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Discussing Race in American Professional Sport: The Case of Mixed-Race Athletes Tiger Woods and Colin Kaepernick

Le discours sur la question raciale dans le sport professionnel américain: le cas des sportifs métis Tiger Woods et Colin Kaepernick
Nathalie Loison

Résumés

À la fin des années 1990, le Bureau du recensement américain a envisagé d’ajouter une case « multiracial » sur ses nouveaux formulaires pour quantifier une population multiraciale que l’on estimait en augmentation. Lors de cette période dite « post-raciale » prétendument caractérisée par la fin du racisme, le golfeur Tiger Woods et le joueur de football Colin Kaepernick, tous deux métissés, ont abordé la question de la race au début de leur carrière. En 1997, Woods a créé le néologisme Cablinasian pour désigner son métissage, rejetant ainsi les conventions sociales qui le contraignaient à s’identifier comme noir. En 2016, Kaepernick a refusé de se lever pendant l’hymne américain afin de protester contre les discriminations raciales. Cet article vise à analyser les images de Woods et de Kaepernick en tant que constructions raciales. Il étudie le discours qu’ils ont tenu sur la question raciale, ainsi que leur éventuelle complicité avec les médias dans la construction de leur image, dans le but de circonscrire leur identité raciale. Considérer leur discours sous un angle historique montrera que leur image médiatique repose sur la nécessité, pour les sportifs américains non-blancs, d’inscrire leur récit personnel dans les débats politiques de leur époque.

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Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

politics, multiracial, postracial, sports

Index by keywords :

politique, multiracial, post-racial, sports
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Texte intégral

  • 1 Sean Illing, “Race and football: Why NFL owners are so scared of Colin Kaepernick”, Vox, September (...)
  • 2 Alexis Trémoulinas, « Sport et relations raciales. Le cas des sports américains », Revue française (...)
  • 3 The American Dream ideal is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitu (...)
  • 4 The question of race representation also arises in fields as diverse as entertainment and politics (...)
  • 5 Features Desk, “Horse Racing and its Diversity Downfalls”, The New Black Magazine, September 12, 20 (...)
  • 6 Michael Bamberger, “Where are all the black golfers? Nearly two decades after Tiger Woods’ arrival, (...)
  • 7 Ian Chiang, “The Lack of Asians and Asian American Athletes in Professional Sports”, Prezi, Novembe (...)
  • 8 Rachel Allison, “Assessing the Patters: Race, Class, and Opportunities in American Football”, The S (...)
  • 9 Richard Giulianotti, Sport: A Critical Sociology, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2005, 65.
  • 10 Earl Smith, Race, Sport and the American Dream, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2007.
  • 11 Sean Illing, op. cit.; Rachel Allison, op. cit.
  • 12 Alexis Trémoulinas, op. cit.

1In 2018, American sociologist Ben Carrington asserted that sport should be considered as a political object because it “[is] probably the most racially tinged spectacle in modern society.”1 Indeed, engaging race through the prism of sports, which stage racialized bodies and performances in a set of popular and highly-publicized activities, opens up a series of tricky debates.2 In that respect, sport is often presented in mass media and popular culture as proof that meritocracy exists, regardless of racial discriminations and economic inequalities. It constitutes a vehicle of choice for promoting the myth of the American Dream,3 which promises upward mobility to anyone who achieves hard work, as its very essence lies in the surpassing of one’s limits. Yet, American professional sport is racially cleaved as it underrepresents or over-represents different racial groups in specific disciplines.4 Thus, whereas white athletes are predominant in prestigious and elitist fields such as horse-riding5 and golfing,6 Asian Americans only represent a tiny minority in football, baseball, hockey and basketball.7 Conversely, African American athletes are disproportionately present in basketball, baseball and sprinting. In the case of football, while 13.2 percent of the American population is black, 68.7 percent of National Football League players are African Americans coming mostly from poor and working-class backgrounds.8 Now, the pervasiveness of Blacks in football results from an interconnection of social, economic and cultural factors.9 According to French sociologist Alexis Trémoulinas, recruiters tend to be influenced by racist ideologies of black physical superiority and give greater consideration to players from small and economically-disadvantaged towns heavily populated by young African Americans. In addition, a paucity of employment opportunities in these areas,10 racial discriminations in social institutions and the cultural promotion of black athletes11 lead many black men to consider professional sport as the only means to climb the social ladder.12 Sport therefore has to be examined in light of the racial imagery existing in the media.

  • 13 Touré, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to Be Black Now, New York: Free Press, 2011, 1 (...)
  • 14 Heather Dalmage, (ed.), The Politics of Multiracialism: Challenging Racial Thinking, Albany: State (...)
  • 15 David L. Brunsma and Kerry Ann Rockquemore, “What Does "Black" Mean? Exploring the Epistemological (...)

2In parallel, at the turn of the 21st century, new debates regarding the advent of an alleged “post-racial” society and the creation of a “multiracial” category by the Census Bureau marked a rupture in race representation. The press developed the concept of a “post-racial” society to describe a period stretching from the early 1990s to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. It posited that the United States had overcome racial prejudice and discriminations, as signified by the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency.13 A new multiracial population was believed to have increased since racially-mixed marriages had been acknowledged in 1967 and immigration quotas had been abandoned in 1965. Consequently, in 1997, the Census Bureau considered the idea of adding a “multiracial” category on the 2000 census form to quantify these individuals, at the request of lobbies of racially-mixed families or individuals.14 Many Democrats opposed this proposal because they feared that the number of multiracial individuals would reduce the demographic and political importance of each non-white group in statistics, which could have been detrimental to them in terms of subsidies and public services. Billions of dollars are indeed allocated every year to racial minorities in the fields of housing and medical research for example, and the amount depends on the size of each group.15 These events thus raised two concerns: How could the Americans racially identify if race was not a monolithic notion anymore? How relevant was the concept of race?

  • 16 Marine Desnoue, “Colin Kaepernick: la force du geste”, Yard, 2017. <https://yard.media/colin-kaepe (...)
  • 17 Aimee Lewis, “Kaepernick: A cultural star fast turning into a global icon”, CNN, September 10, 2018 (...)
  • 18 Domenico Montanaro, “Trump, The NFL And the Powder Keg History of Race, Sports and Politics”, NPR, (...)
  • 19 The Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2013 after George Zimmerman, the murderer of black h (...)
  • 20 John Branch, “The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick”, The New York Times, September 7, 2017.
  • 21 Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Colin Kaepernick reveals what led him to risk his career kneeling for social (...)

