Printer Friendly

(Re)examining whiteness in sport psychology through autonarrative excavation.

Recent work by sport studies scholars has argued for a move toward a cultural sport psychology (Schinke & Hanrahan, 2009). One aspect of cultural sport psychology is a vigorous engagement with issues such as identity politics and the importance of racialized identities. In addition, a cultural sport psychology also advocates the use of what Ryba and Schinke (this issue) call "decolonizing methodologies." In this paper, I revisit the issue of whiteness in sport psychology and critique my earlier, overly optimistic, assessment of future confrontations with white racial identity and privilege in the field (Butryn, 2002). In addition to theoretical and empirical work in critical race studies and whiteness studies and its application to sport contexts, I draw from and present several brief reflexive autoethnographic vignettes that illustrate moments of tension in my own negotiation of issues related to whiteness and privilege as an early career academic teaching and doing research in sport psychology and sport sociology within a department of kinesiology. I conclude with an attempt to tie these narratives to larger issues of pedagogy and possibilities as they relate to an active, progressive, anti-racist mode of addressing whiteness and sport psychology.

Over the past decade, the interdisciplinary scholarship on whiteness studies has grown significantly. As opposed to the problematic practice of examining the experiences of minority groups, or the "racial other," from a supposedly "neutral," color-blind perspective, whiteness studies "reverse the traditional focus of research on race relations by concentrating attention on the socially constructed nature of white identity and the impact of whiteness on intergroup relations" (Doane, 2003, p. 3). Whiteness studies, then, acknowledge that what we mean by "white" is contingent on sociohistorical and political contexts and recognize the need to "mark" whiteness as an "organizing principle in social and cultural relations" (Lipsitz, 1998, p. 1).

It is important, however, to recognize that whiteness studies did not emerge out of thin air in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Rather, the origins of whiteness studies and writings about white privilege can be traced to numerous African American authors, such as W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison, who, in 1970, wrote, "Since the beginning of the nation, white Americans have suffered from a deep uncertainty as to who they really are" (Ellison, 1998, p. 165). Part of this uncertainty relates to the transparency, or invisibility, of white racial identity. As bell hooks (1998) wrote,
   In white supremacist society, white people can "safely" imagine
   that they are invisible to black people since the power they have
   historically asserted, and even now collectively assert over black
   people, accorded them the right to control the black gaze. As
   fantastic as it may seem, racist white people find it easy to
   imagine that black people cannot see them if within their desire
   they do not want to be seen by the dark Other. (p. 41)

An important component of whiteness studies, then, involves the process by which the transparency of white identity, and the privileges associated with whiteness, are fore-grounded, made visible and tangible, and thus better able to be critically analyzed (Dyer, 1997).

One means of making whiteness visible is to partake in what McIntosh (1988) calls the unpacking of the "invisible knapsack of white privilege." McIntosh argues that whites, and white men in particular, carry with them a host of unexamined, unearned privileges across many social spheres simply because they are considered "white." Listing these privileges, literally writing them down, is a potentially effective method by which to begin to confront, denounce, and ultimately eliminate these privileges that would otherwise continue to exist. Importantly, the privileges McIntosh writes about do not simply benefit whites. They necessarily oppress people of color, and thus, we can say that white privileges are both unearned and antithetical to racial equality.

Another of the more prominent types of work in whiteness studies has dealt with the ideas of the "crisis of whiteness" and the rise of a backlash of whiteness. According to Graham (1997), among others, the collective worldview of whites, especially white men, has been disrupted by the slow realization that they are not the only players on the world's stage and that the normative status of whiteness in the US has been, and continues to be, challenged. According to Giroux (1997), "The discourse of whiteness signifies the resentment and confusion of many whites who feel victimized and bitter, while it masks deep inequalities and exclusionary practices within the current social order." Writing specifically of the growing discourse on whiteness and privilege in the 1990s, Giroux further states that, "As whiteness came under scrutiny by various social groups-such as Black and Latina feminists, radical multiculturalists, critical race theorists, and others-as an oppressive, invisible center against which all else is measured, many whites began to identify with the 'new racism' epitomized by right-wing conservatives ..." (p. 2). hooks (1998) noted that other whites took a different approach and took on a sense of white guilt and an "Ok, we're sorry! We're the oppressors of everybody!" attitude that was ultimately uncritical and unproductive. Both of these conservative strategies, backlash and guilt, ultimately reify whiteness and further solidify the entrenched nature of white privilege and racial inequality.

Finally, as has already been alluded to, privileges associated with white racial identity and larger systems of white supremacy are always and already woven into the existing power dynamics of other lines of identity, in particular gender, social class, and sexual orientation. Indeed, as significant as my white privileges are within and outside of academia, as an upper middle-class, heterosexual, white man my privileges are compounded exponentially, and there are few times in my life when, consciously or not, I do not "benefit" from being associated with the perceived normative societal group.

Locating Race, Ethnicity, and Whiteness in Sport Psychology

As Lipsitz notes, "cultural practices and products have often played crucial roles in prefiguring, presenting, and preserving political coalitions grounded in an identification with the fictions of whiteness" (p. 99). The social institution of sport and the mostly conservative sports media that have the power to frame issues of race in a way that normalizes whiteness and condemns "problematic" forms of black expression have certainly played such a role. More relevant to this paper are the comments of Ryba and Wright (2005) who wrote,
   Sport psychologists [and all sport and exercise psychology
   professionals] must confront the fact that athletes have fragmented
   identities and identifications within various discourses of class,
   gender, race, sexual orientation, region, etc., that athletics is a
   subculture within a larger subculture, and that the institutions
   within which athletes are located attempt to control and mold their
   behavior. (p. 205)

Unfortunately, sport psychology has not done a good job of accounting for culture or social identity in the research (Peters & Williams, 2006; Ram, Starek, & Johnson, 2004). Although a thorough discussion of the reasons for the lack of research that centralizes cultural and identity issues is not possible here, I would suggest that various forms of privilege, including privileges of whiteness, could be, unconsciously, at play. Of course, there have been several notable encouraging exceptions, including the 1991 and 2001 special issues of The Sport Psychologist on "working with special populations" and feminist sport psychology, respectively. However, as Ram and colleagues (2004) found in their investigation of the inclusion of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation in three top-tier sport psychology journals over a 14-year period, "In all, only 15 papers published in the last decade looked at race/ethnicity in a substantial way..." (p. 262). Peters and Williams (2006) stated,
   Given the relevance of an individual's cultural background, the
   void of cultural research within the sport psychology literature is
   alarming and in direct conflict with the ideals of scientific
   inquiry and the need to explore the generalizibility of research
   findings across different populations (p. 248).

