Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Discrimination in sports -- United States, African American athletes


This study's focus is on the analysis of discrimination experienced by black athletes participating in the Big Ten Conference sports of football and basketball between the years of 1980 and 1985. The analysis followed the models established in studies performed by John W. Loy, Joseph F. McElvogue, D. Stanley Eitzen, and Norman R. Yetman.

Racial discrimination has been experienced by blacks throughout the history of sport in the United States. The numbers of blacks participating in college athletics, specifically football and basketball have increased over the past twenty years. However, the question is whether the gross increase of blacks in college sport represents a lessening of racial discrimination by providing increased opportunity or has discrimination taken on a different form of limited or selective participation.

The universities of the Big Ten Athletic Conference were selected to be studied. Rosters, press guides and/or team photos were collected from each Big Ten school for the seasons of 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 in both football and basketball. Data were collected concerning the sport of participation, playing position, race, and game performance measures (i.e. points scored, minutes played) from the materials provided by the sports information directors at each Big Ten institution. The selected sociologists cited earlier have performed similar studies during the 1960's and 1970's. In their studies the organization of playing positions was based on the amount of dependence and interaction with other team members and the amount of coordination or judgment responsibilities required of a position. It was found in their studies the higher these factors were in a position the more centrally the position was located in the team formation and the higher the percentage of whites playing that position. Conversely, the lower the factors were found to be in a playing position the more likely these positions were on the perimeter of the formation, non-central, and the more likely these players were black. The studies found the differences to be highly significant statistically. Analysis included chi-square tests of differences and z-tests of differences in means. Similar methods and procedures employed by these early researchers were used in this study. The organization of playing positions, the identification of player race and measure of athletic performance were conducted and structured based upon previous studies.

The results of this study found a similar pattern to previous studies. Overall, blacks made up 35 percent of all football players and 50 percent of all basketball players. It was found that at the central football positions blacks were under-represented compared to their number in the total pool. Also, relative to their number in the male population, blacks were under-represented at the football positions of center and kicker. The percentages were close at the positions of offensive guard and tackle, and quarterback. The percentage of blacks by position were evenly distributed in basketball. Here the differences between blacks and whites were in measures of performances. For example, the mean points scored per minute were statistically significantly higher for blacks than for whites. This study concluded that blacks were treated in a discriminatory manner in Big Ten football and basketball. In football they were assigned to positions of less coordination and more individual skill. In basketball, black exploitation is seen. The significantly better performance of blacks supports the idea that blacks as a group are selected for athletic talent whereas whites are selected for other factors in basketball. In total the percentage of blacks participating in athletics has increased over the years but the criteria and placement of black athletes follows discriminatory patterns.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology


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Date Original


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1 PDF file (iv, 75 leaves ; 28 cm)



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