Race, Sport, and Crime: The Misrepresentation of African Americans in Team Sports and Crime

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Bonnie Berry Social Problems Research Group

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Earl Smith Wake Forest University

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Criminological literature and statistics show that African Americans are comparatively overrepresented in the United States criminal justice system. This study explores whether African American athletes are similarly overrepresented as criminally involved sports figures. Data abundantly illustrate that African Americans fare worse in all phases of criminal justice compared to whites. It has been speculated that African Americans, perhaps due to cultural influences or blocked opportunities, do commit more crime than other racial categories. There is equally strong reason to believe that the representation of African Americans in the criminal justice system is largely a result of racial bias on the part of social control agencies. Crime among athletes, regardless of race, can be explained through social forces, such as collective behavior, organizational influences, and social process. We conclude that African American athletes are socially expected to be engaged in crime and suggest a new approach to this area of study.

B. Berry is with the Social Problems Research Group, Gig Harbor, WA 98335. E. Smith is with the Department of Sociology at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. Both authors made equal contributions to this collaborative research endeavor; they are listed in alphabetical order because there is no established convention for denoting equal authorship. Address all correspondence to either author.

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