Hooperchicks: Black Women, College Basketball and Identity Negotiation



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This project used in depth interviews with Black women who played Division I college basketball from1997-2007 to elucidate how they developed their racial, gender and athletic identities during adolescence, and how those identities are performed within the role of student athlete. My research shows that there are specific factors attributed the cultural significance basketball has in the black community and the increased visibility of women?s basketball during my participants? adolescence that position basketball as a reference group of Black women?s empowerment. I call my participants ?Black woman hoopers? to represent the conflation of race, gender and athletic identity. The qualities of Black woman hoopers include but are not limited to: strong work ethic, perseverance, value of teamwork/sisterhood, and self-confidence.

Investigating my participants? college experiences at predominately white institutions revealed the following themes: the importance of having Black teammates and coaches to provide mentoring; exacerbated racial battle fatigue for participants with primarily white teammates and coaches; the development of a community of support extending beyond their teammates and coaches; and how the larger community of Black woman hoopers transcends individual teams and exists as a space for a wide array of representations of Black womanhood not constrained by Eurocentric standards of beauty and femininity.

Framing inquiries into my participants? experiences after their college careers with the 2007 Don Imus incident in which he called women on the predominately Black Rutgers University women?s basketball team, ?Nappy headed hoes? revealed the extent to which my participants understood the negative perceptions of Black woman hoopers. It also allowed them to reflect on ways that their experiences as Black woman hoopers have equipped them to deal with similar stereotypes that exist in their current career fields.

This research combats the silence of Black women athletes? voices and presents Basketball as a unique space where Black women, because they comprise a majority at elite levels, can celebrate and build solidarity that include the spectrum of representations of Black womanhood that extend beyond athletics.