Stanford University running back Toby Gerhart recently said that his skin color is going to be an impediment to his NFL draft status. Gerhart’s assertion — he is a white, a rarity among NFL running backs — that his race will hurt him might fly if, and only if, the overwhelming number of NFL front office types charged with poaching the talent from the college ranks weren’t well…white.
This story caught my attention when I saw it being debated on Hannity this Wednesday. What wasn’t even glossed over on Hannity or by the rest of the mainstream sports media is that that at the start of the 2009 NFL season, only five of the 32 general managers — the decision makers — were African-American, making it virtually impossible for there to be any type of racism directed at Gerhart.
What the young man is being exposed to is stereotyping, the son of racism and bigotry. He has the qualifications to play at the next level, but make no mistake about it we are not talking Chris Johnson here. During the 2009 season, Gerhart rushed for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns on the way to winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
However, the 6-0, 231-pound Gerhart, who ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, runs high — something you can get away with if your name is, say Eric Dickerson — and he is not very elusive, skill sets that are hard for talent evaluators to see beyond.
Being drafted by the NFL is certainly the crowning moment to any collegiate career, and Gerhart certainly will be drafted and have his opportunity to make a team. What might make the paint-with-a-broad brush pill go down a little easier for Gerhart is knowing that he’s not the only player getting the stereotype treatment from NFL decision makers.
Myron Rolle, an African-American, graduated from Florida State in 2 ½ years. Before he entered Florida State he was a Parade All-American and the consensus top safety in the nation coming out of high school. After graduating from Florida State, Rolle won a Rhodes Scholarship and spent the 2009-10 academic year studying at Oxford University in England. There are only 32 Rhodes Scholars selected each year, from a world-wide pool, and it is easily the most prestigious postgraduate academic scholarship on this or any other planet known to man.
While Rolle wants to play in the NFL, long-term this 23 year old has his eyes on building a clinic and working as a neurologist in the Bahamas.
“I’m very proud that I won a Rhodes scholarship, but the NFL is something I’ve wanted for a long time, and I want it to be my profession for a long time,” Rolle told USA Today.
Reading quotes attached to Rolle brings a smirk to the faces of those such as me who consider themselves to be experts at peering through the veil of racial coding.
“We’ll have to find out how committed he is,” an NFC assistant coach told Dr. Boyce Watkins, repeating the sentiment of five other NFL officials who said the same thing.
How about this one from self-made expert on the draft, Mel Kiper: “You look at the opportunities away from football that Myron Rolle has, you wonder about the dedication to football. These teams want the guy to be a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year football player.”
Perhaps Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner who has disgraced the organization with multiple sexual assault allegations, wasn’t aware of this when he was wreaking havoc in Georgia earlier this year.
Maybe Kiper takes this position because he knows something about Rolle that others don’t. For instance, maybe he is referring to Rolle having ADHD, something that would preclude a man with Oxford pedigree from focusing in on the seven-second intervals in which football is played.
But I digress.
Rest assured, while these beliefs continue to be debunked, somewhere in these statements is the conviction that the so-called cerebral positions should be manned by white players, and that white players still have the mental edge on the playing field or court.
But as Gerhart is discovering, stereotypes die hard. When Jesse Owens was stomping all over Hitler’s bigotry at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, “experts” were concocting hypotheses that black anatomy produced great speed but little endurance as white Americans and Europeans dominated the middle- and long-distance races. It’s unfortunate that the originators of these and other canards are no longer with us to witness the complete domination of marathons all over the globe by Africans for the better part of the last quarter century.
Gerhart is a good football player, one who is going to earn a living on Sunday’s and will probably be a lot better than expected. He mauls would-be tacklers, and he’ll be a beast in short-yardage situations. But if he isn’t drafted as high as he hopes or doesn’t become the player he thinks he can be, it won’t because “The Man” was trying to keep him down.