3In that context, two high-profile athletes – golfer Tiger Woods and football player Colin Kaepernick – appear as emblematic of the multiracial identity and the “post-racial” society for two reasons. First, both of them are mixed-race, which broadens the perspective of potential racial identifications. Woods (b.1975) is the son of an African American former Army officer and a Thai secretary his father met during the Vietnam War. Kapernick (b.1987) was born to an unknown black man who left before his birth and Heidi Russo, an economically disadvantaged 19-year-old white woman. She gave him up for adoption to a white couple, Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, who already had two children and decided to adopt him after losing two other sons from a heart disease.16 Second, a diachronic approach shows that both men garnered media attention after addressing the subject of race at the beginning of their careers, during the “post-racial” period: Tiger Woods did so at the beginning of this period, and Colin Kaepernick did it at its end. In April 1997, shortly after winning the Masters Tournament that heralded him as the first non-white golf champion, Woods claimed on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he refused to be defined as black. Instead, he used the self-invented portmanteau word “Cablinasian”, which is composed of the first syllable of the words “Caucasian”, “Black”, “Indian” and “Asian”, to encapsulate his racial mixing. Almost 20 years later, in August 2016, Colin Kaepernick caused a national controversy because he did not stand up when the U.S. national anthem was played during a pre-season match. His aim was to object to police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.17 Since then, his protest has encouraged numerous black athletes to follow suit.18 As part of the Black Lives Matter movement,19 he joined a black fraternity at the University of Nevada in 201020 seeking inspiration in black political activists’ books to structure his campaign.21

4This article aims to analyze the public images of Tiger Woods and Colin Kaepernick as racial constructs. It interrogates their discourse on the notion of race – as well as their potential complicity with the media’s construction of their image – to sketch the outline of their possible racial identity. Putting Woods and Kaepernick’s discourses on race in historical perspective will show that their media image builds on the athletes’ need to frame their narrative into the political debates of their times. This paper will first give an overview of the two men’s perceptions of their racial identity and the racial issue. Then, it will examine the influences behind the production of their racial representations in their respective periods of success – the beginning of the “post-racial” period and its end, the Trump era.

Discussing race as a mixed-race athlete

  • 22 Martenzie Johnson, “What Laura Ingraham’s Attack on LeBron James Really Means”, The Undefeated, Feb (...)

5In 2018, Fox News host Laura Ingraham questioned black basketball player LeBron James’s intelligence and told him to “shut up and dribble” after he claimed that President Donald Trump neither understood, nor cared about American people.22 This statement raises a key question: what agency do the media give non-white American sportsmen such as Tiger Woods and Colin Kaepernick to express their political opinion and address the racial issue in public ? Interestingly, one similarity appears in their personal narratives – they have seldom commented on their racial identity and have not managed to define it accurately.

6In 1995, shortly before his first participation in the US Open, Tiger Woods issued the following statement to respond to the media’s inquiry about his racial identity:

  • 23 Jennifer Ann Ho, Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University (...)

The purpose of this statement is to explain my heritage for the benefit of members of the media who may be seeing me play for the first time. It is the first and last comment I will make regarding this issue. My parents have taught me to always be proud of my ethnic background. Please, rest assured that is, and always will be the case – present, past, and future. The media has portrayed me as African American, sometimes Asian. Yes, I am the product of two great cultures – one African American and the other Asian. On my father’s side, I am African American; on my mother’s side, I am Thai. Truthfully, I feel very fortunate and equally proud to be both African American and Asian. The critical and fundamental point is that ethnic background should not make a difference. It does not make a difference to me. The bottom line is that I’m American …. And proud of it. That is who I am and what I am. Now, with your cooperation, I hope I can just be a golfer and a human being.23

  • 24 Gary Smith, “The Chosen One”, Sports Illustrated, December 23, 1996, 52-68.
  • 25 Tiger Woods, “Determination and Grit” in Pete McDaniel, Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of Africans-A (...)
  • 26 Tiger Woods, How I Play Golf: A Master Class with the World’s Greatest Golfer, New York: Little Br (...)

7This quotation is striking on several counts. First, Woods indicates that he will never publicly comment on his racial identity again, but he repeatedly did so from the following year, when his career blossomed. Second, he never uses the word “race”, an ideological term invented to discriminate against non-white populations. Instead, he prefers to employ “ethnic background” which evokes any individual’s culture, language and history. This turn of phrase, as well as the stress he puts on his American nationality, enable him to elude the topic of racism. Then, he associates his multiracial identity with the values of tolerance his parents have passed down to him, thereby conveying a positive image of racial mixing. Last, he corrects the media’s misrepresentation of him as an African American or an Asian by defining himself as being equally black and Asian. In 1996, one year before Woods became the world’s best non-white golfer, he repeated his indifference to the racial issue to a Sports Illustrated journalist, even though he said he realized how important this subject was in the United States: “[t]he only time I think about race is when the media ask me.”24 Yet, in subsequent years, he emphasized his African American origins by declaring that Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford and Ted Rhodes, the first black American golfers, and black baseball champion Jackie Robinson had paved the way for his success25. Moreover, he paid tribute to such black athletes as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who fought racial discrimination.26

  • 27 Martenzie Johnson, “Colin Kaepernick’s parents break silence: ‘We absolutely do support him’”, The (...)
  • 28 Yesha, “Colin Kaepernick’s Mother ‘Scolds’ Him on Twitter Over National Anthem”, The Root, August (...)
  • 29 The “one-drop rule” is a social and legal principle that considers all persons descending of at le (...)

8Like Tiger Woods, Colin Kaepernick explained in 2015 his incapacity to choose his race: “I never felt that I was supposed to be white. Or black, either. My parents just wanted to let me be who I needed to be.”27 This claim is paradoxical when reported from his adoptive parents’ point of view since they promoted his blackness as a child. Teresa Kaepernick repeated that she and her husband did not ascribe a white identity to their child because they had his personal interest at heart: “You want him to feel really good about the race he is. You’re not trying to make him white.”28 Instead, and because the biracial teenager raised by a white family did sense his difference, they decided to surround him, she said, with “other black people” such as Afro hairdressers who cornrowed his hair. Now, the word “other” in this segment implies that Colin Kaepernick’s parents perceive him as African American, in compliance with the “one-drop rule.”29 However, their mentioning black hairstylists as potential members of a black peer group for their child is indicative of their lack of connection with the African American community. Indeed, the bonds that the boy may have created with them may only have been transient and superficial since they met in a strictly commercial context.

  • 30 Kerry Ann Rockquemore, “Deconstructing Tiger Woods: The Promise and the Pitfalls of Multiracial Id (...)
  • 31 Lawrence Donegan, “Old Father Shrine”, CNN, April 7, 2002.
  • 32 Robert Lipsyte, “Back Talk; Some Woods Supporters Are Aware of His Flaws”, The New York Times, Aug (...)
  • 33 “Tiger Woods Cards a Bogey”, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Fall 2002, number 37, 60.
  • 34 Maureen Dowd, “Par for the Coarse”, The New York Times, June 14, 1997.
  • 35 L. John Wertheim, “The Ad that Launched a Thousand Hits Tiger Woods Came Under Fire for Failing to (...)

