Back in the day, it was common and accepted that when an NFL sports announcer or NBA coach described an athlete, it would generally involve his race or cultural upbringing in some manner. Considering the arcane manner in which prior generations spoke of race and class in America, some of these names are what we would all call “problematic” in 2018.
It wasn’t a big deal when they called Larry Bird the “Hick from French Lick”. These days that would cause something of a stir, but back in the day no one so much as batted an eye at what amounted to a borderline racial slur.
As far as the NBA was concerned, publicizing Bird’s humble background as he skyrocketed to being one of the most popular stars in American sports history, served to bolster the league among white fans who started to complain that the game was becoming too black. Bird provided the white face for marketing and PR agencies to both capitalize on, while Magic Johnson provided the opposing foil that was tailor-made for a country still being shaped by racial insensibilities.
In a white supremacist power structure, it’s rare that we come across a situation in which a white male is at a disadvantage because of racist notions. As black players became the standard bearers in both the NFL and the NBA at the premier athletic positions, some white players found themselves being miss-scouted or under-scouted simply because of the color of their skin. Make no mistake, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey had been victimized by this line of thinking in the past.
Picture that, a white person being disadvantaged in a system created for him or her to thrive in! The physical nature of African-Americans has been treated as something almost mythical since before the birth of every person reading this article, and their great grandfathers as well.
During a 2014 study conducted by University of Connecticut sociologist Matthew Hughley, participants were asked which individuals were more likely to perform a list of superhuman feats, and a list of everyday feats, and were shown photos of black people and of white people. Blacks were chosen as being more likely accomplish a superhuman feat, such as being more likely to lift a tank, by 65 percent of participants. While only 46 percent picked a black person to be able to perform commonplace tasks.
Another survey that quizzed nurses of all races suggested that they all believed black people felt less painless sensitive to pain than white patients. Each of these statements are rather ridiculous on their face for anyone living in a world based on scientific facts and reasoning. However, many in the United States of America have been raised and reared in a philosophy that is the most irrational philosophy of them all, racism.
Because of the belief in the animalistic nature of black people, if only to rationalize forcing human beings into bondage, there are still otherwise great American white folk who believe in ridiculously racist things. Back in 2015, current Carolina Panthers standout running back Christian McCaffrey was at Stanford University in his sophomore season, racking up a Herculean 2,664 yard and 13 touchdowns. His Heisman trophy candidate was hotly contested on the cable sports channels of the day.
Michael Wilbon of ESPN said while he would vote for McCaffery to win the Heisman trophy if he had a vote, but also believed McCaffery would not win because of his race. McCaffrey would finish second in Heisman voting in 2015, the following year he would finish 9th in Heisman voting after a junior year where he tallied 1,913 yards from scrimmage.
Though many would refute the claim, McCaffrey himself would speak out on the matter at the time.
“When you read about white athletes these days and white skill possession receivers specifically, one word you’ll always find is tough,” McCaffrey told the publication. “You’ll rarely see explosive, athletic, stuff like that. … You get a little bit upset: ‘I ran the same 40 as this guy, and you’re calling him … .’ People do the eye test and underestimate me, so I do play with a chip on my shoulder.”
Christian’s father, Ed McCaffrey, concurred with his son’s assessment. “There are immediate stereotypes about a white running back who grew up in the suburbs of Colorado,” said Ed, a former All-American at Stanford who played 13 years in the NFL as a wide receiver with the Giants, 49ers, and Broncos. “When we’ve gone to camps or all-star games, he walks on the field and people look at him like he’s nothing.”
Back when McCaffery and his people were preparing for the draft, the stereotypes that dogged him during the college recruiting process and during the Heisman selection process followed him to the draft combine as well.
Here are some of the labels he had to fight through, according to Draft eXpress.
- Lacks the desired size of an every-down back
- Benefitted from physical offensive line at Stanford
- Doesn’t have NFL-caliber power to break tackles, create extra yardage.
- Lacks twitchy burst to accelerate away after the cut
- Has “average” burst, may not be enough to speed past NFL players on the second level
Though there are a myriad of phrases to explain what the descriptive texts of McCaffrey’s pre-draft weaknesses, what I see is ‘He’s just too white.” While those who grew into adulthood contemporaneously might not see the correlation to American style racism, it doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a long history of scouts using race to make determinations on ability and inability of potential athletes.
There are still knuckleheads all across the country who don’t trust black quarterbacks to lead their respective hometown teams to the pro football champions. And, ask yourself, aside from C-Mac himself, when was the last time you saw a highly-productive white running back in the NFL?
Not that many, huh? Well, now ask yourself whether the preconceived notions of individuals born into a system that gives merits and demerits based on race could have had something to do with that? I mean, it’s silly to believe that there was NO OTHER white guy, who had the same or similar abilities that Christian has displayed. It’s more likely that this white guy’s baller status just sounded too good to be true.
McCaffrey was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the 8th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft and he performed admirably with 1086 total yards from scrimmage, 435 yards rushing and 651 yards receiving during his rookie year.
Those numbers are comparable those of former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who himself is tabbed as being one of the most diverse backs in the league with 6,335 yards rushing and 3,940 yards receiving over a nine-year career that was cut short by injuries.
Physically, Christian is several measures taller and heavier than Westbrook and has shown an increased propensity to run in-between the tackles in his second year in the NFL. At no time was that more apparent than during the Carolina Panthers 27-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. McCaffrey recorded 125 rushing yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries while also catching 11 passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
Right now, McCaffrey is on track to catch and rush for over a thousand yards and currently has 757 yards rushing and 608 yards receiving with five games left in the season and also has an 86.6 percent catch percentage with 71 snags out of 82 targets. That’s not only outlandish for most running backs but unheard of for most receivers as well.
While his abilities may not have him in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done, I’m hoping the manner in which he was devalued during the college recruiting and even while in college won’t be suffered by another player in a future draft, whether he’s white or otherwise.