Dissertations, Theses and Capstone Projects

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in American Studies (MAST)


American Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Rebecca Hill

Second Advisor

Dr. Robbie Lieberman


Race and racial tensions have long been pressing concerns in professional athletics in the United States. Issues of race have been of particular importance to the National Basketball Association (NBA) since African Americans compromise 77 percent of the league's players. As such, this work examines the ways in which the media and the NBA responded to and managed the new generation of black players during the late 1990s and early 2000s while marketing to primarily white audiences. This time period is important in that it was unapologetically coined the 'thug era' by sports media and basketball fans alike, and the 'thug' label was used almost exclusively to describe young, black athletes who didn't fit the traditional 'black star athlete' mold. During this period, the NBA took several steps to ensure that players returned to being "model" black athletes. By imposing a dress code, levying fines and suspensions, selectively leaving certain players off of Olympic rosters, and creating NBA Cares, league officials asserted what they felt a "respectable" star black athlete should look like. Further, by positing black athletes as role models and questioning their morals, the media presented black athletes in the NBA as a threat to traditional family values. Thus, this research explores the vilification of the new generation of black NBA stars that were coined 'thugs' in the 1990s and early 2000s.