Document Type


Publication Date

February 2009


Sport is a potent unifying force and a potentially powerful tool in bridging societal divides. As such, the increasing frequency of professional athletes leaving their home nations and continents to access employment opportunities abroad portends positively for greater cultural understanding in our global community. This paper argues, however, that in America’s professional sporting context, internationalization of sport plays an additional, unsavory, role – it serves as a means of manipulating leagues’ racial compositions. Studies conducted during the past twenty years reveal that spectators at professional American sporting contests – a substantial majority of whom are Caucasian – exhibit preferences for seeing Caucasian players participate in the games they attend. Research also reveals American sports franchises and leagues have often responded to such preferences by discriminating in favor of Caucasian players when constructing their rosters. Such racial employment discrimination is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and exposes the perpetrating organization to liability. To the extent, therefore, that teams and leagues seek to manipulate racial composition, they are incentivized to do so indirectly. This paper argues that regulation of international entrants through international player restrictions provides that indirect vehicle. Specifically, this paper asserts that where inclusion of international players would decrease the proportion of a league’s players of color or maintain the league’s racial status quo, internationalization is encouraged. Where, on the other hand, inclusion of international players would increase the proportion of a league’s players of color, internationalization is discouraged or restricted. Through examining the racial compositions and international player policies of America’s five premier professional sports leagues – the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and Major League Baseball – this paper contends that international player restrictions effectuate unlawful racial discrimination and should, therefore, trigger scrutiny under American anti-discrimination law.

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