Perceptions on Race and Profiling in the NFL

Kimberley Nash@sambrooklynSenior Writer IApril 29, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 21:  Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles stands on the sidelines during the game against the Washington Redskins on December 21, 2008 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It's not a secret, or is it?

There aren't a lot of black quarterbacks starting in the NFL.

The reasons for their lack of field presence seem to run from the historical perceptions that still exist in some circles, even now.

Some of these being:

  • Blacks don't have the capacity to lead.
  • Blacks aren't smart enough to make good decisions on the field.
  • Blacks rely too much on their physical ability to be intelligent signal-callers.
  • Blacks are better suited for running than passing.

That being said, do you agree?

Now, I happen to feel that it is less about the tendency of the black athlete to be a scrambler than it is about the coach who nurtures the athlete in that way.

Take Michael Vick.

At Virginia Tech, he was a god. Everyone thought that he was going to make a major impact in the NFL as both a passer and a scrambler. He was the complete package—a game-changer.

It was okay for him to make people look silly as he scrambled outside the pocket for major gains.

That made the Hokies look great on television and, coupled with "Beamer Ball," gave Virginia Tech national exposure.

Why mess up a good thing by changing his style of play?

The problem is that his style, although dynamic, never translated into NFL success.

Outside of one playoff season, he found himself unable to be the quarterback that the Falcons needed to maintain a high level of success.

However, does that have anything to do with him being black? No. The Atlanta Falcons have been bad for a long time and Vick's presence on the team would not have changed that.

But, if he had been given better coaching in his game, shown how to be more patient in the pocket when the defense is closing in, and better honed his skills in making second and third reads, could he have been more effective?

I think so.

The fact is that Vick had a strong arm—he just had no clue how or when to use it. I blame that on coaching, not Vick.

This leads me to Donovan McNabb.

He is an example of what can happen with good coaching, but he is also a victim of his own making.

McNabb wants to be known as a pocket-passer. He refuses to run in a lot of situations when he should, simply because he wants to show that he can be effective from the pocket.

Personally, I don't think that he has anything to prove. Donovan McNabb is a good quarterback. His color is irrelevant to me, as it should be to everyone who sees him play.

His assertion that it's harder for black quarterbacks is true in a sense, but it's not the only reason that he has been criticized in the past.

A lot of people feel that McNabb lacks passion for the game. He can't take charge when his team needs it and, when he does, he's hardly inspiring enough for it to be effective.

He's blah. He lacks personality.

Again, I ask if that has anything to do with him being black.

I don't think so.

In this instance, it has to do with Philly.

The Eagles are a tough crowd. Donovan never really forgave the fans for booing him and, consequently, never took to the team.

It's my guess that, if he played with half of the love and heart of a Vince Papale, then he may have won a Super Bowl by now and be a more beloved figure in Philly.

Of course, I know at least one Eagle fan who will tell you that those boos had nothing to do with McNabb. Read Geoff Crawley's article here for a little more insight.

If that's true, then McNabb has been walking around with a chip on his shoulder for the last ten years and. White or black, he will never be able to overcome his personal demons.

The NFL, in recent years, has been good at giving black quarterbacks a shot.

Some have been successful: Daunte Culpepper, Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, and Kordell Stewart. Others have crashed and burned: Akili Smith, Andre Ware, Quincy Carter, and, so far, Tavaris Jackson.

None of these players were ousted before their time because he was black. Each had plenty of chances to prove that he was worth his weight in gold.

If they failed, then they were given the hook—the same as Rex Grossman and Joey Harrington.

Production ensures your job.

Am I naive enough to believe that race is never a factor? Of course not. People have preconceived notions about players at all positions, not just quarterback.

For instance, were you aware that there are currently no white running backs starting in the NFL?

Or that the last time a white running back rushed for 1,000 yards was 1985, and his name was Craig James, for the New England Patriots?

Or that the last white running back taken in the first round of the NFL Draft was Tommy Vardell? He went to Cleveland in 1992.

Why do you think that is?

Is it due to the perception that:

  • Whites don't run fast enough.
  • Whites don't have the ability to be as elusive.
  • Whites aren't built for the rigors and pounding of an NFL season at that position.
  • Whites simply aren't athletic enough to play running back.
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Sounds ridiculous, no?

The fact of the matter is that these perceptions are born long before these players get into the college or pro game.

A lot of coaches, maliciously or innocently, profile players based on stereotypes.

Those being that blacks are athletic, fast, and dumb and whites are intelligent, slow, and flat-footed.

Are they right? No. Are they true? In some instances, yes. In others, no. In neither case is it color specific.

It's important to know when and where the line has been crossed in the evaluation of a person's skill set.

You risk putting a guy in at a position where he will be decent but can't thrive.

The NFL has been notorious for asking players to change positions because they don't feel that a player can be effective at his chosen/natural one.

Pat White is going through that right now.

However, sometimes it works to make a player change positions. Look at Anquan Boldin.

He is clearly a talented wide receiver but would he have been just as talented as a quarterback? Hard to say, but that's precisely the position he played at Florida State.

Other times position-changes don't work.

Eric Crouch could never be the wide receiver the league wanted him to be and he had to leave the league to be successful at his chosen/natural position.

As of now, Brian Leonard faces the dilemma of being stuck in the fullback role, despite his desire to play running back.

Could he be as effective as Steven Jackson? Maybe. After all, he did pretty well at Rutgers.

There are holes to be found in any argument for or against race being a factor in the NFL. Currently, the numbers don't lie, there are only a handful of black quarterbacks starting in the NFL.

However, the same can be said of white running backs, wide receivers, and cornerbacks.

If it's about race, then it's about race. But, you have to admit that it's a two-sided coin.


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