I agree with Gill's (2007) assessment that integration is needed in order for both kinesiology in higher education, in general, and sport psychology, more specifically, to be sustainable. More specifically, I see Gill's notion of "integration as inclusion and social justice" as a vital characteristic and practice of a sport psychology that seeks to confront whiteness. Gill argues that "all have a right to physical activity as a public health and social justice issue, and it is our professional responsibility in kinesiology to secure that right" (p. 283). She further contends that with regards to integration as inclusion and social justice, sport and exercise psychology scholars have made no substantial progress. I concur with Gill on this point and second her call for researchers to more thoroughly and rigorously consider issues of external validity and generalizibility, to continue to broaden our research approaches, and to use more ethnic comparisons in our research to better understand the psychological meaning of race and ethnicity in sport and exercise. In addition to Gill's assertion to "widen the lens to include multicultural issues and critical analyses" (p. 283.), whiteness studies scholars would add that it is also important to critically examine the cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and biases of predominately white researchers.

A growing number of scholars have begun to sketch out what a more critically informed sport psychology might look like (Fisher, Butryn, & Roper, 2003; Ryba & Wright, 2005), and although there are differences in theoretical approach, they all address the issue of race and other lines of social identity in their work. For sport psychology professionals interested in a move toward a progressive field, it will be important to confront how whiteness relates to the field, as well as to the larger culture of sport.

As one of the major social institutions in the US and elsewhere, sport has much to do with racial formation, racial ideology, and whiteness. Indeed, within the last decade the academic work on race and processes of racialization and practices of racism have prompted scholars to address, among other things, the place of whiteness in sport (King, Leonard, & Kusz, 2007). Further, as Walton and Butryn (2005) state, "the growing body of research on sport and whiteness has attempted to better understand the ways that sport resists or maintains institutionalized racism through the mostly uninterrogated norm of whiteness, and the ways that race, class, gender and sexuality are often intimately intertwined" (p. 5).

The sport studies scholarship on whiteness and white supremacy in sport has taken the discourse well past the individual renunciation of white privileges and toward the ways that racial inequality and racism are reproduced and experienced in what Bonilla-Silva (2003) calls the "new racism" (p. 272). Bonilla-Silva argues that although US society has certainly progressed a great deal since the Jim Crow period, when racial segregation was a legal institution, new strategies have emerged that are, collectively, every bit as effective in perpetuating racial inequality and racism. These elements include a more covert discourse on race, an avoidance of racial terminology, claims of reverse racism by whites, and the incorporation of "safe minorities" such as Colin Powell and, within sport, Michael Jordan to show how race is really less important than in the past.

Some work, though not directly related to sport psychology, has also begun to qualitatively examine not only the experiences of whites and their own understanding of their racial identities and privileges but the experiences of those who experience marginalization and discrimination that, to some degree, is a result of whiteness and white racism. For example, within the field of kinesiology, Burden, Harrison Jr., and Hodge (2005) examined the perceptions and experiences of nine African American faculty in predominately white kinesiology departments. One of the themes in their results dealt with the presence of double standards in the retention, tenure, and promotion process, the marginalization of faculty of color as scholars, particularly where mentoring, and perceived biases against "black" scholarly work. Although the authors did not draw directly from the work of whiteness studies scholars, they clearly found evidence of "new racism" in kinesiology, at least at the institutions their participants worked in. The marginalization of scholarly work dealing with issues related to people of color is especially troubling given the aforementioned study on the lack of research on minorities in sport and exercise psychology.

More recently, two special editions of sport sociology journals devoted to whiteness and sport (Sociology of Sport Journal, 2005, no. 3) and white power and sport (Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 2007, no. 1) were published, both of which included pieces that offered pointed critiques of the sport studies work on whiteness and white racism. King (2005), for example, discussed several issues related to the research that he viewed not as progressive but as potentially antithetical to anti-racist sport studies work. He questioned whether whiteness studies work would really alter any lives or account for individuals' racialized daily lives outside the ivory tower and expressed doubts about the ability of the individual unpacking of privileges as a means of enabling any real redistribution of power on a micro or macro level. Finally, he raises the question of whether or not whiteness studies can actually contribute to and reassert the privileges it seeks to disrupt.

Another problem with the sport studies scholarship is that, as Crosset (2007) argues, some of the work allows the theoretical framework to drive the analysis and thus "whiteness research risks reifying whiteness" (p. 175). Crosset also sees a lack of historical context as a weakness of whiteness studies research in sport and demonstrates how, at times, scholars have perhaps glossed over arguably important issues in their attempts to focus on race. The challenge of whiteness scholarship, he states, "is to make concrete connections between racial framings and racial inequality" (p. 176). Thus, part of what the narrative vignettes in this paper try to do is demonstrate how whiteness has real consequences in research, teaching, and applied settings. Crosset (2007) also states that, in order to understand racism in sport, American sport in particular, it is "imperative to examine the practices of those involved in the creation and consumption of sport that inform the racial projects that operate in and around sport" (p. 174). Where does sport psychology fall here, and where do the sport managers, coachers, owners, players, and fans fall? My point here is that, by not understanding how whiteness relates to the sport and the sport psychology, the field might be complicit in the perpetuation of white privilege and, perhaps, racism through the collective silence of the field.

