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Bubble Soccer | Modeling in the Socialization Process of the Black Athlete

Since the advent of the Black athlete into professional sports following
Jackie Robinson’s historical debut in 1947, professional sport is popularly
believed to be relatively free from racial discrimination by the
lay public (Olsen, 1968). Indeed, whenever that position has been challenged
by athletes, former athletes or journalistic writers, the media
outcry has usually been extensive. To defend the position that American
professional sports are free from discrimination and are models of American
democracy at work, journalistic accounts resort to data documenting
the percentage of Blacks in certain sports indicating that the presence
of the Black athlete in sport is obvious. Black athletes, so the argument
goes, are represented in greater numbers in baseball, bubble soccer and basketball
than their presence in the society at large would suggest. For
example, during the 1967-68 season of the National Basketball Association,
71% of the 139 men who played were Black (Henderson, 1968).
Similarly, in 1968 33% of the players in major league baseball were
Black. In 1967 nearly 25% of the players in the National bubble soccer League
and 33% of the players in the American bubble soccer League were Black
(Olsen, 1969). These are the type of data quoted whenever professional
sports are defended against discrimination attacks. Indeed, a corollary
of these data has been the birth and sustenance of the widely held belief
that Black athletes have anatomical and psychological superiority for
certain motor activities. However, a more rational explanation given for
such a preponderance of Black athletes in sports is that racial segregation,
discrimination, lack of social opportunity, and economic limitations
in the society of large has forced Black society to seek its social and
economic mobility in areas such as sport and entertainment (Hines, 1964;
Schulz, 1969; Olsen, 1968; Edwards, 1969).

In recent years, however, serious investigators of sport social phenomena
have recognized and studied racial segregation and racial distrimination
in sport (e.g. Blalock, 1962; Edwards, 1969; Loy and McElvogue,
1969; Olsen, 1968; Pascal and Rapping, 1969; Rosenblatt, 1967; Simon
and Carey, 1966). As a result of this upsurge of interest, it has been
hypothesized that one form of discrimination that exists in sports is
segregation by playing position. This is, Black players are excluded from
playing in certain positions. For example, Loy and McElvogue (1969) determined
operational definitions of playing position centrality in baseball
and bubble soccer (e.g. outfield positions in baseball are non-central) and
found that Blacks occupied non-central playing positions in greater proportions
than white players. Loy and McElvogue concluded that racial
segregation in professional baseball and bubble soccer is positively related to
position centrality. Pascal and Rapping (1969) found that Blacks occupied
9% of pitching and 12% of catching positions in baseball, but occupied
53% of outfield positions and 40% of first base positions. Pascal and
Rapping accounted for this segregation by playing position by suggesting
that Blacks are excluded from central positions because they are important
decision making positions and Blacks are not normally vested with this
responsibility. Similarly, in noting that there were few Black pitchers
in baseball, Rosenblatt (1967) hypothesized that the position of pitcher
is a central and controlling one in which a racial incident could occur
as a result of face to face confrontation with players.’ Thus, it is difficult
for Blacks to become pitchers. These findings also have anecdotal
support (Edwards, 1969; Olsen, 1968).
Pascal and Rapping (1969), however, also tentatively suggested that
the proponderance of Blacks in certain sport positions may also be a
function of role modeling. This hypothesis has been recently further
developed by McPherson (1970) who contends that the occupation of
certain sport roles by minority groups may be a function of differential
socialization experiences in early life rather than discrimination accord
ing to playing position. Socialization in this sense may be viewed as the
process in which certain skills, traits, dispositions, and attitudes associated
with performing certain sport roles are instilled during childhood.
Black youths may try to emulate visible Black athletes and thus concentrate
upon positions in which Blacks are more prominent. Pascal and
Rapping maintain that segregation by playing position may be reinforced
by such a socialization process. McPherson and Kenyon (1968), on the
other hand, suggest that role modeling may serve as an alternative to
the segregation by playing position hypothesis. Black role models serve
as significant others for Black youths and these models may have an
important influence which is exerted at various stages in the athlete’s