In a country built on racism, it comes as no surprise that racial stereotypes play a role in nearly every facet of American life — including professional sports.
The impact of racism in the National Football League can be identified in the differing treatment of white and non-white quarterbacks. Regardless of the talent of individual quarterbacks, they are commonly grouped into categories by spectators due to race. Even before entering collegiate or professional leagues, players are deemed by scouts as either “pro-style” or “dual-threat” quarterbacks.
Pro-style essentially translates to pocket-passer, whereas dual-threat can be defined as a player with the ability to both run and throw. While white players are frequently dubbed as pro-style due to supposed “superior football IQ,” non-white players are bookmarked as dual-threat due to “natural athleticism.” Although there is no biological difference in athletic ability or intelligence because of race, this eugenics-esque style of treatment has been common practice for decades, without any factual basis. In fact, some of the most prominent young quarterbacks are people of color, as every college football National Championship game since 2010 has featured a non-white quarterback. Similarly, from 2013-2016, every Super Bowl starred a black quarterback on at least one squad.
In recent history, college stars such as Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson faced pre-NFL draft scrutiny about their abilities to succeed as signal-callers in the NFL. Despite Watson winning the 2016 National Championship and Jackson earning the 2017 Heisman Trophy award, both players were valued as lesser than white quarterbacks entering the draft. Both players now start for their respective NFL teams but still face questions due to racial bias. When discussing the term “dual-threat,” Watson called it a code word for black quarterbacks.
Black quarterbacks are often encouraged or forced to switch to skill positions such as running back, wide receiver or defensive back, On top of this, lower salaries add to the racial struggles of athletes of color. As of 2014, over 80% of NFL quarterbacks have been white.
Eugene’s own Marcus Mariota became not only the first Duck to earn the Heisman Trophy, but the first Hawaii-born athlete to do so as well. With the success of Mariota, the door has opened for fellow Hawaiian footballers to blaze their own path. Hawaiian quarterback Tua Tagovailoa of the University of Alabama is well on his way to a successful NFL career, but unfortunately, he’ll still face the challenges associated with being a quarterback of color. Despite these obstacles, Tagovailoa has been balling out for the Crimson Tide and will likely be a high selection in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
The perseverance of non-white quarterbacks to overcome decades of racial bias is outstanding, and the presence of more non-white quarterbacks at both the collegiate and professional level has done wonders for the sport. While this is certainly still an ongoing issue, it is promising to see more quarterbacks of color dominate the game at its highest levels. But until scouts, NFL executives and media members abolish the racist lingual codes that diminish the talents of non-white quarterbacks, this form of systemic racism will continue to persist.