Sports are something that can be performed by anyone, no matter their race, gender, ethnicity or background. But, even with the improvement in equality in our society, there are still differences that separate people on the field, court and arena.
In the NFL (National Football League), over 70 percent of the athletes are African-American. In NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) lacrosse, only 1.9 percent of the athletes are African-American. Is it just coincidence? In tennis, only four players of the top ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) 100 in 2010 were non-White, while in the NBA (National Basketball Association), 70-75 percent of the athletes are African-American. These sports clearly have racial disparities, whether they are or aren’t intentional.
While there are many factors that could contribute to these differences, including traditions, representation on television and outreach programs, there is one lens — privilege — that may explain some of the disparities.
Some examples of sports that are more accessible for privileged athletes are lacrosse, tennis, and volleyball, while sports that are more accessible for mostly less privileged athletes are basketball and football. What divides these sports at their core is the expenses involved in them.
The first major expense in many sports is gear. In lacrosse, for example, there is so much gear that is needed to just play the sport, including a stick, pads, helmets, balls to practice with and goals to practice on. A stick itself is about $150- 200 for decent quality, while higher-quality helmets are around the same price. Different types of equipment will vary in price, but it is all overly expensive in the end. Fortunately, there are scholarships involved to some people who are interested in playing the sport.
Even in sports with less gear, costs can mount because of the common practice of taking personal lessons. In tennis, for example, the essential equipment includes a tennis racket and tennis balls . But the most common way to increase your skill at tennis is by practicing and taking lessons. The prices differ based on where you take the lessons, but a two-hour clinic with about 20 other players can cost around $40. For example, at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, a one-hour tennis lesson will cost $71. Most tennis courts are part of a tennis club, so there is usually a fee for renting a court and being a non-member at those clubs. A membership will cost even more, which is something usually that is only for higher classed people.
Club sports and tournaments command an entry fee as well. Travel team membership is the primary cost for both of these sports. According to Parker Zinn, a sophomore for the Carrboro team and a competitive club athlete, a volleyball tournament usually cost around $40-50 per person. A USTA tennis tournament in the Chapel Hill area can cost anywhere from $50-70.
There are much cheaper options such as football and basketball. The gear for football is provided by the school or team, while basketball has little gear at all. The easiest ways to practice for these sports are free, by finding a court for a pick-up game or a field to play a four v. four game with friends. While there are many prep schools to partake in for athletes that play football and basketball, players do not have to be successful to go through these prestigious programs. Some of the NFL’s most prestigious athletes attended public schools, such as Jarvis Landry, Carson Wentz, and Khalil Mack.
According to Braden Hunter, a football player for the Carrboro team, it is very cheap to play football at the school, with gear only costing around $20 dollars. The school supplies equipment such as pads and a helmet, which comes out to about $20 dollars per person to rent these. While the school supplies equipment for football, it does not supply equipment for tennis.
“All you need is your equipment for a practice,” said Hunter. “Another way to practice is to go out and throw a football, or play a game with friends.”
Why is it that the majority of these sports have clear disparities?
High schools, professional organizations, and teams clearly need to take steps in order to reverse this effect. The only question: how?
Illustration by Nina Scott-Farquharson