9What separates Tiger Woods and Colin Kaepernick is their own perception of their role as spokespeople. From his early testimonies, it seems Woods never decided to initiate a national debate on race. For example, in 1996, he did not intervene to defend Republican Representative Tom Petri’s bill which asked for a “multiracial” category to be added on the 2000 census forms and did not give his permission for his image to be associated with the bill.30 In May 2000, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People requested black athletes to protest against South Carolina’s refusal to withdraw the Confederate flag that was flying over the state’s Capitol. Unlike tennis champion Serena Williams and the New York Knicks basketball team, he did not show solidarity with this project: “I’m a golfer. That’s their deal, not mine.”31 Broadly speaking, Tiger Woods has always refused to support any political cause or to raise the question of race. In 2002, he turned a deaf ear to a lobby group which urged him to question the discriminations three British and American golf clubs practiced against women: “They’re entitled to set up their own rules the way they want them. It would be nice to see everyone have an equal chance to participate if they wanted to, but there is nothing you can do about it.”32 He did not support the Nike factory workers in Thailand – his mother’s native country – who asked him to intercede on their behalf to improve their working conditions. Finally, he continued the shooting of a commercial for General Motors despite an actors’ union strike against the advertising industry. Given his considerable media coverage, Tiger Woods could have denounced these companies and associations and encouraged them to change their rules.33 However, he waived this role of political advocate: “I can’t be the champion of all causes. […] that’s just the way it is.”34 In 2003, he justified his disinvolvement in political causes by the fact that he, as a sportsman, was not legitimate for taking action: “There are certain things I truly believe in. […] Trying to grow junior golf as well as provide children with a better learning base for life, that’s what I’m trying to do socially, [not] some of these other issues people are trying to drag me into. […] Am I a politician? No. I’m a professional athlete.”35

  • 36 Nick Wagoner, “Colin Kaepernick’s Protests Anthem Over Treatment of Minorities”, ESPN, August 28, (...)
  • 37 Aimee Lewis, op.cit.; Tyler Lauletta, “Colin Kaepernick has already donated more than $1 million of (...)
  • 38 Ashley Fetters, Christopher Gayomali, Mark Anthony Green, Lauren Larson, Ira Madison III, Kevin Ng (...)
  • 39 John Newby, “NFL is reportedly Moving on’ from Colin Kaepernick, and Twitter Has Thoughts”, Pop Cul (...)
  • 40 Edvard Pettersson, “Colin Kaepernick Settles Blacklisting Lawsuit Against NFL”, Bloomberg, Februar (...)
  • 41 John Newby, op. cit.

10By contrast, Colin Kaepernick has made a point of voicing his political opinion. When asked why he refused to stand up during the playing of the U.S. national anthem in August 2016, he placed a particular emphasis on his personal convictions: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”36 A few days later, his team and the National Football League (NFL) released a statement saying they respected his decision because they held dear the American principle of freedom of speech. On September 1, he was persuaded by Nate Boyer, a former American footballer and Green Beret, to kneel rather that sit as a sign of respect for the national anthem. He was soon joined by teammate Eric Reid as well as other NFL players and promised to donate $1 million to American organizations helping oppressed communities and fighting social injustice.37 To express his political convictions with his clothes, Kaepernick appeared wearing socks featuring cartoon pigs in police uniforms and a t-shirt representing former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Then, he revealed that he did not vote in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.38 In March 2017, he terminated his contract with the 49ers to become a free agent before they could release him. Seven months later, he filed a grievance against the NFL, which he accused of collusion to keep him out of the league.39 Even though the NFL agreed on an out-of-court settlement with Kaepernick in February 2019,40 he has never managed to find work again.41

11Undoubtedly, Woods’ and Kaepernick’s stance on racial issues has influenced the perspective the media have taken on them and their portrayal as racial minorities spokespeople. However, their media image has also been fashioned with their complicity in order to respond to specific economic or political injunctions. In that sense, what especially seems to have determined Woods and Kaepernick’s racial identity is the historical period in which they emerged. In the case of the golfer, the tacit social consensus on the necessity to downplay the existence of racism in the United States at the beginning of the ‘post-racial’ period has contributed to shape his racial representation.

Neoliberalism and the multiracial identity in the “post-racial” period

  • 42 Henry Yu, “Tiger Woods at the Center of History: Looking Back at the Twentieth Century through the (...)

12In 1996, when Tiger Woods decided to turn professional, Nike signed a $40-million advertising contract with him in the hope of appealing to new black customers and the international market. The company then released “Hello World”, a commercial in which the golfer testified to his own experience of racism as a dark-skinned man and reminded the audience that racial inequalities continued to occur in the United States. On that occasion, he did not stress his racial mixing and he positioned himself as black. Furthermore, he conveyed a message which conflicted with his refusal to commit to any political cause. The following year, Woods became the first non-white winner of the United States Masters Tournament and “Hello World” was ranked as the most popular TV advertisement of the year by the readers of USA Today.42

  • 43 Donna J. Barbie (ed.), The Tiger Woods Phenomenon: Essays on the Cultural Impact of Golf’s Fallible (...)
  • 44 Hiram Perez, “How to Rehabilitate a Mulatto. The Iconography of Tiger Woods” in Shilpa Dave, LeiLa (...)
  • 45 In 1998, Bill Clinton ordered a report on American race relations to be drawn up. Nevertheless, th (...)
  • 46 David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, New York: Basic Books, 2000, 229-2 (...)

13Although the spot was well-received by most American viewers, others pointed out that there was actually no golf course in the United States where the now famous Tiger Woods would not be allowed to play golf. Washington Post columnist James Glassman requested Nike to disclose a list of discriminatory courses, but the firm admitted that such a document could not be established.43 However, as Nike publicist James Small explained, “the Tiger Woods represented in the ad whom [people] mistook for a black man [was] only a metaphor for the black man.”44 This heated discussion shows how contentious discussing race still was then, as the controversy surrounding Bill Clinton’s report on racial relations confirmed this two years later.45 Indeed, for fear of a social crisis, some political experts appointed by Clinton in order to draw up this document deliberately suppressed some data which proved that all non-white groups were discriminated against by the white population.46

14In their next commercial titled “I am Tiger Woods” (1997), Nike avoided making explicit political comments about racism in America and chose instead to celebrate the multiracial identity that Woods claimed again on the Oprah Winfrey Show in April 1997. Nike commercialized a clothing line featuring the Tiger Woods logo – a sign representing his dual Asian American and African American identity (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Tiger Woods Logo for Nike designed by Gordon Thompson in 1997 © Nike, Inc.

Figure 1: Tiger Woods Logo for Nike designed by Gordon Thompson in 1997 © Nike, Inc.
  • 47 Henry Yu, op. cit., 14-15, 25; Mike Snider, “Nike Unveils Tiger Woods Logo”, USA Today, June 13, 1 (...)

15The young athlete rapidly signed an advertising contract with golf course management firm AE and negotiated the sale of a book, a watch and a mug. The “Tiger Woods” products were then sold as a symbol of reconciliation between racial groups thanks to his tagline “Cablinasian”. In 1996, on the set of ABC’s Nightline TV show, sports journalist John Feinstein drew a parallel between Tiger Woods’ racial identity and the considerable sums of money offered to him by Nike to endorse the brand. According to Feinstein, the multinational was developing a marketing strategy based on the golfer’s multiracial identity claim so as to present him as America’s savior.47

  • 48 Denene Millner, “In Creating a Word to Describe His Racial Make-Up, Golfer Tiger Woods Has Also Sti (...)
  • 49 Heather M. Dalmage, Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families in a Racially Divi (...)
  • 50 Anonymous, “Notables Give Views on Tiger Woods’ African American Dilemma”, Ebony, June 30, 1997, vo (...)
  • 51 Earl Woods, Playing Through: Straight Talk on Hard Work, Big Dreams and Adventures with Tiger, New (...)
  • 52 Maureen Dowd, “Tiger’s Double Bogey”, The New York Times, April 19, 1997.

