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Is "athleticism" thinly veiled racism?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by BillyT, Mar 7, 2011.

  1. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    I am a grumpy old man these days, but even when I was fresh and young back in the 80s, I was taught to avoid the phrase "athleticism," especially in basketball or football, because where I was from it basically meant "We have more Black kids than you do."

    I checked the archives and see it mentioned occasionally and see a discussion of whether it's a word.

    But I do not see this topic.

    This is an honest question, and I wonder what you all think.
  2. It certainly is -- or was -- often used with a connotation that athleticism was natural ability without corresponding intelligence and knowledge of the sport.

    I don't know if that was always meant to be a codeword for a negative stereotype or it developed into that. But it always puts up a red flag for me, since there are much more creative ways to describe a physically gifted player. And even if you don't mean it with the negative connotation, plenty of people might take it that way.

    I don't know when the word developed that way, but I was certainly told to avoid it more than 10 years ago.
  3. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    So, it's racist to refer to the athleticism of an African-American and it's racist to refer to an African-American as "articulate"?
  4. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    Definitely never been told to avoid that or considered it an issue. I'm in the Northeast. Guessing its a regional thing.
  5. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    It is a code word. Think about it. Why would you use it?

    If you say football player George Smith has great athleticism, what does that mean? If he's fast, quick, strong, whatever, describe that.

    So it has often come to mean that someone has a lot of athletic skills but maybe not the brains or the willingness to excel.

    So a lot of black high school quarterbacks tend to have "athleticism" -- meaning they are going to play receiver or defensive back in college.
  6. Idaho

    Idaho Active Member

    This dude has been posterizing folks for a couple of years now. He's pasty white, balding, 6-foot-6 and has a 43-inch vertical leap.

    He's often and aptly described as having 'athletism.'

    That said, here in the hotbed of caucasian-america, whenever a football or basketball team is described as being 'more athletic' than the local team it means one thing -- the visiting team has more black guys.

    So, yes. I think the word can have a racial -- not necessarily racist -- connotation.
  7. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    Jimmy: I cut my teeth in Connecticut, so I know some folks in the Northeast see it that way.

    I know others who don't.

    Thank you, Ace. The specific context involved a local team, best in the state, from a school that usually has mostly Black players.

    The local good suburban (read mostly White) is playing another mostly Black school in the playoffs, and the comment was that by playing Local High, Surburban could better prepare for Opponent's "athleticism."

    The writer is one of my all-time favorite columnists, and I do not think he meant it that way.

    I made a comment, and several people thought I was being silly or over-sensitive. That's why I brought it here.

    It's no so much the comment but rather my thinking process. If people tell me I am wrong, that's cool. But I think I am right.
  8. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member


    "So, yes. I think the word can have a racial -- not necessarily racist -- connotation. "

    Excellent! I like that. Makes more sense.
  9. BTExpress

    BTExpress Well-Known Member

    To me it usually means one thing: In basketball, a player who can run fast and jump high but who does little to help you win because he cannot put the ball in the basket and knows little about positioning for defense or rebounds.
  10. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    YF, it isn't necessarily racist to call a black team "athletic."

    The problem is when you widen the angle of the lens to include the converse: That white teams are "smart" or "heady" or "scrappy."
  11. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    George Will wrote very well about the slight racism Willie Mays was given because everyone kept calling him a natural player, when Will wrote Mays was probably one of the smartest players to ever play the game.

    A black player being hard working or smart more than they are athletic and a natural talent is not a man bites dog situation, and it should be handled that way.
  12. Yup. Or, if you call the athleticism "raw."
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