Has the phrase “not athletic enough to make the pros” become synonymous with the words “white athlete”?
Toby Gerhart is a former Stanford halfback hoping to get drafted in the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft. He is a Heisman Trophy runner-up. He is a 6-foot, 231-pound power back who ran for a tremendous 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. At the NFL Combine he ran an impressive 4.50-second 40-yard dash and had a 38-inch vertical leap.
And he’s white.
A number of draft scouts have come out and said that they would take Gerhart in the second round, at the earliest.
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When asked about whether he believes that his race has anything to do with his draft stock, Gerhart had this to say:
“One team I interviewed with asked me about being a white running back…They asked if it made me feel entitled, or like I felt I was a poster child for white running backs. I said, ‘No, I’m just out there playing ball. I don’t think about that.’ I didn’t really know what to say.”
Gerhart believes that his game models that of NFL star Michael Turner, or ever former New Orleans Saint, Duece McAllister. However, the comparisons he usually hears are those of Michael Alstott or former draft bust, Tommy Vardell. Both players, like Gerhart, are white.
Gerhart isn't the only player facing the race issue. Star Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who by some is said to be the most decorated college football player of all time, has also been referred to as “not athletic enough” for the pro game. Tebow, who made his name in college football by throwing and running the ball, much like Michael Vick, has been told his game may not translate into the pros.
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None of the public remarks ever made regarding Gerhart or Tebow make any reference to them being white. Off the record, however, there have been a number of comments regarding race.
Yahoo’s Michael Silver recently spoke to an NFL scout who had this to say:
“He’ll be a great second-round pickup for somebody, but I guarantee you if he was the exact same guy – but he was black – he’d go in the first round for sure…You could make a case that he’s a Steven Jackson-type – doesn’t have blazing speed but he’s strong and powerful and versatile.”
The question then becomes: Is it wrong for NFL front offices to discriminate against white athletes who they deem "not athletic enough" for the professional ranks? After all, they’re doing so after years of witnessing such players fail. They have a lot of money invested in these athletes, and is it right for them to be forced to take talent that they don’t believe is suitable?
Of course, such thinking can lead to a very slippery slope. Prejudice is prejudice, and discrimination is discrimination, regardless of the setting. To ask a white athlete whether his race will play a role in the pros, is no different than asking a minority employee how their race will play a role in the way they do their job.
Gerhart and Tebow will be drafted, this much is certain. They are far too recognizable and gifted to not get an NFL opportunity.
What they do once they hit the field, however, matters most. As unfair as it may sound, their success or failure will go a long way in either confirming or rejecting racial stereotypes.
Regardless of what happens with these players, this draft has brought a very interesting question to the forefront of the race-in-sports conversation:
Is racial discrimination in the sports arena any different than racial discrimination in any other setting?