Rec & Sports » Rec Extra

Without Walls May 19, 2004

Increasing Diversity in Outdoor Sport


When I decided to do a column on minorities in outdoor sport I called up a kayaking friend living in Sacramento, California. His upbringing has intrigued me since I first met him. An African American, Demany Smith lived in Englewood, New Jersey, until he was 13. At that point his parents "were concerned with his surroundings" and sent him to live with his uncle, who was doing a medical residency on an Indian Reservation in eastern Montana.

"I went from living in the middle of street culture to the exact opposite," he said.

I asked him if it he thought it would be prudent to do this sort of article since the subject is hashed over all the time in the media, not just race and sport but race and culture, especially post 9/11.

"I think any articles regarding the subject are awesome," Smith says. "It's all about exposure. Kids in the inner city, minorities or otherwise, get into the things they see. Exposing minority kids to outdoor sports will increase the amount of diversity we see out there."

Smith got into snowboarding after he was exposed to it while living in Missoula attending the University of Montana. His experience with the snowsport and the "scene" that accompanies it helped him find kayaking. After talking with snowboarding friends who boated and seeing images of kayaking around campus, he decided to take a lesson.

"They were all full at the university so I had to go down to the YMCA to take a class."

Smith said that marketing played a big part in his finding outdoor sport. This is the double-edged sword of advertising. On one hand, ads can have a negative effect on advancing culture by playing to stereotypes and exploiting certain groups of people. On the other hand, marketing can expose people to things that they wouldn't see otherwise.

"Urban areas tend to be all about football basketball and track," Smith said. "Ads featuring skateboarding, cycling and other outdoor sports help get minority groups interested."

For some minorities, there is an intimidation factor that comes with leaving the safe surroundings of the urban borough. In an article written by Raekha Prasad in the Guardian, an English publication, the author looks at minorities who try to enjoy the relative solidarity of rural England.

"The perception of rural space as a white landscape is an additional deterrent to factors such as cost, lack of awareness and transport," Prasad writes. "Many nonwhite people choose not to go, believing the terrain does not belong to them and fearing that their difference will make them a target of abuse."

Prasad asks different minority authors living in London to tell of their experiences with the rural environment.

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah shared this anecdote: "About four years ago, I was in Essex on a friend's farm and went for a long jog. Never left his land. When I got back to his house, the place was surrounded by police, a helicopter circling above. 'We have had reports of a suspicious jogger,' the police said. My friend was outraged. To be honest, the police were really embarrassed."

Just as in other aspects of society, minorities have overcome racism and lack of exposure to slowly become involved in outdoor play.

Tracking minority participation in outdoor sports is tricky. Comprehensive studies are still in the works. A study in the late '90s composed by the Outdoor Experience Inc., a group that tracks shooting sports, showed that over 303,000 African Americans participated in hunting while more than 13 million white Americans took up arms to chase game. That's about 2 percent of America's black population. The number of minorities of any race participating in other outdoor sports can't be far off that mark.

Regardless the numbers are growing.

"I see way more people of color skiing and snowboarding now than when I first started," Smith said.

Getting people to participate in anything still comes down to a very simple concept.

"It's hard but it's all about taking the time to get people out," Smith said. "It only takes one time out to get someone interested in a sport."