Purpose and Method

As King (2005) notes, "At its worst, whiteness studies encourages a return to whiteness, a realignment of research around the identities, actions, and ideologies of Euro-American subjects and subjectivities" (p. 402). Thus, reflexivity is an important part of this project because it works against the possibility of (unconsciously) re-inserting dominant paradigms and epistemologies into the work. In an attempt to demonstrate reflexivity and to address issues of racial identity, whiteness, and privilege in sport psychology using non-traditional research methodologies, this paper first presents a critical, albeit brief, engagement with the recent work in the area of whiteness studies and sport. Next, I draw from the work in sport psychology and sport sociology on narratives, specifically autoethnography, and alternative representational strategies in a presentation of a series of autoethnographic vignettes, or what Richardson (2000) has called narratives of self, that reflect my own engagement with whiteness and whiteness studies across time and contexts. Although personal, the vignettes are meant to be open to interpretation and dialogue and read in ways that engage the reader's own understandings of race and whiteness and the ways that they intersect with other lines of social identity. Indeed, depending on the reader's gender, social class, and sexual orientation, the narratives may evoke different thoughts and emotions.

As scholars such as Sparkes (2000) and Denzin (2006) have noted, autoethnographic work is one viable means of working toward new ways of representing research and of representing the author's own voice within the text. In addition, Richardson (2000) reminds us that, "writing in traditional ways does not prevent us from writing in other ways for other audiences at other times" (p. 15). Indeed, much of the autoethnographic work within sport sociology, and to some extent sport psychology, has employed different representational strategies within a single article, with the author shifting between what Sparkes (2002) calls "scientific tales" and more rich, perhaps even poetic, forms of voice (Tsang, 2000). Tsang (2000) describes this shift in the following manner:
   My voice also varies, sometimes intentionally, and other times
   unintentionally. There are my experiential voices through which
   different identities announce/foreground themselves and others
   regress. There is my reflexive/inner voice that critiques my other
   voices even as they are in the midst of telling. There are also my
   sense-making stories that get told by my formal, academic voice,
   which is the one I am using right now. (p. 47)

In addition to shifts in voice, autoethnographic accounts are also characterized by shifts in writing style, and I made little attempt to conform to APA style. Although Sparkes (2000) wrote that the entrance of such alternative forms of representation into the social sciences, including sport studies, has not been "trouble free" (p. 22) over the past several years, mainstream sport psychology journals have published works using different forms of narrative inquiry, including autoethnography (e.g., Holt & Strean, 2001; Smith & Sparkes, 2008; Sparkes & Partington, 2003; Tonn & Harmison, 2004). This paper builds on this small but growing body of work. In particular, I struggled (perhaps unsuccessfully) to stay true to Ellis & Bochner, who wrote,
   Autoethnography shows struggle, passion, embodied life, and the
   collaborative creation of sense-making in situations in which
   people have to cope with dire circumstances and loss of meaning.
   Autoethnography wants the reader to care, to feel, to empathize,
   and to do something, to act. It needs the researcher to be
   vulnerable and intimate. (p. 433)

It is also important to point out that the autoethnographic section of this paper has no road map, so to speak, in terms of telling the reader how to interpret the stories and dialogue contained in it. Further, although, as previously mentioned, privileges associated with whiteness are always and already interconnected with those associated with other lines of identity, I consciously focused mostly on times in my life when race, and my own understanding(s) of whiteness, was figural. Having said that, I did attempt to explicitly tie my experiences as a white individual with those of being a heterosexual, middle-class, male, as well.

Throughout the paper, including the brief concluding section, I attempt to tie the narratives to larger issues of research, pedagogy, and political possibilities as they relate to an active, progressive, anti-racist mode of addressing whiteness and sport psychology. I highlight several ways in which whiteness and white supremacist ideologies might intersect with sport psychology and then, hopefully, provide useful suggestions for the field if it is to advocate more than a "cultural competence" understanding of racial and ethnic diversity and move toward an explicitly progressive, anti-racist paradigm. Indeed, the 1960s activist Jack Scott recognized this decades ago, when he argued in his 1971 book, The Athletic Revolution, that sport psychologists are in a prime position from which to work with insensitive, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic coaches and help them become more open, tolerant, and understanding individuals.

Situating the Author

Given the attempt at experimental autoethnographic text in the second part of this paper, it is appropriate to provide some background. As a white researcher and professor, I have a great deal of privilege in doing research on multiculturalism in sport psychology and teaching students in my psychology of coaching and sport sociology classes about white privilege and institutionalized forms of inequity within the hierarchies of sport. These privileges have been outlined elsewhere (Butryn, 2002), but a few of them are relevant to the purpose of this paper. My introduction to whiteness studies did not come until I began work on my Ph.D. in sport psychology and cultural studies and read the often cited paper by Peggy McIntosh (1988) on white and male privilege. Drawing from this paper and the work on whiteness by scholars in critical pedagogy, I conducted a study, not published until a few years later, on critically examining white privilege in the applied domain of sport psychology.

The method involved a three-way interview and discussion with a prominent white male sport psychology consultant and professor and an African American masters student in sport psychology. Throughout the interview, which followed a short semi-structured interview guide, the consultant related and reflected on his racial formation and the ways that he came to understand his own white and male privileges. The dynamics were interesting, as both myself and the other student were studying under the consultant in the study. To his credit, the consultant answered every question, as well as the few challenges my fellow grad student and I tossed at him. It was a very rich experience, for me at least, and the three-way interview and discussion format yielded much richer responses than an interview between myself and the consultant would have. Further, it was an example of a qualitative research study on whiteness that was not simply one white student talking to a white advisor about whiteness. Despite the strong work done by sport studies scholars, most has been textual analysis, the so-called "critical reading" (McDonald & Birrell, 1999) of texts.

Reading Whiteness in the Autonarrative Hall of Mirrors

In the following short vignettes, I engage with whiteness, white racial identity (and when appropriate, my gendered, classed, and sexual-oriented identities), and white racism as if in a hall of mirrors. The stories of past experiences are fractured and sometimes boomerang back into the present. Some stories are truncated, ended abruptly by my own inadequate memories, but mostly by shifting understandings and levels of consciousness regarding whiteness. The hall is no funhouse, either. Mirrors often distort my image of myself, and it is not pleasant. Fractured stories, fractured truths, and fractured politics. Running through the hall of mirrors blurs whiteness, makes it difficult to see. I walk, or slouch, instead ... approach slowly, and stare. Traditional research hides much. This is meant to hide less and perhaps help reveal more of how whiteness can, perhaps, be more easily constructed and ignored than confronted, discarded, decontaminated, or permanently decommissioned.

