Dr. David Leonard, an author and associate professor in comparative ethnic studies at Washington State University, spoke about the intersection of race and narratives about athletes Monday, March 26. This is a topic which he wrote about in his most recent book, “Playing While White: Privilege and Power On and Off the Field.” This event was a part of the Sawyer Seminar Series, sponsored by the Penn State African American Studies department.
Leonard began the talk by explaining how he came to write “Playing While White,” which he said he “really started in 2012.” He said that he had been a writer for online publications, and noticed that he had written articles in three main fields: The intersection of whiteness and mass shootings, police shootings, and the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically, “black bodies being criminalized.” Considering this narrative combined with athletics led him to ask, “what sort of profiling is happening in our sports world?”
One central concept Leonard talked about is how white athletes are “routinely forgiven,” or “being afforded the opportunity of second, third and fourth chances.” White athletes, he said, are imagined as the underdog, and that translates to terms used to describe them, such as “grit, hard work, determination, perseverance.” He said that this profiling also, by extension, comments on blackness at the same time. “Playing while white means being described as the leader, being described as intelligent,” Leonard said, and that these aforementioned types of positive framing are not used to describe black athletes.