Media’s stereotyping of black athletes creates high standards, professor says

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The media creates false perceptions about black athletes in America and advances stereotypes of superhuman strength and aggressive sexuality, said a UT associate professor at a lecture on Wednesday.

Associate sociology professor Ben Carrington said many people make an assumption that Americans are living in a post-racial society, especially after electing a black president.

“We may have reached a significant milestone in the advancement of racial progression, but at the same time, it seems to be permitting us not to talk about problems that persist,” said Dave Junker, director of the Senior Fellows Symposium which sponsored the event.

Carrington said that if America is a post-racial society, it stirs even more questions for race relations. He said the overrepresentation of black athletes in the media is spinning stereotypes about the sexuality and culture of African-Americans.

“This idolization of the black athletic form produces a black athlete as post-human,” Carrington said. “Strange creatures [who] possess [the] alien-like and certainly subhuman abilities to jump higher, hang in the air longer, punch harder and run faster.”

It is almost as if these black men are leaving the realm of humankind all together, he said.

Carrington illustrated this notion by showing several examples from commercials and images that portray African-American athletes and actors as muscular men projecting an image of a “perfect man.”

In an Old Spice commercial, black actor Isaiah Mustafa is topless the entire time, showing off his muscles. A message appears at the end of the commercial that says, “Smell like a man, man.”

Carrington also used African-American golfer Tiger Woods as an example of who the media targets. After Woods’ scandal became public, the media scrutinized every aspect of his life, called him a sex addict and falsely alleged that he has a strong sexual appetite for white women, he said.

Anthropology professor Kevin Foster said most young black men prefer going into sports and becoming athletes because of the glorifying images the media produces. In reality, he said, the number of black career professionals is much higher than the number of black athletes.

“But you would not get that impression from media’s representation of race,” Foster said. “It has a huge impact on black boys.”

He also said some people who oppose the view that racial stereotyping still persists in today’s media are black athletes who enjoy prosperity because of their successful careers.

“The problem is that their perspective is limited to their experiences,” Foster said.

The relationship between the media, race and sports is a complex issue because images are manipulated and crafted by the media, said sociology graduate student Vivian Shaw. She said people consume this material without consciously acknowledging its effects.

“It is really difficult to know the extent of the influence of the images,” Shaw said.