Athletic Identity

Updated January 22, 2021

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Athletic Identity essay

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Participating in sports and understanding athletic identity can play a huge role in how people identify themselves. Sports allows people to express themselves and communicate with others. No matter where in the world you live, you have probably seen or watched sports to some fashion or degree. Sports and athletic identity can bring people together and provides both advantages and disadvantages. In Tatum’s article she talks about the stereotype that you have to be black to be good at sports which is in no way shape or form true at all. I find Tatum’s thinking to very interesting and intriguing. Tatum’s article is the main reason that I chose to write about this topic and I find it important to address this stereotype.

What is athletic identity? Athletic identity is how an athlete individually who identifies themselves and looks for acknowledgement of their role in sports. When someone decides to play a sport they are making a social statement about themselves and how they want others to view them with regards to sports. Throughout the duration of my research I have found that it is important for athletes to be aware of both the benefits and potential risks of athletic identity. At the end of this essay I will have some input of my own through my experience with athletic identity.

Athletic identity has its positives and its negatives. Benefits of a strong athletic identity can include being more confident, salient self identity, being healthier, participating in fitness, and much more. Sports can take up a lot of time and energy and some may say that sports can be a main cause for bad grades but this may not be the case. According to Missouri University health Care many athletes as of late are doing much better academically. Sports contain a variety of skill sets that can be directly related to the classroom. Sports help teach problem solving and teamwork which can be a valuable life lesson that can help people in the real world. People who identify as having athletic identity and partake in sports are more likely than not to be in better shape and health. Having a high sports identity and involvement can allow for people to have higher self esteem. Achieving sports and fitness goal can have a lasting effect on people and can boost their moods (MU Health Care).

Having pride in oneself as an athlete should not be ashamed but it should be encouraged. Athletes are healthy individuals who most often value hard work, dedication, and teamwork. Since we have looked at how athletic identity benefits people now we will look at how it may harm or be a disadvantage. After researching about this topic and looking at multiple sources many people seem to have a common belief that if an athlete only values him/herself as an athlete then this can cause some serious problems down the road. This thinking can be so dangerous according to Sports Psychology because it can make people forget who they are outside of the game. Athletes rarely consider how long their athletic careers really last. At any moment they could have a season ending injury or even a career ending injury (Lubben).

To further develop on this let’s talk about some numbers. When it comes to playing in the professional leagues like the NBA or NFL, very little athletes are skilled enough to reach that level. “Only about 5% of high school athletes are able to play at the college level, and less than 2% of all college athletes are talented enough to play professionally” (Stankovich). This can be very discouraging for athletes who only have what they have on the field and don’t discover themselves outside of the sports world. If you are a parent or coach it is important to teach kids not only just about identity but about athletic identity. Dr. Chris Stankovich makes it a priority of his to recognize athletes as club members, students, musicians, and not just as athletes.

For one of my sources I found an article by former athlete and entrepreneur who goes by the name of Malcolm Lemmons. Lemmons played four seasons of Division 1 college basketball l for Niagara University in New York. He also did not make it to the professional level so he is exactly the person I need for this essay. Athletes like michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Babe Ruth will always be remembered for their historic wins, accolades, and awards. No matter how successful an athlete is in their personal endeavors and business these matters will still not be acknowledged to the same degree as their triumphs on the court or field. What these players do or did on the field should never be overshadowing who they are as people. “Your ability as an athlete and the success you used to have should never overshadow your abilities as a person” (Lemmons). For example, if an athlete or professional sees themselves as only an athlete they let their sports make up who they are and define them which in Lemmons mind can lead to a life of misery and depression. Sometimes athletes let their sports become their only focus in life which is not good for many reasons but we will specify on two. First, it takes away their opportunity to try out different things. Second, it does not help them prepare for life after sports. “As an athlete, there will come a day when you have to give up your sport and transition into something else in life not matter what” (Lemmons). It is up to every athlete on how they define themselves outside of the game and the earlier they start the better it will be in the long haul.

After reading an article by Beverly Daniel Tatum I started to think about how her thinking and how her ideas directly relate to my paper. In a way Tatum’s article got me thinking about athletic identity but specifically in stereotypes. In her article titled “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria,” she talks about the stereotype that if you are black then you must play sports. It is a common belief in society that if you are black then you must identify as being athletic or into sports. In my paper about athletic identity I thought that it was directly related to tatums thinking and found it important to address this stereotype/issue.

Throughout history there have been great African American sports players but there has also been great sports players from all cultures and races. Lets see the numbers and statistics on african americans in professional sports. Black athletes in the MLB represent 21% of the professional baseball players, 73% of the National Basketball Association, and 57% of the NFL is African American (Sailes). You could say these numbers are not in my favor but african americans do take the majority in those sports but the numbers are different for other sports. African Americans are less represented in college and professional sports of golf, hockey, tennis, Olympic skiing, and gymnastics. Regardless of your race you should not be stereotyped to identify athletically or partake in sports.

Sports and athletic identity can provide you with life lessons and help develop skills and relationships that can prepare you for life after sports because frankly there is a small chance that athletes will make it to the professional level. After researching it is a common belief that it can be dangerous for athletes to not identify themselves outside of the classroom. Beverly Tatum’s thinking is directly related to athletic identity and identity in general. She addresses many stereotypes that are directly related to athletic identity. Sports and athletic identity can play a huge role in some people’s lives but it should not outshine or overtake your life and you still should have a life outside of sports.


  1. Pottratz, Suzanne. “Sports Psychology – Athletic Identity.” The UK’s Leading Sports Psychology Website, Believe Perform, 20 Apr. 2015, believeperform.com/performance/athletic-identity/.
  2. Lemmons, Malcolm. “What Every Athlete Should Know About Athletic Identity.” Malcolm Lemmons, 14 Nov. 2017, malcolmlemmons.com/what-every-athlete-should-know-about-athletic-identity/.
  3. “Benefits of Sports for Adolescents.” Missouri University Health Care, University of Missouri, www.muhealth.org/conditions-treatments/pediatrics/adolescent-medicine/benefits-of-sports.
  4. Lubben, Katie. “Athletic Identity.” Premier Sport Psychology, Premier Sports Psychology, www.premiersportpsychology.com/sport-psychology/athletic-identity/.
  5. Stankovich, Chris. “The Importance of Understanding Athletic Identity.” The Sports Doc Chalk Talk with Dr. Chris Stankovich, Advanced Human Performance Systems, drstankovich.com/the-importance-of-understanding-athletic-identity/.
  6. Tatum, Beverly D. ‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?’: And Other Conversations About Race. New York, N.Y: Basic Books, 2003.
  7. Sailes, Gary A. “The Myth of Black Sports Supremacy.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 21, no. 4, 1991, pp. 480–487. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2784690.
Athletic Identity essay

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