16While Tiger Woods’ “Cablinasian” identity was soon associated with the Census Bureau’s project to create a “multiracial” category, some African American intellectuals and journalists accused the golfer of dissociating himself from the black community.48 In that sense, he was the victim of “borderism”, which American sociologist Heather Dalmage describes as “a unique form of discrimination faced by those who cross the color line, do not stick with their own, or attempt to claim membership (or are faced by others) in more than one racial group. […] It is a product of a racist system yet comes from both sides.”49 In 1997, African American Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist and a former candidate in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic Party’s presidential election primaries, warned Tiger Woods against identifying as “Cablinasian”: “[I]f he’s seen as rejecting Blacks and not being totally accepted by Whites in these circles, that leaves him in the Twilight Zone – too Black to be White, too White to be Black.”50 The following year, African American golfer Calvin Peete criticized the mixed-race golf champion for denying his black identity.51 Lastly, in 2009, white journalist Sarah Wheaton accused Woods of having deliberately distanced himself from the African American community after he missed a ceremony held to honor a black sportsman in 1997.52

  • 53 Karen S. Peterson, “Interracial Dating for Today’s Teen, Race ‘Not an Issue Anymore”, USA Today, No (...)
  • 54 Rainier Spencer, “Only the News They Want to Print: Mainstream Media and Critical Mixed-Race Studie (...)
  • 55 The word “colorblind”, which characterizes the persons who are unable to distinguish one or more c (...)
  • 56 Heather Dalmage (ed.), op. cit., 2-4; Paul Schor, Compter et classer : Histoire des recensements am (...)
  • 57 Sylvie Laurent, ibid., 127; Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making o (...)

17In spite of this, in the context of the 2000 census reform, journalist Karen S. Peterson regarded the sportsman as the embodiment of the more racially-mixed American society to come: “[S]ome experts […] suggest the new poll findings, combined with studies showing greater acceptance of interracial marriage, portend literally a changing face for America’s future. They project a multiracial nation symbolized by golfer Tiger Woods’ self-proclaimed ‘Cablinasian’ (Caucasian-Black-American Indian-Asian) heritage”.53 More generally, the mainstream press of that period wrongly suggested that the emergence of a new generation of mixed-race individuals would eventually invalidate the notion of race, without questioning the structural economic inequalities in the United States.54 Meanwhile, some Republican advocates of colorblindness55 decided to support the multiracial lobbies that were calling for the suppression of racial categories in the census. Arguing that the notion of race had become obsolete in a country that was by then tolerant towards non-white populations, they hoped to obtain the dismantling of Affirmative Action policies.56 For example, in 1996, California passed Proposition 209 which prohibited the state from considering race, sex or ethnicity in public employment and education. As a result, the number of Black students enrolled at Berkeley University immediately decreased by 50%.57

  • 58 Sylvie Laurent, op. cit., 80, 100-104, 172.

18While the belief that the notion of race had lost significance was gaining prominence, racial discriminations continued to exist. The very strict security policy advocated by Republicans and supported by a majority in both parties aggravated the situation of the African American community. The Three-Strike Law (1994) permitted the courts to sentence perpetrators of three consecutive offenses to life imprisonment. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996) increased the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty. Moreover, public spending was massively invested in building prisons and the recruitment of police officers and security agents. States pledged subcontracting companies to fill prison cells at a minimum occupation rate of 70% or to refund them. In 1996, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program enabled private firms such as McDonald’s, Walmart and Starbucks to employ convicts without paying them at minimum wage or contributing to their health insurance. At the end of President Clinton’s second term, the number of convicts – most of whom came from black or Hispanic disadvantaged backgrounds – skyrocketed while public spending dropped from 22% to 18% of the GDP.58

  • 59 Henry Yu, op. cit.., 19.

19Ultimately, Tiger Woods’ public identification as multiracial was exploited for political ends, with his tacit consent. Besides, his refusal to defend certain social causes that could have affected his public image may have been motivated by the fear of being associated with values that his sponsors did not endorse. American historian Henry Yu explains his apolitical stance by the growing influence of the economy on American professional sport in the 1990s. This situation led many African American sportsmen to avoid political commitments so as not to unsettle their own position in the highly lucrative sports industry.59 On the contrary, Colin Kaepernick’s highly-publicized denunciation of racism in the United States is a sign of the Trump era – the current period under Donald Trump’s presidential term. As a matter of fact, Kaepernick’s media-ascribed African American identity – which he has implicitly-accepted – indicates the return of outspoken sportsmen.

Countering the white backlash in the Trump era

  • 60 Serge Ricard, “The Trump Phenomenon and the Racialization of American Politics”, Revue LISA/ LISA (...)
  • 61 As an example of stacking, less than 5% of African Americans worked as sport agents in 2006. Those (...)
  • 62 Sam Farmer, “Spiral Bound”, The Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2012.

20In 2016, the year when President Donald Trump was elected, American society turned the page on the “post-racial” period, or the myth of a racism-free nation. As a matter of fact, Trump’s racist diatribes against undocumented immigrants and Muslim refugees have led to an increase in racially-motivated incivility and crime.60 At the same time, Colin Kaepernick’s political stance turned him into an overnight global celebrity. As a quarterback, Kaepernick holds a strategic position that is highly appreciated by the public. It is one of the highest-paid and most scrutinized posts in team sports, closely resembling the position of General in an army. He must memorize the plays that he lays out and needs to be accurate and to make quick decisions. Kaepernick’s role as a quarterback proves that he has not been the victim of stacking61 – the relegation of black athletes to subordinate on-field positions or off managing posts, in spite of their athletic skills. The sportsman occupies a position that the average white American male can identify with. Therefore, he may be subjected to harsh criticism if he does not comply with the Whites’ social codes or if he does not keep up with the responsibilities they have entrusted him with.62 Soon after Kaepernick was seen sitting during the national anthem, his political statement was subjected to a battle of influence between liberal and conservative groups. Although the former applauded his brave denunciation of racial discrimination in the United States, the latter turned his message into an anti-patriotic act.

  • 63 Domenico Montanaro, op. cit.
  • 64 Ibid.
  • 65 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.
  • 66 Tyler Lauletta, op. cit..
  • 67 Alex Abad-Santos, “Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad sparked a boycott – and earned $6 billion for Nike”, (...)

