Casual football fans are finally waking up to Russell Wilson’s greatness. After his masterful performance against the Rams on prime time TV, Wilson is neck and neck with Pat Mahomes as one of the hottest names in this year’s MVP race. Another name whose stock’s been rising lately is Panthers’ RB Christian McCaffery, who has become one of the better players in his position. Despite going 2-3 as a starter, Lamar Jackson has shown that he can be a solid quarterback. In some way, this is a debunking of conventions that’s been around football for a long time. Sports, more or less, have been seen as a reflection of society. Part of living in a society is stereotypes, as seeing things through patterns is the way we understand life. Of course, this brings problems as you’re never really judged as an individual, but rather judged on things you cannot control.
Football teams, like societies, inherently have pecking orders. At the top, you have the owners and at the bottom you have the players, hierarchy exists even among the players themselves. Kickers and special teams are at the bottom while offensive and defense tend to flip flop in control. The quarterback is always seen as both a leader and spokesman for the team. In many ways, the QB represents to many sports fans a sense of power, being seen as a leader of men working to achieve a common goal, with parallels to the military being very apparent. For a long time, the perception of black athletes was that they were all brawn and weren’t intelligent enough to play the position. Before Warren Moon starred at the University of Washington, many college recruiters wouldn’t offer scholarships unless he switched positions. UW was the only school that recruited him for his true position. He later became the first black QB to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Switching positions was the reality for a lot of black QBs, from guys like Brian Mitchell to recent examples like Josh Cribbs.
To a lot of football fans, this is nonsense, as they’ve watched guys like Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, and (to a lesser extent) Mike Vick excel as franchise quarterbacks. But it’s a school of thought that’s still persisting to this day. Even before that, you had Doug Williams who was the first starting black QB to win a Super Bowl. Between the five players including Williams there’s two Super Bowl appearances, but only one championship ring and an SB MVP award. Currently, a quarter of the league has a starting black QB. But even after all the progress that’s been made, these perceptions still exist.
Despite throwing for 3,543 yards and winning the Heisman as the nation’s best college player, Lamar Jackson had doubters, Bill Polian being one of them. “Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are,” said the former NFL GM. “The accuracy isn’t there.” One of those “other guys” was Josh Allen who had a career passer rating of 137.7; Jackson had a career passer rating of 142.9. Allen was picked seventh in the draft while Jackson dropped to 32nd.
But stereotypes aren’t something that solely affects black men. When Christian McCaffery came into the league, the talking heads questioned how he’d play as running back. “McCaffrey’s size, power and speed are just average,” said in his draft profile. With tacked on appraisals like “able to create yardage for himself” and “vision and elusiveness.” The “unathletic white-guy” trope still persists, even with behemoths like the Watt brothers, George Kittle, Cooper Kupp, and recently retired Rob Gronkowski. “Sneaky athletic” is seen as a compliment, but a back-handed one since you know, they’re professionals? As of week five, McCaffery leads the league in rushing yards. He’s on pace to smash Eric Dickerson’s single season record.
All that being said, the league is changing for the better in this aspect. With people like McCaffery, Wilson, Jackson and Mahomes, people will at least be less judgmental towards players’ abilities. In a perfect world, the football community would reach a point where a good football player is just that: a good football player.