Experiences of Minority Student-Athletes

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There is a lot of research documenting racial microaggressions and its impact on individuals. In the literature, professionals have noted these subtle remarks can facilitate a negative environment physically and psychologically. One of the most common microaggressions discussed is people attributing the athletic success of black athletes to their race instead of their hard work towards achievement. The purpose of this first study was to examine the types of microaggression experienced by black student-athletes, understand how those experiences are evaluated, and what methods did this population use to balance their own racial identities as well (Lee, Bernstein, Etzel, Gearity, & Kuklick, 2018). 

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The participants for this study completed interviews and group discussions for data collection. Results included student-athletes commenting the microaggressions acted as a reminder to them about their race, insults by others were race specific to certain abilities, and some expressed sports assisted in minimizing microaggressions (Lee et al., 2018). Athletics across all levels has been known to bring unity to this controversial topic of race, however, this is still up for discussion given the current tensions today. The authors mentioned in their conclusion coaches should be educated on the impact of subtle comments towards student-athletes and there should be more awareness training programs (Lee et al., 2018).

The second article discussed a lack of research by professionals on minority student-athletes and how they experience increased levels of stress which can play a role in mental health outcomes (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). Previous literature that has evaluated student-athletes using mental health resources showed extremely low participation (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). The purpose of this study was to explore the stress experienced by minority student-athletes, examine participation in mental health resources, and identify what factors contribute to a lack of resource use (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). 

Investigators collected data by having participants fill out questionnaires regarding their mental health in the last year. Results from this study revealed there is a significant number of minority student-athletes who experience high levels of stress, very few individuals utilize available mental health resources, and the identification of some barriers to these programs (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). The participants mentioned a lack of comfort level, feelings of no support, and a negative stigma associated with seeing a mental health professional as barriers to using these valuable resources (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). It is important for athlete development professionals to be conscious of the extreme number of minority student-athletes who experience high stress and do not utilize the appropriate resources.

The third article focused on black student-athlete experiences in predominantly white institutions. There has been an abundance of research on racial issues and academic experiences such as faculty stereotypes. For black student-athletes, there are several factors that can influence their overall experience. Their prior academic preparation, home life, and social changes have been noted previously to play a role in their academic journey (Sato, Hodge, & Eckert, 2017). The purpose of this study was to provide information on black student-athlete experiences in the academic, social, and athletic domains (Sato et al., 2017). 

Data was collected through interviews with the participants and results included the emergence of three themes following analysis. These overarching topics were academic challenges, social engagement, and athletic experiences (Sato et al., 2017). The participants felt they were not as prepared for the academic rigor of their curriculums and faculty had racial stereotypes towards them in the classroom (Sato et al., 2017). For social engagement, the participants felt there was minimal support and they were excluded on their team because of their race (Sato et al., 2017). Interestingly, in the athletic realm participants commented they were able to focus more on their sport performance because of the financial resources available for athletic departments at white institutions (Sato et al., 2017). The authors mentioned there is a need for more support or mentorship for black student-athletes at white institutions and an increase in the culture awareness training with all university staff, academic and athletic.

The most interesting point after reading these three articles was the results from the investigation by Ballesteros and Tran (2018). This research detailed the high levels of stress experienced by minority student-athletes, however, there is an extremely low participation in mental health resources (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). According to this article, fewer than 12% of minority student-athletes did not utilize mental health resources (Ballesteros & Tran, 2018). This is an astounding statistic given the high number of those who reported being under stress as mentioned previously. 

The difference in these numbers should be closer in my opinion, such as the number of minority student-athletes using mental health resources should be at least half. I was not aware of the high levels of stress this student-athletes encounter with their racial identity and how that can ultimately impact their overall health. The insight from this article triggers a deeper conversation because it forces those in athlete development to evaluate their mental health outreach and available resources. It is not enough to simply state you offer programs, rather it is a responsibility to ensure each student-athlete has the support they need to be successful in all facets of athlete development.

The information obtained from these articles provides critical insight to further educate athlete development specialist on the stress and obstacles encountered by minority student-athletes. There was discussion about the topic related to obstacles encountered by black collegiate athletes in an article by Sato et al. (2017). After reading about how student-athletes felt their academic background played an influential role in their classroom success or how they experienced stereotypes from faculty, athlete development specialist can be mindful of the daily challenges experienced by these individuals. 

Although the main population in the summarized research investigations were collegiate student-athletes, athlete development specialist of all levels of sport can utilize this information to understand some of their athlete’s perspectives. This can give professionals some enlightenment and should invoke reflection on their own bias. Unfortunately everyone has some sort of opinion, however, being conscious of that and reflecting on how one can improve themselves is a critical tool when working with a minority athletic population.

A program I thought of after reflecting on the information from these articles was a minority athlete culture awareness training program. This program does not directly work with athletes; however, it provides unique training to professionals in athletics to further their education on this critical topic. The articles summarized previously consistently noted the lack of education with staff and other professionals in contact with athletes on racial stereotypes, support, and other. 

This program would be unique in several ways with the goal of athlete success of the athlete as the top priority. Not only would it provide cultural awareness to professionals to aid in the development of athletes, it would also incorporate athlete feedback and be specific to that respective organization or institution. Athletes can share their perspectives anonymously and it would provide real time feedback or insight into their experiences. This can provide insight to athlete development specialist who work with these individuals daily and ultimately provide the necessary support they need to be successful. I think it is important to make this program specific to the organization or institution because it has real meaning and these specialists are more likely to consider the education they are receiving.

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