Racial bias runs subtly rampant in the sports world, as pointed out by two separate studies that took a look at the way sports announcers talk about players. It’s in the way a darker skin player is referred to by announcers as compared to how a lighter skin or even white player is referred to during game broadcasts, and it’s not specific to one sport.
In a study published by WBUR, Dr. Rashawn Ray, who teaches sociology at the University of Maryland, and his co-author Dr. Steven Foy, of the University of Texas, Rio Grande, transcribed 52 men’s college basketball broadcasts. What they found were glaring yet subtle disparities between the way announcers described black players and their white counterparts.
For example, white players were often referred to as “crafty,” while black players were referred to as “sneaky,” introducing a subtle criminal element aspect to the Black player.
For comparison, here is an example of commentary from a 2010 national championship game between Duke and Butler:
“We’ve talked about Matt Howard and how crafty he is, Jim. Scheyer is much the same way as a perimeter player. Knows how to use that height at 6′ 5″ very effectively to get into the lane.”
And then later in the same game, the same announcer speaking on a Black player said:
“Here comes streaky, sneaky Willie Veasley, a terrific offensive rebounder for his size, and he just weaseled his way to the basket.”
The bias is not limited to just College Basketball, or even just to the United States. Danish firm RunRepeat partnered with the UK Professional Footballers’ Association to study bias within soccer commentary.
The study analyzed 2,073 statements from English-language commentators in 80 soccer matches across four of Europe’s top leagues in the 2019/20 season, reports Deadline.
The study included only 5% Black, Asian, or minority ethnic background commentators. It revealed commentators praising lighter skin tone players “as more intelligent, as being of higher quality, and harder working than players with darker skin tone.”⠀
“If you look at white players as more intelligent or more imbued with intelligence than Black players, who are you going to give the jobs for in coaching and general manager to when they retire?” asks journalist Derrick Z. Jackson in the WBUR article.
The study by RunRepeat also found that 62.60% of praise went to players of lighter skin tone and that players with darker skin tone were on the receiving end of 63.33% of the criticism dished out by sportscasters.