there might be a literal difference in genetics and natural ability between races, it appears that a stronger correlation is present between performance anxiety than skin color.
    Here is a link to the article I read : https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/entine-taboo.html

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