21Indeed, in August 2017, during a rally for Luther Strange, the candidate he supported for the 2017 Alabama senatorial primary, an infuriated President Donald Trump, called for the protesting players who showed solidarity with their colleague to be dismissed.63 When asked by reporters if he had encouraged racial tensions by commenting on Kaepernick’s protest, Trump made it a question of anti-patriotism and denied its link with racial issues: “No, this has nothing to do with race. […] I’ve never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”64 A month later, Nike launched their thirtieth-anniversary advertising campaign with a black-and-white close-up picture of Kaepernick and the following tagline: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”65 The sports apparel manufacturer also pledged to donate money to his “Know Your Rights” campaign, which aims to empower underprivileged youths by informing them of their legal rights.66 The Kaepernick ad sparked an immediate Nike boycott by several conservative media outlets, Twitter users and Nike customers, but later brought in six million dollars to the firm.67

  • 68 Aimee Lewis, ibid.
  • 69 Ava Du Vernay used the expression “that brother” to indicate the admiration Kaepernick inspired in (...)
  • 70 Ibid. Jackie Robinson became the first black baseball player in the United States in 1947.
  • 71 Muhammad Ali was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles after refusing to (...)
  • 73 Domenico Montanaro, op. cit. In 1969, Curt Flood challenged a clause in professional baseball that (...)
  • 74 Aimee Lewis, op. cit. Craig Hodges appeared at a White House ceremony in 1992 wearing a dashiki to (...)
  • 75 Aimee Lewis, ibid.; Marine Desnoue, op. cit; Ashley Fetters et al., op. cit. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf als (...)
  • 76 Andrew Corsello, “CK1: Colin Kaepernick”, GQ, August 14, 2013.
  • 77 Ashley Fetters et al., op. cit.

22In the meantime, the media started representing Kaepernick as black. First, ABC 27 News reporter Aimee Lewis described him as a “black athlete” and, contradictorily, as “a black man with a black biological father and a white biological mother.”68 African American film director Ava DuVernay implied that the quarterback was part of her racial community by calling him “that brother.”69 He has been compared to numerous black sportsmen, which suggests that most journalists regard him as African American. The football player has, in particular, been cited along renowned black dissenting sportsmen such as Jackie Robinson,70 boxer Muhammad Ali71 and sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith. His name has also been associated with baseball player Curt Flood73 and basketball players Craig Hodges74 and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.75 Colin Kaepernick’s visual representation by the press has increasingly stressed his supposed blackness. For instance, as the August 2013 issue of GQ pays a tribute to the football player’s physical prowess, its front cover shows a smiling and sexy athlete sporting tattoos on a naked, muscular chest and a crew cut that conceals his potentially frizzy hair (fig. 2).76 By contrast, the front cover of the November 2017 issue – which awards Kaepernick the title of “citizen of the year” – turns him into a combination of a rapper and a Black Panther activist. His facial expression is severe and he is dressed in black (fig. 3). He is wearing an Afro which takes half the space of the page and a gold necklace. In the same magazine, Kaepernick is intentionally staged by the editors in a context that is reminiscent of Muhammad Ali. He appears surrounded by black men, women, and children in Harlem like the socially discarded boxer, who could be seen in the same streets chased by admiring black children while jogging.77

Figure 2: Cover of the August 2013 issue of GQ © Martin Schoeller

Figure 2: Cover of the August 2013 issue of GQ © Martin Schoeller

Figure 3: Cover of the November 2017 Issue of GQ © Ben Watts/ Art Department

Figure 3: Cover of the November 2017 Issue of GQ © Ben Watts/ Art Department
  • 78 Leonard Charles Eshmont (1917-1957) was an American football player for the San Francisco 49ers who (...)
  • 79 The W. E. B. Du Bois Medal is Harvard’s highest honor in the field of African and African American (...)
  • 80 Aimee Lewis, op. cit

23The characterization of Colin Kaepernick as an African American, as well as his political statements, have undoubtedly contributed to liken him to the Civil Rights Movement leaders. The prestigious prizes he has won for his role as a spokesperson for racial minorities have also probably helped turn him into an icon. One year after his teammates voted him the winner of the Len Eshmont award “for inspirational and courageous play” in 2016, he was granted the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award by American weekly magazine Sports Illustrated, the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award by the ACLU and the Puffin/Nation Institute Prize for Creative Citizenship.78 In 2018, he received the Harvard University W. E. B. Du Bois Medal and the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.79 To Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke, the man whom political activist Linda Sarsour called an “American hero” therefore represents the embodiment of American values: “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, or any place.”80

  • 81 Yesha, op. cit..
  • 82 Tyler Lauletta, op. cit.
  • 83 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.
  • 84 Mychal Denzel Smith, “Colin Kaepernick's protest might be unpatriotic. And that's just fine”, The (...)

24Yet, Colin Kaepernick’s allegiance to the African American community has not enabled him to elude “borderism”. In 2016, former black football player Rodney Harrison declared that the football player was “not black” because he had never been confronted with the daily injustices that black men face.81 Besides, some journalists and personalities suggested he was not protesting loudly enough. For example, journalist Tyler Lauletta noticed that Kaepernick hardly spoke to the media after he filed his grievance against the NFL and merely posted a few occasional messages on social media.82 In 2018, journalist Aimee Lewis also remarked that his choice to sit down during the national anthem and his stance on the racial issue were not noticed or questioned for ten days – between April 16 and 26, 2016 – until NFL.com journalist Steve Wyche looked closer at a picture of the 49ers and saw Kaepernick sitting alone on a bench near the coolers.83 Nate Boyer, the former American footballer and Green Beret who persuaded Kaepernick to kneel during the anthem rather than sit as a sign of respect for the military, called for him to be more vocal in order to encourage a national conversation on race. Similarly, historian Louis Moore regretted that his voice was not louder: “Kap stayed silent for a year. He could’ve taken advantage of 24-hour news, social media, but he stayed silent. […] Ali, he stayed active, he did tours, he was on the news, he did radio. Kap stayed silent for a year. In that sense, he has an ability to have a bigger platform because of social media but he didn’t use it.”84

  • 85 Mychal Denzel Smith, op. cit.

25This staging of Kaepernick’s racial identity has benefited both the athlete and the media. Indeed, the NFL would probably not have agreed on an out-of-court settlement with Kaepernick if the media had not drawn the public’s attention to this African American hero’s fight. In turn, liberal journalists exploited his stance so as to advance their political agenda and speak out against Trump’s infringement on racial minorities’ rights. However, their promotion of the quarterback’s cause has enabled the opposing camp to downplay the extent of racism by transforming his advocacy of racial equality into a mere matter of anti-patriotism. In 2018, journalist Mychal Denzel Smith noticed that “[o]n the same day that the NFL announced a new policy requiring all players to stand for the anthem or face a fine (this policy was overturned before preseason began), video surfaced of Milwaukee police officers tasering NBA player Sterling Brown for a parking violation.”85 In other words, while police brutality was still a headline topic, the media focused on whether or not the football players were disrespecting the flag and the anthem.

  • 86 Luc Vinogradoff, « Élection américaine : le ‘whitelash’ ou comment une partie du pays appréhende la (...)
  • 87 Luc Vinogradoff, ibid.; Sylvie Laurent, « Les Noirs sont les sentinelles de l’état de la démocrati (...)
  • 88 Domenico Montanaro, op. cit.
  • 89 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.

26American race relations scholar Christopher Petrella regards the reframing of the quarterback’s narrative as an example of “white-lash”. In November 2016, Van Jones, a black CNN columnist and former White House advisor for Barack Obama, coined this expression (a contraction of the words “white” and “backlash”) to characterize Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.86 After eight years under the leadership of the first African American president, a part of the white population expressed their sense of being socially demoted by choosing as their head of state a white businessman supported by white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan.87 In this connection, Luther Strange considered that the President’s constant tweets on the issue during the Alabama primary would help him win. His inflammatory comments could also have reassured his supporters while he tried to pass the unpopular American Health Care Act so as to partially repeal Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.88 Eager to launch racist and xenophobic invectives at Mexicans, Muslims and immigrants, Donald Trump has unveiled a form of cultural racism which rests on the idea that laws in favor of racial equality are now useless.89 Consequently, the “post-racial” period may be read as an influence on the Trump era because concealing racism for a quarter of a century only helped it gain in strength.

