Race in College Sports



By: Jared De Nicola, Colin Grannary, Catherina Frerichs, and Kevin Robinson



This research project is exploring the idea of racial composition of sports teams and the cost to play different sports that are offered at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University and at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Racial composition of sports teams and the average yearly cost to play sports both have an influence on who is more likely to play the sports offered at a collegiate level. Due to parents having a certain socioeconomic background that would make different sports unavailable to their children, which would also have an influence on the racial demography of the different sports that are in Nebraska colleges. When looking at the racial composition of the college sports teams that are in Omaha it is important to keep the racial demography of Omaha in mind. Omaha’s racial composition is 12% African American, 73 % white, and 15% other. It is clear that there is a problem with representation of races other than white in college athletics. Along with the problem of the athletes not being very diverse there is little to no diversity among head coaches in university sports.


By looking at different pictures from the sports team’s websites, racial composition of UNO’s Women’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, track/ field/ cross-country, golf, and swimming and diving team were all able to be calculated, along with the composition of the Men’s basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, and soccer team’s racial composition. At the University of Nebraska Lincoln, the sports looked at were,


Women’s soccer, swimming and diving, basketball, golf, volleyball and tennis along with Men’s soccer, golf, baseball, basketball and tennis. At Creighton University, the sports looked at were also Women’s golf, tennis, soccer, and volleyball. Men’s teams were basketball, golf baseball, tennis and soccer.

Along with looking at the data from the college sports team’s websites there were also scholarly articles that pertained to the topics of race, racial inequality, socioeconomics, and even some about college coaches. These articles help to paint the picture of the problem of an underrepresentation of athletes from minorities playing at a college level on a larger scale. Colleges tend to advertise on being diverse, and accepting of all people, but the facts are not always pointing in that direction, which is interesting, most would expect to see a representation of the community’s racial composition to be reflected in the sports teams that are located in and surrounding the community.

Our research was pretty simple to say the least. The study dedicated sufficient time to the observation of the sports teams here at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as well as a couple neighboring Schools. The study noticed a lot of the same, reoccurring data, which was actually somewhat surprising. By looking at UNO sports websites along with Creighton College and the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s websites, the study was able to pull the data necessary. The study also took a look at the racial demographic in Nebraska with the focus being Omaha. This was accomplished by using Google as a search engine and that led to a Nebraska Demographic Statistics website. Once at the website, information such as racial percentages in Nebraska as well as the population numbers were pulled to get a better understanding of Nebraska as a whole.


The study covered all of the sports teams’ demographics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha by going on to the website and viewing the different teams rosters. By using the team photos from this year along with 5 and 10 years ago, the study was able to determine the average racial composition of all sports teams.  The websites showed every player and coaches’ pictures. Observing these rosters and using demographic statistics websites was how the study was able to determine percentages and collect data.


The findings in this study were surprising. With the entire group coming from different states, the racial demographic makeup of Nebraska was hardly expected. Nebraska as a whole is almost 90% white. With that being said, it was assumed that the racial composition of the sports teams at the University of Nebraska at Omaha would be similar. Throughout the years, the numbers were consistent. With the exceptions being basketball and Track and Field, white people dominated all of the sports teams. The basketball team was 50% white and 50% black this year and looking back at 2011 and 2006, was 65% white and 35% black. Track and Field came in second in regards to diversity. This yeas team is composed of 20% black and 80% white. Looking back to 2011 the numbers were 25% black and 75% white and in 2006 10% black and 90% white. All of the rest of the sports teams at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are 100% white with the some exceptions of a couple other races sprinkled in at a whopping 2%. Another interesting factor to look at is the race of the coaches at the University of



Nebraska at Omaha. All the coaches are white in all sports except basketball with there being 2 black coaches out of 5.

