Pipelines on the Gridiron: Player Backgrounds, Opportunity Structures and Racial Stratification in American College Football

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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Stacking—the tendency of playing positions to be racially segregated in sports—remains prominent in gridiron football. This raises questions of how stacking persists and how opportunities arise for athletes of different races to assume different roles. Demographic data on 41,484 NCAA football players reveal differences in opportunities and playing roles for student-athletes of different races. In concert with previous racial stacking studies, white players continue to be overrepresented in central, leadership positions. Racial minorities are overrepresented in peripheral “skill” positions. Stacking at each playing position is affected differently by the demographics of player high schools and college teams. Players assuming non-stereotypical roles are much more likely to come from a racially homogenous high school or college team. Even though racially homogenous schools provide stereotype-defying opportunities, they also exhibit intense racial stacking. The few white (or black) players on such teams are overwhelmingly slotted into stereotypical positions. Since stereotype-defying opportunities tend to emerge in racially homogenous schools, blacks playing typically white positions come from relatively poor schools. In contrast, whites playing typically black positions are relatively affluent, since such opportunities tend to emerge in whiter, wealthier schools. Implications for student opportunities and talent inculcation beyond the football field are discussed.

Siler is with the Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands.

Address author correspondence to Kyle Siler at ksiler@gmail.com.
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