Conclusion

  • 90 In 2010, American historian Thomas J. Sugrue qualified Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric as a (...)
  • 91 Jess Row, op. cit.

27Tiger Woods’ and Colin Kaepernick’s public images showcase their sportive performances and their racial identity. With their consent, the media have exploited their racial identities so as to herald them as American heroes, boost the sales of sport gear and luxury goods and launch or secure their careers. Strikingly, the contrast between the two mixed-race athletes’ political stances speaks volumes on the political debates of their times. Thus, in the “post-racial” period, Woods insisted on remaining apolitical so as not to rock the boat while his “Cablinasian” identity helped tell “the grand narrative of racial reconciliation”90 and conceal the socio-economic discriminations that millions of non-white people faced. In the beginning of the Trump era, Kaepernick stirred controversy by speaking out for his black peers, which reinforced Trump’s racist supporters.91 Since then, his media-constructed and tacitly-accepted African American identity has overshadowed his racial mixing and validated the one-drop rule. In that sense, whether they like it or not, both men have contributed to perpetuate the social order of race-based differentiation.

  • 92 “The Professional Golfers ‘Association: Directors and Officials.”
  • 93 Michael Bamberger, op. cit.
  • 94 William C. Rhoden, “The NFL’s Embrace of Black Players Has Always Been Conditional”, The New York T (...)
  • 95 Jerry Bembry, “Harold Varner III understands the position he’s in on PGA tour”, The Undefeated, Jun (...)
  • 96 Contrary to Colin Kaepernick, rapper and music producer Jay-Z has decided to use the NFL’s importa (...)
  • 97 Sean Illing, op. cit.
  • 98 William C. Rhoden, “Will the NBA’s superstar players exert power when it really matters?”, The Unde (...)
  • 99 The practice of “passing” consists, for some light-skinned mixed-race Blacks, in identifying as wh (...)

28At the same time, Woods’ and Kaepernick’s unique position in American professional sport reveals the limited degree of agency given to athletes of mixed ancestry. For example, the PGA’s board of directors remains solely composed of white males92 to this day and only 1.3 million American amateur golfers – out of a total of 20.3 million – were black in 2013.93 Kaepernick has still not found work in a professional football team94, whereas Woods is the only African American to play on the PGA Tour along with Harold Varner III.95 Besides, Kaepernick’s considerable freedom of speech is unusual in the NFL,96 as opposed to the National Basketball Association where 75% of the players are black and have more collective power to protest racial discriminations97 – as long as they do not attempt to desegregate the NBA’s board of directors.98 In light of this, one may assume that, whatever the circumstances, athletes of mixed descent conserve the possibility to pass99 and break the glass ceiling that prevents many racial minorities from rising to the top of American professional sport.

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Notes

1 Sean Illing, “Race and football: Why NFL owners are so scared of Colin Kaepernick”, Vox, September 6, 2018.

2 Alexis Trémoulinas, « Sport et relations raciales. Le cas des sports américains », Revue française de sociologie, January 2008, vol. 49, 169-196.

3 The American Dream ideal is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. In 1931, American writer James Truslow Adams defined it as follows: "[L]ife should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement […] regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.” James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1980 [1931], 404.

4 The question of race representation also arises in fields as diverse as entertainment and politics. In 2017, 42% of the singers of the 600 most successful songs were from racial minority groups although they only represented 38.7% of the population in the national census. By contrast, 77% of the actors in top film roles were white and 5.2% were Latinos while both groups respectively accounted for 60.4% and 18% of the population. In 2019, 78% of the US Congress members were whites, while they constituted 61% of the total population. See Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Katherine Pieper, “Inclusion in the Recording Studio? Gender and Race/ Ethnicity of Singers, Songwriters and Producers across 600 Popular Songs from 2012-2017”, USC Annenberg, February 5, 2019; Darnell Hunt, Ana-Christiana Ramon and Michael Tran, “Hollywood Diversity. Report 2019. Old Story, New Beginning”, UCLA College/ Social Sciences, February 21, 2019; Kristen Bialik, “For the fifth time in a row, the new Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse ever”, Pew Research Center, February 8, 2019.

5 Features Desk, “Horse Racing and its Diversity Downfalls”, The New Black Magazine, September 12, 2007.

6 Michael Bamberger, “Where are all the black golfers? Nearly two decades after Tiger Woods’ arrival, golf still struggles to attract minorities.” Golf, July 3, 2013.

7 Ian Chiang, “The Lack of Asians and Asian American Athletes in Professional Sports”, Prezi, November 30, 2012.

8 Rachel Allison, “Assessing the Patters: Race, Class, and Opportunities in American Football”, The Society Pages, January 11, 2018.

9 Richard Giulianotti, Sport: A Critical Sociology, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2005, 65.

10 Earl Smith, Race, Sport and the American Dream, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2007.

11 Sean Illing, op. cit.; Rachel Allison, op. cit.

12 Alexis Trémoulinas, op. cit.

13 Touré, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to Be Black Now, New York: Free Press, 2011, 12; Nicole Hannah-Jones, “The End of the Post-Racial Myth”, The New York Times, November 15, 2016.

14 Heather Dalmage, (ed.), The Politics of Multiracialism: Challenging Racial Thinking, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004, 87-88.

15 David L. Brunsma and Kerry Ann Rockquemore, “What Does "Black" Mean? Exploring the Epistemological Stranglehold of Racial Categorization”, Critical Sociology, vol. 28, no 1-2, April 2002, 101-121, 133.

16 Marine Desnoue, “Colin Kaepernick: la force du geste”, Yard, 2017. <https://yard.media/colin-kaepernick-force-geste/>, accessed on May 20, 2019.

17 Aimee Lewis, “Kaepernick: A cultural star fast turning into a global icon”, CNN, September 10, 2018. <https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/07/sport/colin-kaepernick-protest-taking-the-knee-nate-boyer-spt-intl/index.html>, accessed on May 20, 2019.

18 Domenico Montanaro, “Trump, The NFL And the Powder Keg History of Race, Sports and Politics”, NPR, September 25, 2017.

19 The Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2013 after George Zimmerman, the murderer of black high school student Trayvon Martin, was acquitted in Florida. This group has organized hundreds of demonstrations across the United States in order to protest police brutality and systemic racism against black people.

20 John Branch, “The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick”, The New York Times, September 7, 2017.

21 Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Colin Kaepernick reveals what led him to risk his career kneeling for social justice”, CNN, August 20, 2019. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/20/us/colin-kaepernick-mario-woods-paper-magazine/index.html>, accessed on January 6, 2020.

22 Martenzie Johnson, “What Laura Ingraham’s Attack on LeBron James Really Means”, The Undefeated, February 16, 2018.

23 Jennifer Ann Ho, Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015, 80.

24 Gary Smith, “The Chosen One”, Sports Illustrated, December 23, 1996, 52-68.

25 Tiger Woods, “Determination and Grit” in Pete McDaniel, Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of Africans-Americans in Golf, Greenwich, CT: The American Golfer, 2000, 8.

