By Steven C. Ditto
On Thursday April 7, the Texas Program in Sports & Media hosted its sixth annual McGarr Symposium on Sport and Society. The symposium is the program’s capstone event, held every April, to bring to life a robust and interactive conversation about the role of sports and media and their collective impacts on American culture. The Texas Program in Sports & Media invites academics to the UT Austin campus to discuss sports-related public policy issues, cultural challenges and societal imperatives of sport consumption behavior.
Among the academics that presented their research was UT Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Ben Carrington. Carrington’s presentation, “Specters of Jack Johnson: Race, Sport, and the Post/colonial,” explored the state of the black struggle in athletics and the perception and depiction of black athletes by society and the media. Framed against the foil of Jack Johnson—the successful 20th century African-American boxer—Carrington’s dialogue sought to raise consciousness to the still uncomfortable relationship with which American media and society perceives and relates to the black athlete. Using a series of modern news items, historical photographs, and comparisons with the white athletic experience, Carrington’s research probed deeply into American cultural identity to uncover the role and roots of discrimination in sports.
Carrington addressed the push in the past to downplay black achievement in sports, and cast the black athlete as inferior, despite their wide-ranging successes in 20th century athletic competition. Today the depiction of the black athlete has changed according to Carrington:
“Representations of black athletes…work the other way around. By accentuating magnificent aspects of black physicality to such an exaggerated extent, the black athlete leaves the realm of the human all together. Modernization of the black athletic form reduces the black athlete as post-human, strange creatures possessing almost alien-like and certainly super-human abilities to jump higher, hang in the air longer, punch harder, run faster,” in comparison to “white human beings.”
Carrington rounded out the presentation with analysis of media depictions of modern African-American athletes, such as Tiger Woods and LeBron James.