The next thing that was done in the research process was looking at neighboring colleges and their athletic division racial demographics. At Creighton College, it was more of the same white with every sport being dominated by white participants. Men’s and Women’s sports alike, over 96% across the board were white. Basketball was the only exception having 60% black players and 40% white players. At the University of Nebraska Lincoln, white players dominated all sports except for basketball and track and field. Basketball had 85% black players and 15% white. Women’s track and field had 50 white participants 16 black participants and 5 others. When looking at these numbers one can argue that the racial numbers won’t change in the coming years. With the racial demographic in Nebraska being dominated by white inhabitants, it is no wonder why there are more white players than any other race in the colleges surrounding.


When looking into the sport of baseball, one can say that it is a sport dominated by the white race. When we look back in time at major moments in sports history, we remember the name Jackie Robinson. Robinson, being the first African American to be allowed to play in Major league baseball, broke the racial boundaries and headlined the desegregation movement in the late 1940’s. Even though Robinson’s goal was to be able to see a diverse mixture of people participating in the sport, we still see evidence of racial dominance in baseball today. In the academic journal titled, Racial Inequality in a Public Arena: The Case of Professional Baseball, the author suggests that minorities may be


subjected to discrimination. He states, “Even in an integrated labor market, the minority might be relegated to lesser positions, lower pay, and possess very little political or economic power. Some observers also argue that performance expectations are higher for blacks than for whites.”(Jiobu) The author goes on to say that different observers also claim that white players are retained longer than marginal black players.

So why does this discrimination still exist? Why is Baseball losing its diversity? One can assume that one of the reasons is the cost to play the sport. Baseball can be one of the most expensive sports to play with the average cost to play being a little over 1,000 dollars. But it can cost up to 2,000 dollars depending on which league you’re in and the quality of equipment you get. As compared to other sports, it is on the higher end of the expense spectrum. Socioeconomic status of a one’s family can have a lot to do with what sport the child participates in. If a family doesn’t have money to play baseball, or any other sport costing more than the family can afford, reason suggests the child will play a sport, which their parents can afford to allow them to participate in. A research study published in the “International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity,” found that ethnic minority children were significantly more likely to not participate in sports. This can be attributed to the family’s lower socioeconomic position. Lower income areas are most likely going to drift towards sports that cost less to play and have the greater pay rate at the Professional levels. With baseball being more expensive to play, and having a lower pay rate at the professional level, it is no wonder why more lower income children don’t strive to become professional baseball players.



Another reason racial diversity doesn’t exist in most sports is because of societies influence on young people. Society today inadvertently encourages racial segregation by having ads of black basketball and football players, white baseball and hockey players and Hispanic soccer players. Take soccer for example. Soccer is the most popular sport in the entire world. But what does society suggest? Society suggests that the majority of soccer players are of some kind of Hispanic decent. How does society do this? Entertainment, media, and parental influence are the biggest factors. Everyone wants to be the next Neymar(soccer player for brazil) or the next Messi(soccer player for FC Barcelona) and that’s because that’s all the media talks about. Now days, kids drift towards the glamour of the rich and famous and typically it is the Hispanic soccer players that gain all of the attention from the media. With soccer being easy to afford, and the majority of the soccer population being Hispanic it is no surprise why lower income Hispanic children want to play soccer. It is also influencing from the parents that usually determines which sport the child plays. The parents are usually the people who introduce the child to sports by enrolling them. All these factors play into societies influence on young children.

Hockey is another heavily white favored sport. The University Of Nebraska Omaha hockey program was founded in 1997 and is always a well-respected team. However, throughout the team’s existence, it has been a relatively white dominated area. The same goes for the Volleyball team here at the University Of Nebraska Omaha. It too is generally a very white dominated sport with a small percentage of African American and other races over the years. Therefore, the purpose of collecting the data was to make


an educated assumption on what race dominates these particular sports on a year-to-year basis.

