Super Bowl Sunday approaches, and black history could repeat itself in the match up between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. If 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wins on Sunday, he would become only the second black quarterback to claim a Super Bowl victory. Kaepernick is biracial and was adopted by a white Wisconsin couple.
Meanwhile, this marks 25 years since Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first and only black NFL quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
To some degree, Williams’ victory in Super Bowl XXII shattered racial stereotypes about the ability of black athletes to excel in such a position.
Somehow, there is a longstanding assumption that black players simply aren’t intelligent enough, that they lack the requisite IQ, the smarts and the leadership qualities to excel in the game.
Conversely, their white counterparts are regarded as sharp, strategic, hard-working and natural-born leaders.
And apparently, old racial stereotypes die hard.
The sentiment was reflected in sports analyst Mike Maycock’s assessment of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton—now with the Carolina Panthers— two years ago: “Can he adapt to, can he process and assimilate a very structured and complex pro offense against a complex pro defense?” Maycock asked.
“And secondly, and most importantly, when you get to a certain skill level in the NFL, which this kid certainly has, at the quarterback position what kind of kid is he? Is he going to be the first guy in the building? Is he a gym rat? Is he football smart? Is he a leader of men?”
Throughout sports history, the qualifications of black athletes, not unlike black people as a whole, have come under question.
Jesse Owens became the hero of the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning four gold medals, defying Hitler’s master race ideology and denying the Nazis their opportunity to make the Olympics a showcase of Aryan white supremacy. Hitler stormed out of the stadium and refused to shake Owens’ hand.
Meanwhile, African-Americans won six of the 11 gold medals claimed by the U.S. in Berlin. And after his Olympic fame, Owens would later race against horses and cars to earn a living.
Sports announcer Howard Cosell referred to black football players as monkeys. In 1973, he said, “Look at that little monkey run!” when referring to running back Herb Mul-key of the Washington Redskins, in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. And in 1983, Cosell said of Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett, “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?”
The late Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball franchise from 1984 until 1999, was known for her offensive ethnic and racial remarks, including insensitive comments about African-Americans. Once she reportedly called former Red outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker her “million-dollar ni**ers.” A baseball executive claimed she heard Schott saying she would “never hire another ni**er. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a ni**er.” Schott later said she used the N-word as a joke, then expressed the belief that Hitler was good for Germany at first.