Perhaps you thought the best man for the job got to play in the NFL. You’d be wrong. Race matters more than you think.
In the NFL, only seven of the 32 head coaches are Black. Studies show that white head coaches favor white quarterbacks, while Black head coaches favor Black quarterbacks. What this means for the NFL’s quarterbacks, the most important leadership position on the field, is easy to deduce: Most of the quarterbacks in the NFL are white.
It’s strange, but more than a few positions in the NFL are held mostly by white people or mostly by Black people (cornerbacks, for instance, are generally Black). You may have noticed it but not understood why. Today, in “At Some Positions in the NFL, Stereotypes Reign,” the New York Times’ William Rhoden explains.
According to Rhoden, NFL teams, through a variety of unwritten rules and unofficial practices, used to ensure that white players played certain positions and Black players played other positions. Black players, for instance, were thought to be possessed of more athleticism than whites, which made them more appropriate for the high-octane position of cornerback, while whites, who were thought to be a bit less athletic, were perfect for lineman and punting positions.
There was little real evidence to support the idea that Blacks are better athletes than whites, of course, but the stereotypes have lingered for decades now. These days, coaches preparing boys to play football at the highest levels simply don’t shuttle Blacks toward kicker just as they don’t shuffle whites toward cornerback.
In other words, it’s not that Black players can’t be good quarterbacks or kickers, or that white players can’t be good cornerbacks. It’s that many of the coaches who are training children are biased, and thus won’t teach them the skills necessary to excel outside of their racially defined positions. Consider this the next time someone tells you whites make better quarterbacks or Blacks make better cornerbacks. That might be true, but the reason they’re better is probably because they were trained to be, not born to be.
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