A Window On Other Arenas: Sports, Race, & More With Sociologist Adrienne Milner

Spectators take in the middle-school homecoming football game at Wilcox County High School in Camden, Alabama last year. It was the main event in the area that night. Photo by Dan Carsen.

Spectators take in the middle school homecoming football game at Wilcox County High School in Camden, Alabama last year. It was the main event in the area that night. Photo by Dan Carsen.

You don’t have to be a scholar to know that African-Americans are heavily represented in contact sports like football and basketball, but underrepresented in “lifetime sports” like tennis or golf. Some casual observers have come up with relatively simple explanations for that phenomenon. But a University of Alabama at Birmingham sociologist and author who studies race and gender in sports says the reality is anything but simple, or fair. Adrienne Milner, who played college basketball until an injury ended her athletic career, tells the Southern Education Desk’s Dan Carsen that she’s intrigued by inequity in all fields, but that — for reasons you might not guess — sports are special for her.

Click here for the five-minute on-air interview:

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Below are key excerpts and an extended web-exclusive version of the conversation.

“Desegregation was not about, ‘do we need Harvard to be 50 percent black, 50 percent white?’ It was, ‘can black students get to Harvard?’” (1:43)

 

“When you have an overrepresentation of a certain racial group being funneled into a violent sport, such as football, that is [taking] years off people’s lives and [causing] brain injuries, I would say this is an epidemic.” (1:55)

University of Alabama sociologist Adrienne Milner. Photo courtesy of UAB.

University of Alabama sociologist Adrienne Milner. Photo courtesy of UAB.

 

“The sport is getting more and more violent. We’re hitting harder. We have more physical prowess in terms of weight lifting….” (2:20)

 

“In other countries, golf is not as much of a ‘rich person’s sport.’” (3:20)

 

“Race is not real in and of itself. Racial disparities do not exist biologically … there is no ‘football gene.’” (4:04)

 

“Sports are not overvalued in the sense that they can be an area for social change … we saw that when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball before schools were desegregated.” (4:53)

Here is the 27-minute extended interview:

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The Southern Education Desk will be producing a comprehensive series on the intersection of academics and athletics, coming in September. 

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