Policing the Race: U.S. Men’s Distance Running and the Crisis of Whiteness

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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In this article, we examine the complex relationship between whiteness and men’s U.S. distance running. Through a critical examination of over 700 print and electronic sources dealing with distance running in the U.S. from the 1970s through the present, we present evidence that distance running has been framed as a “White space” that is threatened by both external factors (dominance of male international distance-running competition by athletes from African nations) and internal factors (lack of U.S. White male success in conjunction with the success of U.S. citizens of color, born within and outside of the U.S.). We also examine several forms of backlash against these perceived threats, including the media focus on a succession of next White hopes, the rise of U.S. only prize money in road races, and the marginalization of African-born U.S. runners. Our analysis reveals how the media works to normalize whiteness within the larger narrative of U.S. distance running and suggests the need for future work on whiteness and sport.

Walton is with Kent State University, School of Exercise, Leisure, and Sport, 264G Gym Annex, Kent OH; Butryn is with the Department of Kinesiology, San José State University, One Washington Square, San José CA.

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