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Reviewed by:
  • Commodified and Criminalized: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports
  • Amy Essington
Leonard, David J. and C. Richard King, eds. Commodified and Criminalized: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2010. Pp. 262. Notes, works cited, index, and contributors’ biographies. $75.00 hb.

In a collection of ten essays, and an introduction and postscript, the authors of Commodified and Criminalized examine the new realities of the intersection of race and sport for African Americans in the twenty-first century through a series of case studies. No longer the story of exclusion and inclusion, African Americans in sport today face a complicated new racism that is more difficult to detect and challenge. In the introduction, the editors establish the parameters for the collection and define the themes of the collection as color blindness, commodification, (racialized) cultural wars, criminalization (demonization), globalization, and new racism.

In the first chapter, C.L. Cole and David L. Andrews examine Tiger Woods and his position as “America’s New Son.” A self-defined “cablinasian,” Woods represents the new American multiculturalism of heterogeneous hybridity. The commercial positioning by Nike of Woods as an African American and a man without race, provides insight into the postracial, “colorblind” world. In a short postscript, the editors and David L. Andrews address his downfall, and the racial interpretations of his fall from grace.

Nancy E. Spencer writes about Venus and Serena Williams, two tennis champions from Compton, whose experience at a tournament in Indians Wells, California, in March of 2001, illustrates the challenges of race in professional tennis. Venus and her father and coach Richard Williams reported hearing racial taunts when watching a match of Serena. The report by the Williams of their racialized experience differs from the “sincere fictions” created by whites. Spencer addresses the scientific, cultural, and commodity racism that the Williams family has experienced in professional tennis.

In the third essay, David L. Andrews, Ronald L. Mower, and Michael L. Silk write about “Ghettocentrism and the Essentialized Black Male Athlete.” Through an examination of the increasing blackness of the National Basketball League (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL), the authors argue that African-American players receive a label of urban, or ghetto—an image that American society both celebrates and vilifies.

Anoop Mirpuri investigates Kobe Bryant and neoliberalism in the fourth chapter. The racial construction of Bryant as a commercial figure happens in a certain political, economic, and cultural context. Bryant is an example of how neoliberal capitalism maintains and legitimizes racial stratifications.

The commercial campaigns for African-American basketball players, including Michael Jordan, Latrell Sprewell, Allen Iverson, and LaBron James, demonstrate the different expectations for African-American male athletes. Lisa Guerrero argues in the fifth essay that the marketing of African-American masculinity continually combats stereotypes and fears from American culture. [End Page 182]

In 2004, Major League Soccer (MLS) welcomed the arrival of the fourteen-year-old Guyanese turned American, Freddy Adu. D.C. United signed the youngest male to play in a professional sport and instantly commodified him. Author Kyle W. Kusz places the commercial manufacturing of Adu’s arrival and early career in the context of neoliberal racism.

In the seventh chapter, C. Richard King explores the career of Shani Davis, African-American Olympic speed skater. Davis, a man who is one of few African Americans in his sport, has tried to present himself in a deracialized way while others have racialized him.

The National Hockey League (NHL) integrated in 1958, but only about forty blacks have played in the NHL in its history. With denials of racism from the hockey establishment, goalie Ray Emery has faced racial challenges similar to players in the NBA and NFL. Stacy L. Lorenz and Rod Murray describe Emery’s personalized hip-hop style that demonstrates how the new racism challenges his legitimacy as a hockey player.

In “Contesting the Closest,” Samantha King writes about Sheryl Swoopes, a basketball player who challenged norms of gender as well as sexuality. The Olympic gold medalist and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Most Valuable Player balanced her family life with her successful career. Her divorce and later announcement...


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