Peyton Hillis was one of the best running backs in the NFL this year. He ran for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 270 carries. He also made 61 receptions for 477 yards and two touchdowns. He finished sixth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (ahead of Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson).
In his third season, Hillis was finally given the opportunity to be a featured back for a whole year. Many Broncos fans thought that was going to happen for Hillis during 2009, following the stellar end to his rookie season for Denver in 2008.
Why Hillis never got a shot to play under Josh McDaniels remains a mystery. Some said Hillis didn't fit in the system (an argument that has clearly been proven wrong). Others felt McDaniels had it out for Hillis from the start, because of a rumor that Hillis had hit on his coach's wife (which was later reported to be 100 percent false).
Hillis himself recently hinted that he never got a real chance in Denver because of his skin color (something I've also speculated).
On the Dan Patrick Show, Hillis said about his year under McDaniels, "In Denver, they just wanted me to play strictly fullback, nothing else. I wasn’t too happy about the situation, but I was trying to be a team player."
He continued, “I just wanted to be on the field. It ended up I didn’t play anything at all.”
Some who have already commented on this interview, are calling it reverse racism. To me, calling it "reverse" racism significantly cheapens the issue. I cannot understand why many feel the term racism can only be applied when it's perpetuated by a white person.
However, that's an entirely different story.
Regarding Hillis, it's difficult to find any other reason why he was almost never on the field in 2009.
In seven games as a rookie in 2008, Hillis racked-up seven touchdowns and 522 yards from scrimmage on 82 touches. Because of injuries, he started two games at tailback toward the end of the season.
Against the Jets that year, he had 129 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
It looked as though Denver had a running back they could build around for the future. That is, until Josh McDaniels drafted Knowshon Moreno in the first round in 2009.
Despite generally lackluster play from Moreno in 2009, Hillis never gained a significant role in McDaniels' system.
Following his trade to Cleveland this past offseason, we all got to see exactly what the Broncos had given up on.
Even with his great success, Hillis is still facing racism. Only now, it's coming from opposing linebackers instead of his head coach.
In the same interview with Dan Patrick, Hillis explained, "Every team did it. They'll say, 'You white boy, you ain't gonna run on us today. This is ridiculous. Why are you giving an offensive lineman the ball?'"
Hillis says he has and will continue to use the racism as motivation to play well and prove his doubters wrong.
I can only hope he is successful with that cause.
There is an unfair stigma surrounding white athletes which promotes the idea that they are physically incapable of elite athleticism because of their skin color.
The sooner the media, managers and coaches in sports stop judging players by their skin color, the better off the professional sports world will be.
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