26 Tiger Woods, How I Play Golf: A Master Class with the World’s Greatest Golfer, New York: Little Brown, 2002, 11.

27 Martenzie Johnson, “Colin Kaepernick’s parents break silence: ‘We absolutely do support him’”, The Undefeated, December 10, 2016.

28 Yesha, “Colin Kaepernick’s Mother ‘Scolds’ Him on Twitter Over National Anthem”, The Root, August 30, 2016.

29 The “one-drop rule” is a social and legal principle that considers all persons descending of at least one ancestor of African origins — thus having one drop of black blood — as Africans-Americans, whatever their skin color. It was established in the 19th century to deprive black people of any social status. It is no longer enforced but still permeates American culture and society today. See Joel Williamson, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States, New York: Free Press/ Collier MacMillan, 1980.

30 Kerry Ann Rockquemore, “Deconstructing Tiger Woods: The Promise and the Pitfalls of Multiracial Identity” in Heather Dalmage (ed.), op. cit., 125-139.

31 Lawrence Donegan, “Old Father Shrine”, CNN, April 7, 2002.

32 Robert Lipsyte, “Back Talk; Some Woods Supporters Are Aware of His Flaws”, The New York Times, August 4, 2002.

33 “Tiger Woods Cards a Bogey”, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Fall 2002, number 37, 60.

34 Maureen Dowd, “Par for the Coarse”, The New York Times, June 14, 1997.

35 L. John Wertheim, “The Ad that Launched a Thousand Hits Tiger Woods Came Under Fire for Failing to Take a Stand on Augusta National. After All, Hadn’t He Volunteered for the Job?”, Sports Illustrated, April 14, 2003.

36 Nick Wagoner, “Colin Kaepernick’s Protests Anthem Over Treatment of Minorities”, ESPN, August 28, 2016.

37 Aimee Lewis, op.cit.; Tyler Lauletta, “Colin Kaepernick has already donated more than $1 million of his NFL earnings to social justice charities”, Business Insider, September 5, 2018. <https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/colin-kaepernick-donations-social-justice-charities-2018-9>, accessed on May 15, 2019.

38 Ashley Fetters, Christopher Gayomali, Mark Anthony Green, Lauren Larson, Ira Madison III, Kevin Nguyen, Luisa Rollenhagen, Bijan Stephen, and Jay Willis, “Colin Kaepernick Will Not Be Silenced”, GQ, November 13, 2017. <https://www.gq.com/story/colin-kaepernick-will-not-be-silenced>, accessed on April 28, 2019.

39 John Newby, “NFL is reportedly Moving on’ from Colin Kaepernick, and Twitter Has Thoughts”, Pop Culture, December 12, 2019. <https://popculture.com/sports/2019/12/11/nfl-reportedly-moving-on-colin-kaepernick-twitter-has-opinions/>, accessed on December 12, 2019.

40 Edvard Pettersson, “Colin Kaepernick Settles Blacklisting Lawsuit Against NFL”, Bloomberg, February 15, 2019. <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-15/colin-kaepernick-settles-blacklisting-lawsuit-against-nfl>, accessed on May 15, 2019.

41 John Newby, op. cit.

42 Henry Yu, “Tiger Woods at the Center of History: Looking Back at the Twentieth Century through the Lenses of Race, Sports, and Mass Consumption” in Michael Willard et John Bloom (eds.), Sports Matters: Race, Recreation, and Culture, New York: New York University Press, 2002, 24.

43 Donna J. Barbie (ed.), The Tiger Woods Phenomenon: Essays on the Cultural Impact of Golf’s Fallible Superman, Jefferson, NC: MacFarland and Company, 2012, 118.

44 Hiram Perez, “How to Rehabilitate a Mulatto. The Iconography of Tiger Woods” in Shilpa Dave, LeiLani Nishime et Tasha G. Oren (eds.), East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture, New York: New York University Press, 2005.

45 In 1998, Bill Clinton ordered a report on American race relations to be drawn up. Nevertheless, the Americans gave little credence to this study titled One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future. Indeed, for fear of a possible political crisis, some experts deliberately suppressed certain data showing that all non-white ethno-racial groups were victims of racial discrimination, not only the Blacks. Determined to refute the false notion that racism had disappeared, these specialists were reluctant to assess the extent of racial stigma. See Advisory Board to the President’s Initiative on Race, One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future, Washington D.C., 1998; David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, New York, Basic Books, 2000, 229-230; Janny Scott, “What Politicians Say When They Talk About Race”, The New York Times, March 23, 2008.

46 David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, New York: Basic Books, 2000, 229-230.

47 Henry Yu, op. cit., 14-15, 25; Mike Snider, “Nike Unveils Tiger Woods Logo”, USA Today, June 13, 1997. Article consulted on the pay archives of the New York Times on September 18, 2018.

48 Denene Millner, “In Creating a Word to Describe His Racial Make-Up, Golfer Tiger Woods Has Also Stirred Up a Round of Controversy among Blacks”, The Daily News, June 8, 1997.

49 Heather M. Dalmage, Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families in a Racially Divided World, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003 [2000], 40.

50 Anonymous, “Notables Give Views on Tiger Woods’ African American Dilemma”, Ebony, June 30, 1997, vol. 92, no 6.

51 Earl Woods, Playing Through: Straight Talk on Hard Work, Big Dreams and Adventures with Tiger, New York, Harper and Collins, 1998, 202.

52 Maureen Dowd, “Tiger’s Double Bogey”, The New York Times, April 19, 1997.

53 Karen S. Peterson, “Interracial Dating for Today’s Teen, Race ‘Not an Issue Anymore”, USA Today, November 3, 1997.

54 Rainier Spencer, “Only the News They Want to Print: Mainstream Media and Critical Mixed-Race Studies”, Journal of Critical Mixed-Race Studies, vol. 1, no 1, February 2014.

55 The word “colorblind”, which characterizes the persons who are unable to distinguish one or more chromatic colors, means “indifferent to skin color” in the racial debate and falls within the concept of political correctness. Being “colorblind consists in considering individuals without taking their race into account. Dissenting Justice John Marshall Harlan used it in 1896 to express his disagreement on the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision which established the Segregation in the South: “Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens”.

56 Heather Dalmage (ed.), op. cit., 2-4; Paul Schor, Compter et classer : Histoire des recensements américains, Paris : Éditions de l’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2009, 338 ; Sylvie Laurent, La couleur du marché, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2016, 55.

57 Sylvie Laurent, ibid., 127; Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, New York: New York University Press, 2009, 303.

58 Sylvie Laurent, op. cit., 80, 100-104, 172.

59 Henry Yu, op. cit.., 19.

60 Serge Ricard, “The Trump Phenomenon and the Racialization of American Politics”, Revue LISA/ LISA e-journal [Online], vol. XVI, no 2, 2018. <https://journals.openedition.org/lisa/9832>, accessed on March 2, 2020.

