Dylan Lubbe and Dr. Mikaela Dufur, Department of Sociology
Modern scientists continue to argue over an issue that has existed since the first time a person realized that his or her skin was a slightly different shade or tint than someone else’s: Does skin color serve as an indicator for something deeper? The conversation about racial stereotypes has changed over time, shifting away from the possible truths behind them towards the social reality created by those who continue to believe in. Racial stereotypes have become an unconscious part of the metanarrative of modern society; almost anyone can list them. Those of African descent are considered to have a lower intellectual status than those of European descent (Smedley and Smedley 2005). Blacks are more physically gifted, especially in activities requiring pure speed or brute strength (Kane 1971). Something that many studies have found as stubbornly persistent as racism is the negative impact it has (Smedley and Smedley 2005; Hwag and Goto 2008). These persistent findings, among other factors, have made racism taboo in most modern cultures. People are willing to go to great lengths to hide or explain away their belief in racial stereotypes. One of the few places left in society where racism can be easily evaluated is sports.
Stereotypes have a negative impact on the supply of minority athletes who engage in certain sports or positions on specific sports teams. These same stereotypes also have a negative effect on the demand for them. Blacks are more likely to be kept out of positions that are thought to require self-pacing and critical thinking, like pitcher, catcher, and quarterback than positions that are more reactive, like outfielder or wide receiver (Worthy and Markle 1970). In addition, they face limited access to play leadership positions, which further decreases their opportunities to advance to managerial positions later on in their careers (Woodward 2004).
Based on past research, we hypothesized that rugby will also show indications of racial profiling, also known as stacking. However, this research project is important because rugby, which has not been studied for stacking before, can make new contributions to the field of sociology. Studying positional segregation in rugby will help us understand how stereotypes are or are not applied to a number of rarely-studied ethnic groups. Most stereotypes in sports research has to do with white and black athletes. Rugby has significant players from different ethnicities, such as Pacific Islander. In addition, results from this research will open our eyes on racial stacking on a global level if the pattern can be identified in the sport of rugby.
We create a new dataset for this paper as part of a larger project examining racial and ethnic mechanisms in the global migration of rugby players. It encompasses players on professional rugby teams from the French Top 14 League, Premiership League, and Super XV League, as well as the 16 international teams that played in the IRB Rugby World Cup in 2011. These teams play at a level of professional competition comparable to professional football or basketball in the United States or, in the case of international teams, at a level comparable to Olympic or soccer World Cup play. We utilize rosters for the 2011-2012 season. This provides a universe of 41 teams; the current sample contains 1088 players. The races we code for, using information from team rosters and pictures which our team of coders examined together and separately, are Japanese/Asian (1), White (2), Polynesian/Pacific Islander (3), Black/Coloured (4), and Other (5).
The data expressing evidence of overrepresentation and underrepresentation by certain ethnicities in particular positions show the types of stereotypes attached to certain ethnicities. For example, whites are overrepresented and minorities underrepresented in the positions of Prop, Lock and scrumhalf. These positions are defined as skill-based positions that require certain technical roles, both physically and mentally from the player; these are decision-making positions. One can equate the scrumhalf position to that of a quarterback in American Football. Many plays and system factors are run through this key position. On the other hand, whites are underrepresented and minorities overrepresented in the positions of wing and center. These positions are defined more for the athletic requirements needed by players rather than technical skills. One can equate wing and center to a wide receiver and running back in American Football. Ultimately, by examining the roles of positions where whites are overrepresented, one can accurately state that the stereotype is that whites need to be in decision-making positions where plays are communicated and executed. By examining the roles where Blacks and Polynesians are overrepresented, one can conclude that the stereotype is Blacks and Polynesians are big, fast and overall greatly athletic and therefore need to be placed in position where their athletic abilities can be most useful.
Some of the problems that we encountered arose from our data collection. As we built our own database from public statistics found on internet sites, there were many sampling issues we had to resolve, including how to identify the race of a player if it wasn’t stated, and how to determine their country of origin if it wasn’t stated. Further research is needed to understand how stacking in rugby is both a part of the larger pattern present in many other sports and yet unique in how it operates. For example, what new insights did we gain into races and ethnicities that other studies have not examined? While this paper has not been presented or published yet, the sister paper dealing with rugby and international migration that pulls from the same sample was presented at PSA and will be submitted for publication very soon.
- Hwang, Wei-Chin and Sharon Goto. 2008. “The Impact of Perceived Racial Discrimination on the Mental Health of Asian American and Latino College Students.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 14(4): 326-335.
- Kane, Martin. 1971. “An assessment of ‘Black is best.’ ” Sports Illustrated 34: 72–83.
- Smedley, Audrey and Brian D. Smedley. 2005. “Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real.” American Psychologist 60(1): 16-26.
- Woodward, John R. (2004). Professional football scouts: An investigation of racial stacking. Sociology of Sport Journal, 21(4), 356-375.
- Worthy, Morgan and Allan Markle. 1970. “Racial Differences in Reactive Versus Self-Paced Sports Activities.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16 (3): 439-443.