Fastest White Boy

On the first day of Pee-Wee football practice, I was nervous, mostly because I was shy and had no idea what to expect. I only knew a few other kids on the team, and they had played for a couple years already. My dad was an all-state tight end in high school, so that was supposed to be my lot, too. The North Side Warriors was our team, and the North Side of Jamestown, New York, encompassed both the "rich" neighborhood, where I lived even though we were decidedly middle-class, and a "poor" neighborhood. There were no people on my block who weren't white. "Towner Street?" one kid on the team responded when I told him where I lived. "You rich?" "No, just lucky," I said. I didn't say I used to get hand-me-down Izod shirts from the wealthy neighbor's son. I was a preppy fraud.

Anyway, near the end of practice, it was time for wind sprints, and I remember only being able to see one other kid out in front of me. Chris Howard was his name, and I don't remember thinking anything about him being black, but I did know he was from the "poor" neighborhood. Most of all, I was in awe of the fact that he already had these super developed muscles. Like ripped ones. I had no visible evidence of such. Anyway, we did several of these 30- or 40-yard sprints, and each time I came in second. After the last one, one of the coaches, who was black, asked me, "Kid, what's your name?" "Teddy Butryn," I told him in between breaths, bent over with my hands on my knees. "You're pretty fast for a white boy! Keep it up!" he responded, before instructing the whole team to "circle up" for the practice-ending pep talk. I didn't know what the coach meant, really, other than it meant I didn't feel so out of place after that. I had never been called white before, but I did get that it was a surprise that someone "like me" could push Chris Howard. Already, my whiteness was invisible to me, yet full of symbolic meaning to the coach. I didn't really understand what black meant either. I just knew ... or I learned to "know" that black guys could run fast. But so could I. I guess I considered it a wash.

In high school I was not the fastest white boy any more. I was now a distance runner. I ran the mile and two mile with other white guys. If I was so fast, why did I not even try sprinting? Who assumed I couldn't hang with Phil Thomas like I hung with Chris? We had white sprinters on the team, but Phil was the sprinter on our team. He was black, and somehow by now I understood that being white and black meant something, in the world, in my town, to my family, and on my track team. I remember a relative talking about how the Boston Celtics were the last team to be able to start five white players, and I remember exchanges during football and basketball games on holidays:

Relative #1: Goddamn your team has a lot of black guys, Teddy.

Ted: Yeah ... I guess.

Relative #2 (after a player celebrates): You know, that's why they talk about the difference between black people and (N-words). Just have some respect for the game for Christ's sake and behave.

Ted: I wouldn't say that, but whatever.

Relative #2: Yeah ... it figures.

Ted: Come on, be cool you all. It's Christmas.

Using Christmas as a crutch where my spine should have been? Priceless.

Anyway, Phil sat in the back of the bus with a few of the other black sprinters and jumpers, and one or two of the white sprinters as well. Kevin White, whose legs were even paler than his name would suggest, always sat back there. He lived in the "poor" part of the West Side of my town. They would always play rap music on a jam box on the way to our meets in Buffalo. Eighty minutes of scratching and bass.

BOOM ... BOOM ... chewy chewy chewy ... BOOM ... BOOM

I was now into heavy metal music ... I had KISS and Ozzy Osbourne albums. They never played Ozzy on the bus, and I never asked. It was always rap, but I never understood how the power to control the almighty track and field jam box was conferred. It just was.... While they played rap, I listened to Ozzy, and the soundtrack from Rocky, on my headphones. Rocky beat Apollo Creed. I'll bet some people aren't motivated by the Rocky soundtrack.

Of (Social and Historical) Location

My university is in the downtown area of the 10th most populous city in the US, San Jose, California, often talked about in the same breath as the Silicon Valley, the center of high-tech industry. The demographics of San Jose State are not like those of, say, the University of Montana. In the fall of 2007, only 27% of the almost 32,000 students identified as white, presumably on their applications. Although the total minority student enrollment totaled 52%, another 12% were in the slightly curious "other" category. Despite its reputation as a left-leaning region of the country, even our students must fit neatly into their designated ethnic boxes it seems. Tiger Woods, who used to describe himself as "Caublasian" when asked about his racial identity, went to Stanford just down the road. I wonder if they have a "mixed race" box there? At any rate, the largest so-called minority populations are Asian students (23%) and Hispanic students (16%), many of who would not call themselves Hispanic, but rather Latina/o or Chicana/o. I'm not sure how many of the white students identify less with that term than their conglomerations of ethnic identity? I'm Polish, German, and Romanian, but mostly Polish, and there is no box for that either.

In my department, my official title is specialist in sociocultural perspectives of kinesiology, sport sociology in other words, but I also teach and do work in applied sport psychology. The different sub-disciplinary hats of sport sociology and sport psychology that I wear, or the single, transdisciplinary "critical sport studies" hat that I try to wear, are linked to the enormous shoes of those professionals and trailblazers who came before me. Bruce Ogilvie, whom I only met once, at AASP in 1999, and Tom Tutko both taught at SJSU when they wrote their classic text "Problem athletes and how to handle them" in 1966. Reading through their many athlete case studies, most of which were of track and field athletes at SJSU and Stanford, what stands out, particularly given the time period, is the absence of race throughout the book. This was, of course, well before multicultural psychology research had made a dent in mainstream journals, but the colorblind nature of their treatment of athlete behaviors must be viewed in light of the fact that across campus, in the sociology department, was a young professor in his early 20s named Harry Edwards who would, in only two years time, become a lightning rod of controversy by helping to organize the (largely unrealized) boycott of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Bronze and gold medals respectively, sandwiching the silver of white Australian Peter Norman, who supported their raised fists of protest. In 2005, Carlos and Smith were immortalized on the SJSU campus in the form of a statue depicting their podium protest.

