However, according to the Professional Athlete's Wellness Group, if you examine a breakdown of the percentages by race in the four major American sports ... football, basketball, baseball, and soccer ... you find with the exception of baseball, the ratio of black athletes in American professional sports is much higher than the ratio in the US general population. Most notably, black athletes make up about 67% of the National Football League, and nearly 80% of the National Basketball Association. (Sorry, I didn't breakdown hockey, it's Canadian) In fact, despite making up only about 13% of the US general population, black athletes occupy about 43% of the overall sports population in the United States.
So with such an high ratio of black athletes in American sports, it would stand to reason that the same is true in the fastest growing American sport, distance running ... right? Well, I searched every corner of the internet for racial demographics of marathons ... but they simply don't exist. And I think it's obvious why there is no published data on it. You only have to stand at the finish line of a few races in any city in America to realize that they're about 95% white, and 5% everyone else.
Awareness of this issue is beginning to create quite a ripple effect in the running community. Runner's World wrote a great article in 2008 about the absence of African American runners in distance events, and another in 2011 titled "Why Is Running So White?" Also, there are many local clubs forming throughout the country, as well as great national groups like the National Black Marathoners Association. The NBMA is dedicated to creating life-long fitness goals, and providing scholarships to deserving high school distance runners in the black community. And also, there's the wonderfully sassy and fashionable Black Girls Run!. It's another national organization "created to combat the obesity epidemic among women in the African-American community and dispel the myth that black women do not run."
African Americans face a disproportionately high rate of obesity, blood pressure, and diabetes compared to the rest of the country according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. And while these health concerns are at the forefront of the issue, the 2011 Runner's World article also eludes to other environmental reasons such as unsafe neighborhoods in urban areas as one of the main inhibitors to physical activity among African Americans. But groups like the NBMA and Black Girls Run! are helping shed light on some of the socioeconomic, nutritional, and health issues that affect African Americans and ultimately hinder physical activity and running. Basically, they're helping make running cool.
I can't begin to tell you how much running has enriched my life. But as I look around the running landscape, sometimes it appears to be predominantly a sport for upper-middle class white people, like golf, or tennis ... or Frisbee. It's like a club for suburban white women to melt off a little baby fat, or where middle-aged white men check one off the bucket list. And that's wonderful if it gets people moving and improves their quality of life. But hopefully as marathon enrollment continues to grow and running continues to gain popularity in this country, there will not only be white faces in the crowd when I scan the field, but more and more faces of color.
... be great today!