One of Patrick Ferrucci’s earliest memories came at age seven when his father woke him up in hopes of witnessing the Boston Red Sox win their first championship since 1918, but the team lost.
“I can still vividly remember how crushed everybody was when the Red Sox blew it, Ferrucci ’03 said in his TED Talk from 2018. “As a child, and still to this day, sports represents more than just the game. For many Americans, it’s a way of life, it’s something that brings people together. It’s also a $70 billion industry.”
Last June, Ferrucci spoke about how racial bias in sports journalism affects athletes of all backgrounds at TEDxMileHigh 2018: Uncommon in Denver, Colorado. He talked about how sports journalists use terms such as intelligence, motivation, and physical strength differently depending on the race of the player.
“Journalists and broadcasters consistently and constantly stereotype athletes by race through their word choices,” Ferrucci said at the TEDx conference.
Ferrucci graduated from Emerson with a master’s in journalism and began working as a professional music columnist for the New Haven Register in 2003. After nine years in the field, he switched to academia and sports journalism because he felt fatigued by his career.
“I was starting to think I was a little burnt out from music writing and 12- or 15-hour days,” Ferrucci said in an interview. “I think the biggest thing I always joke to people is that the last few years there, I was going to about 300 or 320 shows a year, and it started to make it not so fun, and I love music.”
Ferrucci, an assistant professor and associate chair for graduate studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, earned his Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2013.
He began his research on racial stereotypes in sports journalism as a project in his first year at Missouri. Ferrucci said he began his research on the subject because he had been exposed to it through sports media all of his life.
“I took a class and I had to do some kind of quantitative study, and I had remembered that there was this website that I used to go to all the time back in the early 2000s called Fire Joe Morgan, and it basically just made fun of lazy sports writing,” Ferrucci said in a phone interview from Boulder.
Ferrucci said that racial stereotypes perpetuated by sports journalists create an unequal opportunity for athletes of different backgrounds when beginning their athletic careers.
“If you think about players, it’s that they probably have limited opportunities. If you’re a white athlete, for example, you’re probably getting moved off athletic positions, even if you shouldn’t be,” Ferrucci said. “For example, if I’m a black player who plays quarterback, there’s a good chance that someone’s going to move me to wide receiver or cornerback or running back at some point because, in their minds, a quarterback should be white.”
Ferrucci used Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ quarterback, and Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, as examples of how sports journalists racially stereotype athletes.
Ferrucci said journalists and broadcasters never mention Brady’s “natural talent” or his “athleticism” but instead mention his “intelligence” or his “effort,” even though he won six championships and is regarded as one of the greatest players in his position in NFL history. Ferrucci argued that Brady cannot succeed without natural talent and athleticism.
Ferrucci said that when sports journalists talk about Newton, they mention his “physical strength” or his “natural talent” and never use the words “intelligent” or “hard-working.”
“That’s the thing with athletes and stereotypes,” Ferrucci said in the TED Talk. “If you’re white, regardless of the sport, you’re often talked about in terms of intelligence, or effort, or how great of a leader you are. If you’re black, it’s about physical strength, natural ability, or athleticism. If you’re Latino, maybe you’re fiery.”
Michael K. Park, a sports communication professor at Emerson College, said that racial bias in sports journalism strongly affects athletes and fans.
Park wrote Race, Hegemonic Masculinity, and the “Linpossible!”: An Analysis of Media Representations of Jeremy Lin, an academic research essay published by Sage Publications in 2014. Jeremy Lin is the first American of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play as a professional athlete in the NBA.
In the research essay, Park wrote about how sports journalists and advertisement companies racially stereotyped Lin.
Park said racial stereotypes occur because of the unique way every individual is raised and the environment they are taught in.
“You’re dealing with journalists and sports writers that are human, and they have a certain background and a certain amount of exposure to life in different cultures, people, and experiences,” Park said. “I think oftentimes how [sports journalists] write and describe athletes from backgrounds and racial backgrounds from people that are very different from them, it may be subconscious.”
Ferrucci said that, for sports journalists and fans to understand the effect of their stereotypes, they must think before they speak and acknowledge the stereotypes.
“I think it’s just knowing about [racial stereotypes]. It’s a conscious decision that we make, and that conscious decision is only affected by if we know that these things are stereotypes,” Ferrucci said. “It’s understanding that we tend to just lazily label black athletes as athletic or white athletes as intelligent, and sometimes they are, obviously, but to understand that that stuff happens before we do it, think, ‘Is this exactly what I mean?’”