Funny thing is ... they could well have been "problem" athletes! In their chapter on athletes who "resist coaching," Ogilvie and Tutko (1966) wrote about a psychological need they call the "need to protest" (p. 30). This drive, they stated, is "actually based upon hostility or resentment" rather than a desire for freedom. Further, they state that,
   You can teach them that protest behavior against conformity is not
   freedom but a new form of slavery; the truly liberated human being
   is not always fighting against something or someone but for
   something or someone. (p. 30)

Sage advice, for sure, but the language is telling. I am certainly not insinuating any conservative race thinking on the parts of these important figures in the annals of the field, obviously, and a former colleague who worked with one of them indicated nothing of the sort, either. I wonder, though, about the current field, and how many coaches seek out sport psychology professionals for help on team cohesion and communication who take a similar (and supposed) "race neutral" approach. Indeed, how would we take any other approach when our research has been so devoid of explicit and substantive mention of race and ethnic identity in our research?

Every semester, often the first day of class, I ask students about Carlos and Smith. What was their deal? Why are the statues on campus? "They were protesting slavery," one student said ... or they were protesting the Olympics, or they were mad at the lack of sponsorship, or they disrupted the games, or they had something to do with hostages and Israelis and masks on terraces ... and I still have colleagues ask me, "Aren't we over this race thing yet? It's 2008!"

I cringe, and even as a tenured professor, I can't muster the courage to say what I feel ... what I know and understand better than they do. I don't even use Christmas as a crutch. Homophobia we can address ... same with gender ... Title IX. But race makes some PhD's squirm.

Of Pedagogy

I like the term, from bell hooks, teaching to transgress. Problem is ... students can get in the way, and worse ... sometimes I've just not had the chops or the guts to do it. My syllabi reveal my struggle. My first year, I went light. I talked about "diversity" in coaching and allotted a whopping two classes. Do the math. Race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation in two classes. That's dedication coming from a self-professed "liberal" who had a "Vote Nader in 2000" sticker on his computer ... and who had submitted a paper to a journal on whiteness in sport psychology! I can't imagine it went all that well, and in fact, the only memorable aspect of the event happened after class, when a Latino student, who later became one of my grad students, approached me with what I've come to call the "appreciative guy handshake" and said thanks for a "cool" lecture. He was an athletic training student who had also coached, and he said that it was the first time in any class in the department where the term "Latino" was ever mentioned. I was bummed out for a while after that. The department's mission statement begins with, "In an atmosphere of social justice, equity, and sensitivity to issues of diversity ..." I guess students pick that stuff up along the way.

I came back my second year, and I remember thinking, "Ok, this whiteness paper is accepted. I can say it's in the research!" So, I taught whiteness in my psychology of coaching class. It did not go smoothly. Teaching to transgress, teaching for tolerance, teaching to survive the wolf pack in the back left-hand corner of the room, laughing at almost everything I said. I went with my instincts, lost my temper, became a tyrant.

White students cross their arms. Some of them are athletes, and some of them look angry. This was not the response I wanted, but it was not unexpected. I had seen the eye rolls, the smirks, and the general looks of exasperation before when I had talked about the research on whiteness and privilege in my sport sociology class. One student asks, "If there's no 'I' in 'team,' then how does any of this matter?" I try to explain that putting the goals of a group of individuals ahead of one's personal motivation is not the same as being subjected to the many potential consequences of a white coach's unacknowledged white privileges and conservative race thinking. That's what my paper said. So I just repeated it. "You're saying white coaches are racist, though, and I had a black coach in Oakland who always treated the white guys on the team like crap!" another student responds. Jesus, the reverse racism card is on the table. I see some of the crossed arms begin to uncross but for the wrong reasons. I'm vulnerable, and we all know it ... we feel it, and I begin to blush as the eyes fixed on me almost make my voice quake.

It ends with a comment on how "things need to go both ways." We have no time to further unpack the complexities of institutionalized white privileges in sport. I blew it. Writing a paper is one thing; progressive pedagogy with a room full of "color-blind" coaches is another.

Once, when discussing homophobia in my coaching class, I got into what amounted to an argument with an African American student.

"I don't mind them," he said referring to lesbian women in sport, "but they should not make such an issue about it."

"Well," I responded, "maybe black people should quit making such a big deal about race and just do their things ... right?" I tried to play the equity card ... why should anyone be silenced?

"I'm just saying you can be a lesbian, get paid, and just be quiet about it. It's none of anyone else's business," he says, as students on both sides of him nod in agreement. It's never a good sign when the nodding goes against you.

"Well," I respond in full sarcastic mode, with full sneer, "I guess if a coach wants to be a racist or a homophobe, that's cool." My jaw was clenched ... my chest puffed out. "Ok, next week we move on to injury!" Score one for the "liberal," straight, white, guy professor intimidating students into tolerance.

Of Reality Checks and Prodigal Self-Reflexivity

My ridiculously naive notion that confronting white racial identity and privilege as anything more than a point of entry into a much larger project of radical social transformation was staring me in the frowning face. Rich King, he's a sport sociologist, wrote an article about some of the problematic aspects of whiteness studies (King, 2005). Someone called me and said, "Hey, you sort of got punked out in this new article." So, I read it, and sure enough, King had included an extended quote from my article on whiteness in The Sport Psychologist. My first, completely self-centered thought was, "Cool, someone did read it!" Then, I noticed he prefaced the quote by stating that I advocated "a more hopeful and elaborate assessment" (p. 402) of whiteness. Here is part of my quote:
   We as consultants can choose more, rather than less, progressive
   attitudes towards racial awareness. If whiteness and white
   privilege are socially constructed, then logically we can begin the
   difficult task of deconstructing them (p. 317-318).

