By Michael P. Tremoglie
Tea Time Blog
“As a white running back you get stereotyped,” Stanford University running back Toby Gerhart said during an interview in the October 12, 2009 edition of Sports Illustrated.
“When I tell people I play football they say, ‘Oh, you’re a fullback,’” he said. For those unfamiliar with the sport, fullbacks are running backs who rely more on strength then speed. However, they rarely carry the ball. Their role is usually reserved to block for the running back.
Gerhardt then mentioned during one football game that he overheard a coach from the University of Washington refer to him by yelling, “He’s not fast enough to turn the corner!”
Is there reverse discrimination in football? It would seem so – in fact, there seems to be racial discrimination in general.
White Men Can’t Run?
It is a fact that in football at all levels - in the college ranks and especially in the NFL ranks of professional football - there is a paucity of white running backs.
The same applies to white wide receivers, another position for which speed is a necessity. There are a few. The Philadelphia Eagles have a white wide receiver Kevin Curtis. Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb, an African-American, has dubbed Curtis “white lightning.”
The conventional wisdom is that white players are too slow. Sportswriters and broadcasters, who are primarily white, seem to have propagated this.
The great Denver Broncos player, Shannon Sharpe, who played tight end, alluded to this concept when he commented about his teammate white teammate wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, was criticized that he was too slow.
Sharpe, who is African-American, addressed the issue. He said, “If Ed McCaffrey was black, I don’t think you would hear it mentioned that he is slow. It’s a misconception. How many players have (Denver Broncos wide weceiver) Anthony Miller-type speed? There aren’t many black, white, red, yellow, green or Chinese.”
Sharpe also said that McCaffrey’s race impeded his earnings. He claimed that if McCaffrey were black he would be making more money than he did.
Are the Media To Blame?
Broadcasters are primarily white – as are the owners of the television and radio networks that broadcast the games. While progress has been made incorporating more African-American commentators, broadcasters and journalists, for a sport in which the majority of players are black the field is still clearly dominated by white males.
They bring with them their own prejudices. If one is around a group of sportswriters long enough eventually they will mention something about “slow white guys.”
This might be the source of the problem Toby Gerhart mentioned.
Perhaps they are trying to compensate for years of past racial discrimination. They are trying to erase the era when few, if any, black men competed with whites in college and professional sports – including football.
Although the NFL did have a black coach, Fritz Pollard, during the 1920’s, he was the only one until 1989 when Art Schell became the head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders.
Blacks were so rare as head coaches, despite comprising the majority of players, that in 2003 the NFL established the Rooney Rule named after the Pittsburgh Steelers owner. It mandated that NFL franchises must interview minority candidates for head coaching positions.
As laudable as this rule is it may not have been necessary if an NFL franchise had been owned by an African-American. It was not until 2005 that an NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, was owned by an African-American.
Yet, these are not the only places in football were blacks are without representation.
Black Men Can’t Kick?
As rare as it is to see a white running back in football, it is even more unusual to see a black kicker or punter. Not one of the 32 NFL teams has a punter or a kicker who is black.
Is there not one African-American in the ranks of college football or the minor leagues who is not qualified to punt, make a field goal or kick off?
Or is that sportswriters, broadcasters, coaches, scouts, general managers, and other front office officials have the same bias against African-American kicking specialists as they do against white running backs?
It took those involved in the sport of football a long time to evolve from the absurd thinking that blacks were not sufficiently intelligent to play quarterback. How long will it take for them to progress to the point where they will realize that white men can play running back.