Kneeling on Sacred Ground: Racism in American Sports and Media

Objectives for the session

  • Explain the history and racist meanings of the social representations promoted in American sports and media.
  • Identify the harmful psychological consequences of such social representations.
  • Generate actionable steps that can be taken to avoid reproducing such social representations.

Questions for discussion

  • Where do sports team mascots originate and what is their significance? Do they have secondary impacts beyond their primary purpose?
  • Have you ever caught yourself or someone else using negative stereotypes while watching or discussing televised sports? What do you think cued those stereotypes?
  • Consider social representations of the ethnic/racial groups that you belong to? Are these representations positive or negative light? Do you see representatives of your ethnic/racial group often in the media or rarely? Are these representations portraying your group in diverse social roles and activities or are they the same roles and activities all the time? What do you feel or think when you see these representations?
  • What are some possible steps that can be taken to avoid reproducing racist representations in American sports and media?

Discussion resources and further reading

National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media

National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media

The 2,128 Native American Mascots People aren’t Talking About (FiveThirtyEight)

The History of the Covington MAGA Teens’ Racist Tomahawk Chop (The Daily Beast)

Further Reading

Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Oyserman, D., & Stone, J. M. (2008). Of warrior chiefs and Indian princesses: The psychological consequences of American Indian mascots. Basic and Applied Social Psychology30(3), 208-218.

  • This research looks at the consequences of American Indian mascots and other prevalent representations of American Indians on aspects of the self-concept for American Indian students. When exposed to common American Indian images (e.g., Pocahontas), American Indian high school students generated positive associations but reported depressed state self-esteem and community worth and college students showed fewer achievement-related possible selves. The authors suggest that American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves

Kim‐Prieto, C., Goldstein, L. A., Okazaki, S., & Kirschner, B. (2010). Effect of exposure to an American Indian mascot on the tendency to stereotype a different minority group. Journal of Applied Social Psychology40(3), 534-553.

  • This research examines how exposure to an American Indian sports mascot impacts stereotype endorsement of a different minority group. Researchers also investigated the effect among those unfamiliar with the controversy regarding American Indian sports mascots. Results from both studies show that participants primed with an American Indian sports mascot increased their stereotyping of a different ethnic minority group.

Leavitt, P. A., Covarrubias, R., Perez, Y. A., & Fryberg, S. A. (2015). “Frozen in time”: The impact of Native American media representations on identity and self‐understanding. Journal of Social Issues71(1), 39-53.

  • This article contends that the lack of contemporary representation of Native Americans in the media limits the ways in which Native Americans understand what is possible for themselves and how they see
    themselves fitting in to contemporary domains (e.g., education and employment)
    of social life. The invisibility of Native Americans in the media undermines self-understanding by homogenizing Native American identity, creating narrow and limiting identity prototypes for Native Americans, and evoking deindividuation and self-stereotyping among contemporary Native
    Americans.