I read it, at first, as a compliment! I wanted to be hopeful and elaborate. He followed, however, with multiple critiques of the multiple weaknesses of the approach I had advocated in the article. I felt deflated and embarrassed. "I'm not naive, and no one I've ever met would accuse me of being all that optimistic," I thought. But there it was. Sure, I wrote the majority of it seven or eight years ago, and reflexively, I recognized that my own understanding of whiteness has become more sophisticated since then, but it's there for all time now. There to be used as an example of what's wrong with whiteness studies. But why should I really care? The paper, in a small part of my mind, perhaps, had become about me as a scholar, rather than about the arguments that motivated me to write it in the first place. That's white privilege ... the unconscious ability to care about the paper on whiteness as much as the consequences of whiteness. Why was I even proud of the article in the first place? If I cared so much about combating white privilege and oppression, why did I shift much of my research to other, comparably frivolous areas? The privilege to fight the fight only when I want to? Or when someone offers a chance to submit to a special issue?

In Richard Cox's (2007) sport psychology textbook, he addresses "the issue of race in applied sport psychology" in the first chapter, which is important because it situates race as a figural part of the field. It is not left to the end of the book or in a general chapter on "diversity," and it explicitly makes mention of white privilege, drawing from the same article in The Sport Psychologist. Unfortunately, however, the section suffers from the same limitations as the article it draws from. "For a white sport psychologist to work with a black athlete," Cox writes, "she must engage in race thinking" (p. 12). I cringe at the thought of my colleagues in the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) reading such an underdeveloped characterization of the racial project I had proposed, and I see now how very little I gave Cox to work with.

These two things, the King article and the Cox chapter, convinced me that this paper was not just "intellectual navel gazing," as some critics of autoethnography have labeled it. The field of sport psychology still has a ways to go in its understanding of whiteness and its intersections with other forms of identity privilege. In 2008, I think King and I would agree that sport psychology should not settle for a "more rather than less progressive" project. If whiteness is about deep, systemic, and institutionalized inequalities, than simply making a list of privileges and how to deal with them is meaningless without the next step.

Of Hats and Dissonance

Like I said, I wear two hats. Sport sociology and sport psychology. They are who I am in so many ways. If I am my job, which I always say, then the tension between these two hats has some implications for one's sanity. I've already talked about teaching. Conferences offer up another set of issues.

Have you ever asked yourself what it feels like at a conference? Like what vibe the conference has? Do you feel "at home" or more like an outsider? Since 1999, I've been to almost every AASP and NASSS conference. I think I've missed AASP once or twice, and NASSS ... I haven't missed NASSS. I've been to several sessions at AASP on "diversity." Some explicitly on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in the field, others on a variety of other things, such as Native American spirituality. I've always felt that "at home" feeling as these sessions, even before I started doing more sport studies work. The attendance at these sessions varies, and most often the people there know one of the presenters. I guess a lot of sessions are like that, except the ones on "elite performance" and, more recently, the session given by the guys from West Point. One session, I presented with a grad student who actually interviewed conference attendees of color and found, much as Burden and colleagues (2005) found in their study of African American experiences in kinesiology programs, that some AASP attendees had experienced various forms of what they felt was marginalization. It made me think about how I respond to people at conferences. What vibe do I give off? But it's more than that. What's in the program? Who is in the program? When are the sessions held? Honestly though, it made me think of how "seeing" whiteness is sort of like "seeing" bad CGI special effects in movies. Once you see it, you cannot not see it! Once you see how whiteness operates in both overt and subtle ways, it's tough, for me at least, not to stare right at it.

Last year, cultural studies scholar Handel Wright gave an invited keynote at AASP and in his presentation mentioned the whiteness of the conference and joked that maybe his presence there was "mere tokenism." Maybe it wasn't totally a joke? I laughed, but others laughed a bit too heartily. The room was full though, with a lot of white people who looked like grad students. Maybe that's a really good sign. Maybe people felt good about themselves.

AASP feels white to me, and it feels upper-class, socioeconomically. Maybe it isn't, but it feels that way to me. I've had experiences at AASP when I've felt like I did when my rich friend took me to his dad's country club, and I didn't understand why he just signed for our food, instead of paying for it.

"I don't want to be known as the 'cultural studies' or 'race theory' guy," I've thought, many, many times. "I want to be respected by the 'young guns' of the field for my sport psychology research, not the diversity stuff," I recently told a close female colleague. She does sport and exercise psychology work from a feminist theoretical lens, and she seems fine with that. But that's it ... she's a woman at least. I'm writing about oppression, and I don't think I've ever felt or been oppressed based on my race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. Why am I insecure and even defensive? Where does my desire to do "pure" sport psychology work, and have it validated by other younger white men, come from? Can I scoff at the hand that I wish to pat me on the back? Am I going "too light" in this paper, pulling my punches, rather than being fully critical and self-reflexive?

There is a lot of work on golf in sport psychology, and a lot of it is presented at AASP. In early January of 2008, Kelly Tilghman, a white female announcer for the all-golf television network stated, on the air, that one means by which up and coming competitors might stop Woods' domination of the sport might be to "lynch him in a back alley." Tilghman drew a two-week suspension, after which she stated that she had "taken the time to reflect and truly understand the impact" of her comments. Woods called her words "unfortunate" and understandably accepted her apology. I can imagine that one of my NASSS colleagues is working on a paper on this as I type. I'd even bet that more than one of my NASSS colleagues are writing about this right now. I'd like to read what members of AASP thought about it.

The Ultimate Privilege

Reviewer A: "I think there are places in the vignettes, where you might be more evocative and deconstruct your own use of the term 'whiteness.' And (if) you have taken on your own omission of your maleness, heterosexual(?), and classed privilege."

Reviewer B: "What I'd thus suggest is that the author returns to the text and attempt to make it more evocative and artful. Incorporate sights, sounds, smells, bodily feelings, gestures, dialogues, and so forth. Show stories more rather than simply telling them."

Reviewers A and B were clearly experts, and their in-depth and spot on comments have, hopefully, made this paper better. I am sure they did not intend to make me cry, but they did, as I slumped in my chair and re-read their words over and over and over.

"I can talk about it, and point to it," I frantically blurted out to my close female colleague familiar with the whiteness literature, "but I can't feel it!"

"That's the point, Ted. That is the unconscious nature of your privilege. I mean, you know that already."

