When a person scores a touchdown, do you cheer a little harder because he looks like you? Probably not, but does race play a part in what sports you watch or how you view players? In the pros, we have seen a one hit wonder like Peyton Hillis make it to the Madden cover…then we may never hear his name again. Did he deserve it? Or was the NFL itching for a white running back? Have fans become mindful of race in a world of sports where the team aspect makes everyone equal?

Let’s throw away college sports, because there is something spiritual in the worship of college athletics. I will stick to the professional level instead, and our first stop is the NFL. The NFL is a totally different beast from all other organized sports. Football has become America’s Sport (sorry baseball, move over) and the NFL is so dominant that even races not represented much in the league (Hispanic and Asian) still watch the NFL.

The Jets saw a boost in viewership with Mark Sanchez. Was it because he was a high draft pick who was coming from a west coast school? (I’m talking about USC. That stands for Southern California for all of you SEC heads who can only see USC as South Carolina.) Was this increase in viewership because he was playing in the Big Apple? Or was it because he is Hispanic?

Another thing that makes the NFL a different case stems from the fact that a majority of the big names in the league are white (players like the Mannings or Tom Brady, and owners like Robert Kraft or Jerry Jones). However, I still feel that if a white athlete excelled at playing in a position that was considered out of the norm (wide receiver, running back, or cornerback) we would see a different look. We do have Wes Welker, but do we slight him because he plays the slot and not on the outside ala Calvin Johnson? Or is Wes Welker slighted because he is white? When was the last time we had a white wide receiver that we all agreed upon? Ed McCaffrey? See above for Peyton Hillis on running backs.

Even at the thought of a black quarterback, we view them as more athletic runners than pure passers. We forget about Warren Moon and Doug Williams. We certainly forget about the less successful Bryon Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Donovan McNabb felt tremendous pressure to change into a pure pocket passer, which I felt hurt his overall game.

I looked up the demographics for the NFL and for (what I think we can all agree) are the five cities in which football is the most popular. The table below gives you the info at a glance:

 

  Non-Hispanic White Non-Hispanic Black Non-Hispanic Asian Hispanic
Chicago 31.00% 32.00% 5.00% 28.00%
Pittsburgh 64.00% 25.00% 4.00% 3.00%
Dallas 29.00% 25.00% 3.00% 40.00%
Green Bay 86.00% 1.00% 4.00% 7.00%
Baltimore 64.00% 30.00% 2.00% 4.00%
NFL 31.00% 66.00% 2.00% 1.00%

 

With the exception of Green Bay, those numbers are pretty diverse. Looking at this breakdown lends credit to the thought that the NFL has the most diverse fandom. Dallas and Chicago boast a high representation of the Hispanic population (40% and 28% respectfully) and both are traditional NFL cities.

My thought is that the NFL is untouchable in regards to race and fandom. We will see in time if the Hispanic and Asian representation will emerge more with the NFL trying to become more international (outside the country game every year). Still we could put Cheese Heads (Packers), or Purple People Eaters (Vikings), with a Orange Crush (Broncos), running through a Steel Curtain (Steelers) to a Fearsome Foursome (Rams), that gives me a No-Name De Fense (Dolphins) out on the field and everyone will still watch. I do think we have stereotypes of positions, and these stereotypes definitely hurt the white athlete.  What do you think?  Is there a reverse racism in the NFL at certain positions?  I really would like everyone to comment on this thought.

 

Jason

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