Modern Day Stereotypes in Football

by Taylor Barton

One of the many reasons I love sports so much is because they are a great equalizer. Once you’re on the field, nothing else matters. It’s the same rules for everyone, regardless of their age, race, or socio-economic background. Sports give everyone in our society an equal chance, no matter what culture or background they come from. In our country the overall population is still majority White. However, at the highest levels of some sports, for this story I’ll reference football, the opposite is true. If you look at major Division 1 football programs and NFL teams, the majority of their rosters are Black while Whites are the minority. It’s something I lived with 1st hand, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was life changing, and I hope every kid has the opportunity to experience that at some point in their lives.

Growing up in Oregon, one of the Whitest states by percentage in the United States of America, I had always been a part of the majority. That all changed when I arrived at San Francisco City College. There would literally be days that went by where I would only see a handful of White people. I had never been in that situation before, and the first thing I found myself doing was looking for White people everywhere I went. I say this because up until that point I’d never been forced to see the world from the perspective that most Black and Polynesian kids have to when they play for their High School or College programs. Sports are changing that dynamic, as kids at younger ages are now growing up being used to playing with and against kids of all racial make-ups. However, along with all the positive changes that are arising out of sports, inevitably there are also some negatives. I have 2 examples of modern day racism/stereotypes that I think need to be addressed.

As a former QB myself, and QB coach, this 1st example I take really personal. Let’s discuss the different stereotypes of the “Black” QB. There is a certain label that get’s put on them immediately, and as you’re reading this I’m sure you know exactly what that is. “He’s a great athlete” is one I hear all the time. Another one I always here is, “He’s very athletic”. Even if someone doesn’t say it, generally one of the first things people think when they see a Black QB is, “he must be fast”. This is really troublesome to me. It’s a racist stereotype that needs to be shelved forever. Another stereotype that isn’t talked about as openly, but is just as worrisome, is the fact that a lot of people automatically assume that a Black QB isn’t as knowledgeable about the game as their White counterpart. Now, I’m not saying everyone thinks this way, but even in this day and age, there are still a lot of people that have this misconception. What did we keep hearing about Cam Newton all last off season leading up to the draft? We kept hearing all these media types saying that Cam was a great athlete, but couldn’t throw the ball well enough to be a successful NFL QB or didn’t know the game very well, and in college got away with it because he was such a great “athlete”. They even went as far as to say that he would be very successful at another position, similar to Brad Smith. WOW! How many of them are eating their words now? All Cam did was go and set an all time RECORD in the NFL for a rookie QB in passing yards. The numbers he put up were impressive for a QB of any experience level in the NFL, let alone a rookie. To pass that successfully in the NFL, a QB has to be able to throw a great ball, and also be smart enough to read defenses and throw to the right person.

QB’s like Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Kordell Stewart, Donovan McNabb, and Michael Vick opened up the idea and possibility for many young Black kids that they too could try and play QB. So a generation or 2 later, we are seeing the emergence of the Black QB at all levels. And I’m happy to say that over the next few generations, we will see even more. Yes, a lot of them are great athletes, but to be fair, I’ve also seen my share of Black QB’s who weren’t very athletic at all. As a matter of fact, they looked like they had two left feet. Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick broke the mold of what the “prototype” should look like and play like at the QB position. They became an added threat to defenses because of their ability to make plays with their feet, but first and foremost, they are great Quarterbacks and deserve to be recognized that way.

The other example I have of a modern racist/stereotypical view has to do with the White skill position player. I’m not talking about TE’s or LB’s, as those positions have a pretty balanced mix of different ethnicities. I’m referring to RB’s, WR’s, and DB’s. I mentioned in the third paragraph that we see a Black QB and automatically assume he’s athletic. The same thing happens when we see a White WR. We automatically assume he’s a possession guy that runs perfect routes and has great hands. We also assume he’s a “smart” player, and knows how to find holes versus zone coverage’s. Yes, the majority of skill position players in College at the D1 level or in the NFL are Black. However, there are exceptions to the rule. As long as that’s true, we should always wait to see a kid play before we judge him, rather than make the mistake of using racist stereotypes.

For a long time in the history of man, we believed the Earth was flat. Eventually that theory was proved false. We also believed the Earth was the center of the solar system and that the sun, moon, and every other planet revolved around it. Again, over time, that theory was proved false. So we find ourselves today, similar to scientists and astronomers from history, having to come to grips with the fact that we were wrong about Black QB’s and White skill position players. The point of this write up is not to make anyone mad or call anyone out. My hope is that any young kid reading this realizes that if they work hard enough and want it bad enough, they aren’t limited to only playing a certain position. Believe in yourself, believe in your dream, and don’t let anyone in the world tell you what you cannot, should not, or will not do. Keep an open mind to life’s opportunities.