"Yes, I mean, we've had conversations about how students react to us differently. I can discuss whiteness, heterosexual privilege, and class privilege and it's never seen as 'my agenda!' But how can I write in a way that engages readers if I don't really experience the thing I'm writing about?"

"You can write about how it feels to be aware of your privilege though right? And I've read your stuff. I think you're a good writer!"

"Yeah, you're right," I say. "I'll knock it out and focus on bringing life into the stories through ... whatever, the creative stuff one review told me to do!" I don't say, "Writing this paper was the worst idea I've ever had," but I felt that way.


I am not sure where sport psychology programs, and the kinesiology or psychology departments that often house them, lie on the political spectrum. I wouldn't call them leftist, that's for damn sure. I end with this thought because I hope some readers of this piece, whether tenured, untenured, adjunct, or aspiring graduate students, will appreciate how difficult it can be to write about, think about, and teach issues, like whiteness, that seem to fit rather tenuously within the walls of the mainstream. I had a book in my hand as I was finishing the first draft of this paper, a source I drew from heavily, in fact. I had this book in my hand as I walked through my department, reading a paragraph as I made my way to the copy machine. Multitasking, basically. Somebody said hello to me, and we exchanged the standard 20 words or less pleasantries. He glanced down at my book and asked what I was reading. "Ah," I began, somehow knowing that this was not destined to be a teaching moment, "It's this book on race. Using it for a paper I'm doing. Good stuff!" The word "whiteness" might as well been in Oz at that point. It wasn't gonna happen. I think my thumb unconsciously tried to stretch across the spine to obscure the title. No response. Just a look. I don't know what the unspoken words were, but I extrapolated from the ... the sneer. That sneer made me drop my chin, shiver, and clench my fists simultaneously. I don't know whether sport psychology, or any of the fields of academia for that matter, are racist, but I know that there is a reason why our own research points to the invisibility of people of color in our work. I know that attending the one or two sessions at conferences dealing with race or multiculturalism has a "preaching to the choir" feel to it, and I know that I, an already tenured and promoted professor, will chalk up another bullet in the CV for this paper. I don't know how many other people have wanted to take a stand against racism, against white privilege, to challenge colorblind rhetoric. I just know that next time, I'm not covering up the spine.


In sport sociology, white scholars write about whiteness, and in sport psychology, there has been a long history in the published research to outright neglect any mention of race. One group of scholars benefits from whiteness studies, although that presumably is not their intent, while the other, much larger, contingent of academics has done well by themselves by ignoring white privileges within the field and focusing, in some cases, on sports that have predominately white, and white upper-class, participants (e.g., tennis, golf).

In this paper, I have argued that we must now move beyond the mere naming, the calling out of white racial identity and privilege, and enter into an understanding of whiteness and its relationship with institutionalized racism. Again, unpacking one's own knapsack of white privilege is, in a sense, a requirement, but it is not sufficient for addressing racism anywhere, including sport and the field of sport psychology. However, I understand that many within sport psychology have yet to do the initial work the sport psychology consultant was prompted to do in my initial study. Perhaps, some will not even buy into the crux of Omi and Winant's (1994) argument that race is by and large a social construction or Roediger's (1999) argument that, although popular ideas of what "white" means have changed over time, the "wages of whiteness" have been a constant.

Of all of the articles and books I have read on whiteness, very few have given me hope that the privileges associated with white racial identity, and the relationship between whiteness and the larger system of racial inequality, will ever disappear. I often wonder whether I put too much emphasis on race in my understandings of sport and athletic identity and the academic population for that matter. Do I focus on race and ethnic background more than, say, gender or sexual orientation? Do I reflect equally on how white privileges affect African American male students and athletes as I do about how my unacknowledged privileges might be embarrassingly clear to African American women in academia with whom I interact? In the end, am I simply a straight white guy writing about white privilege, in the process garnering the all important bullet points in the curriculum vitae that eventually lead to tenure? I agree with sport studies when they argue that "the ultimate focus and payoff in studying whiteness should not be on the structure and meaning of White culture and identity but rather on how whiteness, a whole set of ideologies, discourses, and identities, serves to produce and perpetuate existing racial hierarchies and white domination more specifically" (Hartmann, 2007, p. 56). So, I invite and challenge readers to begin by excavating their unearned privileges, whether they be related to whiteness, gender, or both. Then, the individual work must be connected with how race operates in the numerous spaces of sport psychology. Our journals, our organizations, our athletic departments ... if we are serious about confronting whiteness, we must ask our collective consciousness serious questions about how whiteness might relate to the field.

In addition, whiteness studies in sport psychology should do the progressive work of facilitating the growth of a more racially and ethnically diverse field. King (2005) contends that the cultivation of a nonwhite sport studies is essential, which "not only empathizes with and expresses a commitment to alternative, marginalized sporting experiences and identities but also makes spaces for people of color to speak as equals" (p. 405). Methodologically, we can look to more progressive qualitative research designs as a means of better understanding the motivations, experiences, and behaviors of athletes and exercisers from across the vast multicultural spectrum. We might even conduct research and interventions using cooperative methods, such as those used by doctors in poor Spanish speaking communities in the US. Local, culturally based knowledges are not discarded but are incorporated into the health care interventions (Castro, Coe, Gutierres, & Saenz, 1996). Such a project seems viable for sport psychology, given the increasingly diverse athletic populations that consultants interact with. Indeed, King (2005) states that there is a need for work "on indigenous peoples and sport, sport in a global context, and racialization in sport outside the confines of Black/White binaries" (p. 405).

Autoethnographic work is, I suspect, always troubling to authors when they begin wondering whether or not readers will feel less like co-members of the same academic community and more like a bartender listening to the barely coherent, sometimes pretentious ramblings of some conflicted soul in the local pub. There is space within sport psychology for a progressive, perhaps not radical, contingent of scholars and practitioners that work to bridge the gap between the critical race scholars in sport studies and elsewhere and the sport psychology mainstream. Whether an individual can make sense of any of the conflicts I have addressed in this paper, or whether more than a handful even reach a point of conflict at all, will be interesting to see.


Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003). "New racism," color-blind racism, and the future of whiteness in America. In W. Doane & E. Bonilla-Silva (Eds.), White out: The continuing significance of racism (pp. 271-284). New York: Routledge.

Burden, J. W., Harrison, L., & Hodge, S. R. (2005). Perceptions of African American faculty in kinesiology-based programs at predominately White American institutions of higher education. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 224-237.

Butryn, T. M. (2002). Critically examining White racial identity and privilege in sport psychology consulting. The Sport Psychologist, 16, 316-336.

Castro, F. G., Coe, K., Gutierres, S., & Saenz, D. (1996). In P. M. Kato & T. Mann (Eds.), Handbook of diversity issues in health psychology (pp. 319-345). New York: Plenum Press.

Crosset, T. (2007). Capturing racism: An analysis of racial projects within the Lisa Simpson vs. University of Colorado football rape case. International Journal of the History of Sport, 24, 172-196.

Denzin, N. K. (2006). Analytic autoethnography, or deja vu all over again. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35, 419-428.

Doane, W. (2003). Rethinking whiteness studies. In W. Doane & E. Bonilla-Silva (Eds.), White out: The continuing significance of racism (pp. 3-20). New York: Routledge.

Dyer, R. (1997). White. New York: Routledge.

Ellis, C. S., & Bochner, A. P. (2006). Analyzing analytic autoethnography: An autopsy. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35, 429-449.

Ellison, R. (1998). What America would be like without Blacks. In D. Roediger (Ed.), Black on white: Black writers on what it means to be white (pp. 160-167). New York: Schocken Books.

Fisher, L. A., Butryn, T. M., & E. A. Roper (2003). Diversifying (and politicizing) sport psychology through cultural studies: A promising perspective. The Sport Psychologist, 71, 391-406.

Gill, D. L. (2007). Integration: The key to sustaining kinesiology in higher education. Quest, 59, 269-286.

Giroux, H. A. (1997). Rewriting the discourse of racial identity: Towards a pedagogy and politics of whiteness. Harvard Educational Review, 67, 285-320.

Graham, J. R. (1997). The end of the great white male. In R. Delgado & J. Stefancic (Eds.), Critical white studies: Looking behind the mirror (pp. 3-5). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Hartmann, D. (2007). Rush Limbaugh, Donovan McNabb, and "a little social concern." Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 31, 45-60.

hooks, b. (1998). Representing whiteness in the black imagination. In D. Roediger (Ed.), Black on white: Black writers on what it means to be white (pp. 38-53). New York: Schocken Books.

King, C. R. (2005). Cautionary notes on whiteness and sport studies. Sociology of Sport Journal, 22, 397-408.

King, C. R., Leonard, D. J., & Kusz, K. W. (2007). An introduction. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 31, 3-10.

Kusz, K. (2003). BMX, extreme sports, and the white male backlash. In R. E. Rinehart & S. Sydnor (Eds.), To the extreme: Alternative sports, inside and out (pp. 153-175). Albany: SUNY press.

Kusz, K. (2001). "I want to be the minority": The politics of youthful White masculinities in sport and popular culture in 1990s America. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 25, 390-416.

Lipsitz, G. (1998). The possessive investment in whiteness: How white people profit from identity politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Martins, M. P., Mobley, M., & Zizzi, S. J. (2000). Multicultural training in applied sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist, 14, 81-97.

McDonald, M. G.. & Birrell, S. (1999). Reading sport critically: A methodology for interrogating power. Sociology of Sport Journal, 16, 283-300.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women's studies. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston.

Ogilvie, B. C., & Tutko, T. A. (1966). Problem athletes and how to handle them. London: Pelham Books.

Omi, M., & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Ram, N., Starek, J., & Johnson, J. (2004). Race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation: Still a void in sport and exercise psychology. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 26, 250-268.

Richardson, L. (2000). New writing practices in qualitative research. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17, 5-20.

Roediger, D. (1999). The wages of whiteness. London and New York: Verso.

Roediger, D. (2002). Colored white: Transcending the racial past. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Ryba, T., & Wright, H. (2005). From mental game to cultural praxis: A cultural studies model's implications for the future of sport psychology. Quest, 57, 192-212.

Ryba, T. V., & Schinke, R. J. (2009). Methodology as a ritualized eurocentrism: Introduction to the special issue. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 7, 263-274.

Schinke, R. J., & Hanrahan, S. J. (Eds.) (2009). Cultural sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Scott, J. (1971). The athletic revolution. New York: Free Press.

Smith, B., & Sparkes, A. C. (2009). Narrative inquiry in sport and exercise psychology: What can it mean, and why might we do it? Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 10, 1-11.

Sparkes, A. C. (2000). Autoethnography and narratives of self: Reflections on criteria in action. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17, 21-43.

Sparkes, A. C. (2002). Telling tales in sport and physical activity: A qualitative journey. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Sparkes, A. C., & Partington, S. (2003). Narrative practice and its potential contribution to sport psychology: The example of flow. The Sport Psychologist, 17, 292-317.

Tonn, E., & Harmison, R. J. (2004). Thrown to the wolves: A student's account of her practicum experience. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 324-340.

Tsang, T. (2000). Let me tell you a story: A narrative exploration of identity in high-performance sport. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17, 44-59.

Walton, T. A., & Butryn, T. M. (2006). Policing the race: United States men's distance running and the crisis of whiteness. Sociology of Sport Journal, 23, 1-28.

Ted M. Butryn

San Jose State University

Corresponding author: Ted M. Butryn, Ph.D., Department of Kinesiology, San Jose State University, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192-0054. Tel: (408) 924-3068, Email:
COPYRIGHT 2009 Fitness Information Technology Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Butryn, Ted M.
Publication:International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Previous Article:The progressive integration of Canadian indigenous culture within a sport psychology bicultural research team.
Next Article:Dialogue, monologue, and boundary crossing within research encounters: a performative narrative analysis.

Related Articles
Imperial white; race, diaspora, and the British Empire.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters