Racism in Football


The topic that I have an interest in is racism in football. I am curious as to if there is still racism in the various levels of football in America. It seems that people still perceive certain players have to be a certain color and that’s just the way it has to be. The literature on the subject shows that there still is a stereotype

of certain players and stereotypes of certain coaches. The same words seem to appear in most articles. Words like quotas, equality, and racial stacking. Most of the articles that I found seemed to believe that there was still a small amount of racism left in the National Football League among players and coaches and in the NCAA among coaches. One article I found mentioned the NFL’s colorblind tradition while talking about the affirmative action issues that arose in the leagues coaching ranks. This article went on to explain that the racism could go both ways sometimes. For example, the NFL runs a program exclusively for minority coaches so that they can gain valuable experience in the coaching profession. One white assistant coach in the NCAA has tried several times to gain admittance to certain NFL camps as a volunteer only to be turned away because he was white. The coach and the former commissioner of the NFL both agreed that “the principle of fair employment centers on the idea that employers should not hire less qualified or unqualified people while passing over members of minority groups who are more qualified.” (Franke)

Other literature simply states the facts about the percentages of players in the National Football League who are white and who are black. Some of the percentages are quite amazing with over 90% of quarterbacks being white, while 90% of running backs are black. This is another one of the stereotypes that I mentioned in the above paragraph. White players are supposed to play certain positions while black players are supposed to play other positions. This stereotype comes from the belief that black players don’t have the intelligence to play certain positions on the field i.e. quarterback, offensive center, and middle linebacker. This is also the reasoning of why there are so few minority coaches in the NFL and NCAA. The common misconception is that they lack the intelligence to succeed and be winners in coaching.

Why is racism still a factor in the NFL and NCAA? This is the question that I am going to try and answer in this paper. I feel that there still is racism in small amounts in the NFL and NCAA. Certain players are still stereotyped into certain positions regardless of skill level. The other questions that need to be answered are why traditionalists feel that only white players can play quarterback and be a head coach, and why non-traditionalists feel that only minority coaches deserve to have high ranking positions despite lack of production or experience.

There is a question that Michael Kornblau had to answer everyday as the starting quarterback for Grambling State University, an all black university where the white students are considered to be the minorities. So you’re the new white Tiger? Kornblau hated hearing that question and hated even more when he had to answer it. Kornblau is the first white starting quarterback that Grambling has ever had. He also is the Tigers’ first Jewish Quarterback (Bamberger). This question posed to Kornblau poses an idea that should be asked of all football players and coaches. Is there racism in football in the 21st century? This is not the first time that Grambling state had to deal with this problem though. Back in 1968, Jim Gregory played quarterback at Grambling (although he never started) and he said that when he arrived he had a lot more trouble with the white community than the black community (Bamberger).

The problems faced by Gregory and Kornblau are comparable to the problems that faced Marlin Briscoe in the late 1960’s. Briscoe was the first black quarterback in the NFL while playing for the Denver Broncos, and he said that “For black people, it was a test to dispel a myth that had been prevalent in society-that a black man couldn’t think, lead or execute. I knew there were certain aspects of the white community that wanted me to fail.” (Saraceno)

Briscoe also stated that this racism had started long before he reached the NFL when his youth coaches wouldn’t allow him to play quarterback despite his abilities, he still owns the Broncos rookie record for touchdown passes. His journey eventually ended when his head coach for the Broncos held off-season quarterback meetings without making Briscoe aware. Briscoe asked for his release and never played quarterback again.

These are just a few of the hardships that players had to deal with and are still dealing with in this decade. Only three years ago Rush Limbaugh made the now famous comments that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed. This is partly true but not entirely true, for all its well-documented faults, big league sports epitomized a wonderful American ideal: that anyone-regardless of race, creed, wealth, upbringing, or zodiac sign-can make it to the top. Just be among the best performers (Franke).

The significance of this study is to try and dispel the myths that football has built up over the years. To try and get away from the idea that only white players can play quarterback and only black players can play running back and that only white head coaches can be successful in their profession. There need to be equal opportunities in football and equal opportunities for all players. But there are a number of reasons why one might expect to find levels of racial discrimination lower in football than in other social institutions. Professional football has had a relatively long and voluntary history of racial integration compared to other occupations. Currently non-whites account for over 60% of all professional football players and it is difficult to think of another occupation with equivalent social rewards that is dominated by non-whites (Kooistra, Mahoney & Bridges 1993).

Kooistra goes on to say that despite these reasons, there is evidence that racism pervades professional sports. Studies have suggested that minorities are grossly underrepresented in management positions and in more prestigious player positions that are presumed to require leadership qualities such as intelligence, emotional stability, and a greater responsibility. Nonwhites instead are disproportionately located in positions demanding more innate athletic ability such as speed, quickness, or brute strength.

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