The data that was collected was extremely helpful in identifying whether or not one race was more prominent in the sport 10 years ago, but now has become less and less prominent in the program. For the secondary data analysis, it was to looked at the pictures of the university’s sports teams as a reference guide for what ethnicities were involved in the make up of the certain teams over the years, as well as analyzed the other college sports programs in the state of Nebraska to use as a comparison for the data we collected. The next step was to analyze the sports to see if there were any trends over the years in race, and some information that came forth was that in the hockey and volleyball programs especially, it was very white dominated, and the lack of racial diversity was quite significant. At the University of Nebraska Lincoln, there was more of a racial diversity in the female volleyball team. However, they do not have a hockey program. Overall, it was concluded that based on the research that was found, the University of Nebraska Lincoln had a bit more of a racial diversity then UNO. This could be due to several reasons that include a large football program and more division 1 sports at the university. Also, the majority of college football players are African American. Creighton College, another post secondary education school based in Nebraska, also has a variety of very talented sports programs. The sports that were analyzed in this college were very similar to the sports analyzed at Nebraska Omaha, and the University Of Nebraska Lincoln; although a few sports had a tad bit more racial diversity, which included basketball and soccer.


Going back to the sports analyzed at the University of Nebraska Omaha, the research gave a bit of a understanding as to why hockey and volleyball seemed to be a bit less diverse. It was concluded that these sports can tend to be less popular in the United States, and that more children growing up will gravitate toward other sports, especially those in lower income households, as it is a cost efficient idea to involve one’s children in another sporting activity. Some possible themes that can be associated with this data is that sports such as hockey especially at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have a lesser racial diversity then other competitive sports at the university.  Therefore, is the data suggesting that low cost sports are subject to a higher racial composition due to the low cost of playing? For low-income families and immigrating families, the answer is yes. These families will more then likely place their children in easy accessible and low cost sports. Another theme that can be brought forth is the idea that children who are being brought up in different parts of the United States feeling inclined to participate in a sport because they feel it is what society is pushing them toward? Do children feel obligated to participate in a sport based on their color and ethnical background? By analyzing the racial makeup’s of the University of Nebraska’s sports teams, one is able to truly see which race dominates which sport and how it has changed over the years; this is one of the main themes.

There are many sports teams at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a lot of them have very different and interesting demographics. There are some reasons that have an affect on this in sports, and that is something that I have done research on. The demographics tend to vary between the different type of sports including team’s players


and also coaches. The two sports that I did my research on is the golf team here at UNO and the basketball team, men and women.

On the Men’s Golf team there is not very much diversity within the players and the coaches. Between the 8 players and 2 coaches, all of them are white. The same is apparent on the Women’s Golf team, as there are 8 players and 2 coaches, all of whom are white. The average cost of play is something that could play a role in the demographic of the golf teams at UNO. According to GolfDigest.com the average annual cost of pay to play for a competitive club team is $6425. This is pretty expensive to play a sport. Not only is it expensive to join the clubs and pay for the tournaments, the extra equipment needed for golf is also very pricey. All the clubs, gloves, and other things that you need for golf add a lot of extra money to the total cost of the sport.

The University of Nebraska Omaha Men’s and Women’s basketball teams are the other teams that I decided to do research on. There is a lot more diversity on these teams than there are on the golf teams. On the men’s team there are 14 players on the squad, 8 of which are black and 6 that are white. Also there are 4 coaches on the men’s basketball team, and of those coaches 2 are white and 2 are black. On the women’s team, the numbers are very different. Of the 14 players, only 3 are black and 11 are white.

For the men’s basketball team, the cost of play is something that could also affect the demographic of the team. According to Huffingtonpost.com, on average, a parent only pays $671 annually for their child to play basketball on a competitive AAU team. This cost is a lot less than other sports because basketball does not require a lot of equipment or extra things.


