I talk about sports sometimes. To be honest, I’m not sure who reads this blog. I don’t know if you care about sports. But I like sports. And, I like the truth. There’s value in it.
So, I get really concerned when I see articles with titles like “Ditch the Racially Coded Language, Lamar Jackson is No One’s Wide Receiver,” published today by Bleacher Report.
Right off the bat, we should know something’s wrong. Organized sports represent one of the purest forms of meritocracy that can exist in our flawed world. If you have the work ethic, determination, and yes, talent, odds that you’ll rise to the top of the game are very good. If you don’t, well, you won’t.
Here’s what the article suggests:
“’[Jackson’s] tape speaks volumes, but staffs can’t see beyond their biases,’ one NFC scout told Bleacher Report. ‘He’s black and athletic. Bias tells you he has to prove to you that he is smart enough. And if he can’t, he’s more valuable somewhere else because he’s athletic. Lamar has to be twice as good, both mentally and physically.’
It’s unfortunately a common development this time of year, when black quarterbacks seem to be held to a different standard than their white counterparts at one of the most important positions on the field.”
I think the scout the wrong. I also think that the author is wrong.
I’ll admit to being a little excited, because I think I can prove both that the NFL is, in general, not racist, and that the NFL is, in specific relation to Lamar Jackson, also not racist.
Let’s go really big picture here for a minute.
Is the NFL racist?
I would argue that an organization that has, for the most part, allowed a pro-minority protest to continue, even in the face of dropping ratings isn’t all that racist. A racist organization would have quashed that early on.
And then, there are the numbers. If it was a racist organization, then we’d expect to see below-average numbers for minorities as players, coaches, and general managers.
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida, that is absolutely not the case. African American players make up 69.2 percent of the total player base, despite making up only 12.7 percent of the population.
“But maybe the African American players are being exploited for their physical talents, just like in slavery!”
I mean, they’re well-compensated. Sign me up to be equally exploited.
Again, if the organization was racist, then we would expect there to be fewer minority managers and coaches because apparently, the racial stereotype suggests they’re not “smart enough” relative to their white peers.
And yet, 8 head coaches, out of a possible 32, are Black. That’s 25 percent! And 28.2 percent of assistant coaches are Black.
18.8 percent of general managers are African-American, while 18.2 percent of senior administrators for teams are the same.
For reference, four Fortune 500 CEOs are Black or .8 percent.
It’s also worth pointing out that the NFL voluntarily put the Rooney Rule in place, which means that teams must interview a minority candidate for each head coach or general manager position that comes open.
In short, the stats strongly suggest that the NFL isn’t racist, as they have a disproportionate amount of minorities as both players and staff, to the point where they’re wildly outperforming the rest of the United States.
Now, let’s look at Jackson specifically.
After reading his draft profile at NFL.com, I was reminded of another dual-threat player recently out of college, Johnny Manziel himself. After looking at the stats, I think the two players are strikingly similar.
|Yards per Attempt||9.1||8.3|
|TD to INT Ratio||63:22 (2.86)||69:27 (2.5)|
|Yards per Attempt (Rushing)||6.3||6.3|
|Average Rush TD per Year||15||16.7|
Overall, the numbers suggest that Manziel was a much better passer in every stat, with near-equality or a slight edge for Jackson in the rushing game. But, the stats suggest that Manziel was a far superior passer, racking up almost as many touchdowns as Jackson, despite playing only two seasons of college football, to Jackson’s three.
There’s another reason I bring up Manziel, and it’s not the fact that he flamed out of the NFL. According to an ESPN article, despite loving the Texas Longhorns as a child, he “wasn’t recruited as a quarterback by the Longhorns. He was evaluated as a defensive back but didn’t land an offer.”
I think it’s safe to say these are similar players. The fact that their skillset suggests they might have a bigger impact in a different position isn’t their fault. But then again, football is a meritocracy. Talent evaluators are trying to put players in a position to succeed, which benefits both the players and the team. They’re not always right, but that’s their job. ‘
To be fair, the article does potentially have one valid point: Josh Allen, a white quarterback with middling stats, is projected to be drafted higher than Jackson. The author further opines that “no one is calling for [Allen] to pursue another position.”
What the author fails to mention is that quarterback is the only position that Allen might be able to play at the NFL level. His draft evaluation describes him as “the biggest boom-or-bust quarterback in the draft,” and says that his “size arm talent are prototypical for early first-round picks, but it’s rare to find a quarterback with such a low college completion rate become a successful pro”
If Allen can’t become a quarterback in the NFL, he’s won’t play in it. The reason he’s in the discussion in at lies in the fact that he’s 6’5” tall, three inches taller than Jackson, has a very strong arm, and was coached by Craig Bohl, who previously coached NFL MVP candidate, Carson Wentz.
If Jackson can’t become a quarterback, he has the raw physical talent that would allow him to potentially play another position at an elite level.
At the end of the day, the difference in draft position between the two is easily explained by differences in physical attributes and coaching, rather than by race.
This is just someone trying to create drama, especially since Jackson himself confirmed that “[n]o teams have asked [him] to play wide receiver.”
Maybe we should dig a little deeper into the stats before we start playing the race card.