61 As an example of stacking, less than 5% of African Americans worked as sport agents in 2006. Those black professionals are often assigned low-level teams after several white coaches have refused to manage them. They are also dismissed more quickly than their white colleagues in case of bad results even when their teams obtain similar, or even better, scores. Stacking has two main causes: the racist popular belief that Blacks cannot be leaders, and the family nepotism which motivates some sport coaches or trainers to recruit their own sons to replace them. See Alexis Trémoulinas, op. cit.; Earl Smith, op. cit., 31, 184-186.

62 Sam Farmer, “Spiral Bound”, The Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2012.

63 Domenico Montanaro, op. cit.

64 Ibid.

65 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.

66 Tyler Lauletta, op. cit..

67 Alex Abad-Santos, “Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad sparked a boycott – and earned $6 billion for Nike”, Vox, September 24, 218.<https://www.vox.com/2018/9/24/17895704/nike-colin-kaepernick-boycott-6-billion>, accessed on December 20, 2019. Aimee Lewis, op. cit.

68 Aimee Lewis, ibid.

69 Ava Du Vernay used the expression “that brother” to indicate the admiration Kaepernick inspired in her when they met the night after Trump publicly asked him to be dismissed. Ashley Fetters et al, op. cit.

70 Ibid. Jackie Robinson became the first black baseball player in the United States in 1947.

71 Muhammad Ali was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles after refusing to fight in Vietnam in 1966.

72 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.; Martenzie Johnson, op. cit.; Marine Desnoue, op. cit.; Domenico Montanaro, op. cit. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists during the American anthem at the 1968 Olympic Games to protest against racial discriminations. They were then suspended and excluded from the Games for life.

73 Domenico Montanaro, op. cit. In 1969, Curt Flood challenged a clause in professional baseball that stated that players were teams’ property.

74 Aimee Lewis, op. cit. Craig Hodges appeared at a White House ceremony in 1992 wearing a dashiki to shed light on poverty in the black community and the Gulf War.

75 Aimee Lewis, ibid.; Marine Desnoue, op. cit; Ashley Fetters et al., op. cit. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf also refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem in 1996 because he said it hurt his Muslim beliefs.

76 Andrew Corsello, “CK1: Colin Kaepernick”, GQ, August 14, 2013.

77 Ashley Fetters et al., op. cit.

78 Leonard Charles Eshmont (1917-1957) was an American football player for the San Francisco 49ers who became famous for scoring the first touchdown in the team’s history. The Len Eshmont Award is the team’s most recognized annual honor. Albert Eason Monroe, a faculty member at San Francisco State University, was dismissed in 1950 after he refused to sign a loyalty oath which he considered as an instrument of inquisition into the political beliefs of state employees and an infringement on his right of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend individual rights and liberties. The Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute are the mutual sponsors of an annual award of $100,000 given to a person who has bravely and distinctively challenged a social status quo by some admirable work.

79 The W. E. B. Du Bois Medal is Harvard’s highest honor in the field of African and African American studies. It is awarded to individuals in the United States and in the world in recognition of their contributions to African and African American culture. W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963) was an African American sociologist and civil rights activist. He was the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University in 1895 and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910.

80 Aimee Lewis, op. cit

81 Yesha, op. cit..

82 Tyler Lauletta, op. cit.

83 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.

84 Mychal Denzel Smith, “Colin Kaepernick's protest might be unpatriotic. And that's just fine”, The Guardian, September 12, 2018.

85 Mychal Denzel Smith, op. cit.

86 Luc Vinogradoff, « Élection américaine : le ‘whitelash’ ou comment une partie du pays appréhende la victoire de Donald Trump », Le Monde, November 9, 2016.

87 Luc Vinogradoff, ibid.; Sylvie Laurent, « Les Noirs sont les sentinelles de l’état de la démocratie américaine », La vie des idées, 28 octobre 2016; Jess Row, “Why America still can’t face up to Trump’s racism”, CNN, August 11, 2019.

88 Domenico Montanaro, op. cit.

89 Aimee Lewis, op. cit.

90 In 2010, American historian Thomas J. Sugrue qualified Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric as a “grand narrative of racial reconciliation” or “an account of America moving inexorably toward racial equality […]”. The year before, American journalist Rich Benjamin had declared that Tiger Woods was “the poster child of racial reconciliation”. See Thomas J. Sugrue, Not Even Past, Barack Obama and the Burden of Race, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, 4; Rich Benjamin, “What Tiger Could Learn from Obama”, USA Today, December 11, 2009.

91 Jess Row, op. cit.

92 “The Professional Golfers ‘Association: Directors and Officials.”

93 Michael Bamberger, op. cit.

94 William C. Rhoden, “The NFL’s Embrace of Black Players Has Always Been Conditional”, The New York Times, December 20, 2019.

95 Jerry Bembry, “Harold Varner III understands the position he’s in on PGA tour”, The Undefeated, June 14, 2018.

96 Contrary to Colin Kaepernick, rapper and music producer Jay-Z has decided to use the NFL’s important influence to promote the African American cause. Indeed, on August 14, 2019, he signed a deal with the NFL that will enable Roc Nation, his entertainment company, to choose the artists for the league’s events and to develop social justice initiatives. Referring to Kaepernick, Jay-Z made the following statement during a news conference with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “I think we’ve moved past kneeling and I think it’s time to go into actionable items.” See Chuck Schilken, “Colin Kaepernick appears to take a take a shot at Jay-Z with Tweet”, The Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2019. <https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-08-19/colin-kaepernick-jay-z-eric-reid-protests>, accessed on December 1, 2019.

97 Sean Illing, op. cit.

98 William C. Rhoden, “Will the NBA’s superstar players exert power when it really matters?”, The Undefeated, July 9, 2019. <https://theundefeated.com/features/will-the-nbas-superstar-players-exert-power-when-it-really-matters/>, accessed on December 12, 2019.

99 The practice of “passing” consists, for some light-skinned mixed-race Blacks, in identifying as white in order to avoid racial discriminations, integrate mainstream society and enjoy the privileges it offers. It first appeared under slavery when it permitted numerous slaves to flee plantations. After the abolition of slavery, many light-skinned African Americans passed to escape poverty. See Joel Williamson, op. cit., 100.

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Titre Figure 1: Tiger Woods Logo for Nike designed by Gordon Thompson in 1997 © Nike, Inc.
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Nathalie Loison, « Discussing Race in American Professional Sport: The Case of Mixed-Race Athletes Tiger Woods and Colin Kaepernick », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 18-n°50 | 2020, document 10, mis en ligne le 02 juin 2020, consulté le 15 juillet 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/11724 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.11724

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Nathalie Loison

Nathalie Loison est enseignante PRCE en anglais à la Faculté de droit de l’Université Paris-Saclay. Dans la thèse de doctorat qu’elle a soutenue en 2018, elle compare la manière dont Tiger Woods et Barack Obama ont évoqué leur métissage dans l’espace public à celle dont les médias l’ont représenté entre 1997 et 2009, pendant la période « post-raciale ». Ses travaux de recherche portent sur l’histoire du métissage et de sa représentation culturelle aux États-Unis, les histoires africaine-américaine et asiatique-américaine, l’intersectionnalité et le lien entre race et politique néo-libérale depuis la fin du Mouvement des droits civiques.

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