The diversity of the University of Nebraska Omaha Women’s swimming and diving was not as diverse as the surrounding community. There are currently 36 athletes on the 2016-2007 team roster, and there are also four coaches, one head coach, one diving coach, and two assistant coaches. Of the athletes, there are 35 white participants, and one African American participant. Now since the population of Omaha is 73% white and 12% African American, the expectation would be that those numbers were transpired across the board and that there would be roughly 12% of the team being African American while 73% of the team is white. There is clearly an underrepresentation of African American athletes in this sports team. This problem is not just evident on the swim and dive team at UNO but also on the team at UNL. The team at UNL is 100% white, and the coaches are also all white, which is showing no diversity. The swim and dive team is not the only team at UNO and UNL which show little to no diversity, it is a trend that is encompassing both colleges and almost all sports teams on each of the campuses. The men’s and women’s soccer teams at UNO also show this pattern of unequal racial distribution. There are far less African American players than there are white players on the team. The women’s soccer team is 96% white and 4% African American. While the men’s team is 58% white, 20% Hispanic and 20% African American. Along with the soccer and swimming and diving team being predominantly white there is the men’s and women’s tennis team. Where the men’s team is 85% white, and 14% of the team is Hispanic. The women’s tennis team is 100% white, there again is a sport with little to no diversity.



It is concerning to see the underrepresentation of African American athletes across campuses. There are a few theories that could explain this phenomenon though, one of them being discrimination. Access discrimination could have something to do with the number of athletes representing each race in their respective sports as well as the races of the coaches that coach their sports. Coaches specifically show a pattern of holding primarily white males as the head coach while the assistants and volunteer coaches are sometimes African American or of a different race (Sartore, 2006. Pg. 71). Other factors that go into athletes being recruited and coaches being asked to be head coaches are age, sex, and race, of these it is race that is the most discriminated against (Sartore, 2006. Pg. 71). There are also different stereotypes that could move a team to not want to recruit a certain player or a coach. These stereotypes can be both negative and positive, it just depends on the situation, but in many cases they turn out to be negative stereotypes (Sartore, 2006. Pg. 71). Some stereotypes that revolve around African American are bad temperament, lower physical abilities, and lower levels of intelligence (Sartore, 2006. Pg. 72). The pattern of not having head coaches at the Nebraska colleges be of other ethnicities than white is projecting the image of stereotyping and of discrimination.

There is also an under representation of African American coaches on the UNO swim and dive team, with 100% of the coaches being white, there is no diversity among this team. Even when looking back on years past there is no diversity with the coach(es) being all white, and all the athletes being white as well. In an article titled Stereotypes, Race, and Coaching, they conducted a survey which showed up having an under


representation of African American coaches as well. Not only is this a problem among the swimming and diving team it is evident across almost all sports, the women’s and men’s soccer team also has a history of hiring white head coaches, the men’s and women’s tennis teams also have only ever had white head coaches. This underrepresentation is not fair, and it shows that the university is not as diverse as the metro area that surrounds it. There has been evidence of slight increases in the number of head coaches who are African American, but this increase is only being represented in sports such as basketball (Sartore, 2006. Pg. 70).


In conclusion of this semester long project, a magnitude of information was sifted through, analyzed, and categorized to determine the racial diversity of the sports teams here at the University Of Nebraska Omaha. To begin the project, as it has been seen, was begun by looking at multiple scholarly articles that related to race, class, gender, and socioeconomic status in children going up, as well as college students playing a division 1 sport. These articles served as a guideline as to what was to be looked for and what to be analyzed at the beginning of the project. Although, it was difficult to analyze all of the aspects mentioned above, as it is not ethical and very challenging to begin to try and get the socioeconomic status of the students who play sports attending the University Of Nebraska Omaha, a great deal of information was discovered. The research that was conducted in the project was to determine the racial make up of these sports teams at UNO, and by doing this, the understanding on the matter at hand has grown immensely. Furthermore, it was very important to also be able to analyze the racial make up of other


colleges here in Nebraska, as it was very interesting to see how UNO compared to other division 1 sports programs in Nebraska.

The comparisons between the colleges allowed the idea to analyze the racial makeup of not only the University Of Nebraska Omaha’s athletic department, but also Creighton College, and the University of Nebraska Lincoln. This information immensely helped the project by allowing it to show how young children growing up tend to choose which sport to play, and the other factors that are involved, including family life and their social demographic. Therefore, this project and the scholarly articles gives insight on how the kid, sport, and parent relationship play into deciding a sport as a youth, and how the racial diversity of sports teams come into play.




















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