During the event “Maize Night Madness”, the football team thanked the students for their support and offered the opportunity to meet the athletes. I went there with my roommates and we took pictures with Devin Funchess and Shane Morris which I sent to one of my friends back home in Germany who also spent a semester abroad in the U.S. Immediately, my friend asked whether the “white athlete” is a quarterback since they would be more likely to have white skin color. Also, prior to the game between the Wolverines and Michigan State this season, some yaks appeared at Michigan State pointing out that our main quarterback has a different color as theirs. This raises the question about the importance and implications of the race of a quarterback in the world of football in the U.S.
In a short and information video on playsportstv.com, the role of the quarterback is very well explained: the quarterback is often the most important player in a football team and can be considered as a “field general”. Consequently, his position is tightly connected to the characteristics of leadership as he has the control, serves as a role model and as a reference point for the whole team. No other sport than football is such specialized since each position requires another and often limited set of abilities (see this article). Therefore, the role of an athlete is figured out according to these different prerequisites: a quarterback requires leadership and mental qualities, whereas a wide receiver has to be fast and quick.
Nowadays, black athletes constitute a great majority of 70% of the total number of field players of the NFL which shows the improving acceptance of black athletes in the world of football as back in the 1970s, only 30% of the field players were African American (source). However, the most important position, the one of the quarterback, continues to be dominated by white athletes. In 2013, a record number of black quarterbacks of 9 was announced in the NFL (click here and here), meaning that about 28% of all the quarterbacks of the 32 teams of the NFL were African American. This proves the shortage of black quarterbacks (70% of all field players are African American), although there has never existed an official restriction of black quarterbacks in the NFL.
The lack of African American quarterbacks may be based on ancient prejudices that black athletes are more likely to be fast and quick and consequently meet the requirements of positions as wide receiver or defense in a better way than those of the quarterback. The stereotype of a white athlete was widely considered to be more suitable for the position of a quarterback. Therefore, these racial prejudices determined the appearance of races in the different athletic roles in football since they assume that different physical appearance is associated with other athletic abilities (source). Of course, this connection between race and talents need not to be true in general and doesn’t appear to be fair. However, this argument gives us an idea where this unequal representation of other races in leading positions (not only necessarily restricted to sports) comes from.
The role of justice in the fields of sports is also addressed in LaVaque-Manty’s chapter “Being a Woman and Otherities”. Although one’s skin color is far away from being equal to a physical disability, the arguments made in his chapter can also be transferred to the lack of black QB. The author argues that “a meaningful competition in sports is about excellence”. Therefore, the racial prejudices found in NFL football violate this condition as it based the appointment of positions on associated and not real abilities. As the group of the African American were unofficially excluded from the position of the QB based on their race what can be seen as a discrimination against them. This argument shows the connection between sports and politics and that sports can reflect the values and prejudices embedded in our society, what is also discussed by LaVaque-Manty. The first regular black quarterback was Denver Broncos’ Marlin Briscoe in 1968 – a decade associated with civil rights movement and personalities like Martin Luther King that fought for the rights of the African Americans. The Washington Redskins’ Doug Williams was the first black QB who not only won the Super Bowl in 1988 but only the award of the MVP of this game. Williams’ excellence and success was widely considered as an important event for the civil rights movement (source).
All these facts show the tight connection of political environment and sports and that the fields of athletic activity can serve a basis of the values and prejudices of a society. The change in the discrimination of races can be traced via the development of the black QB in the NFL. This year’s Super Bowl who was won by the Seattle Seahawks with their black QB Russell Wilson prove the qualification of African American for this position. Furthermore, the increasing number of black QB shows also the change of their perception and predictions claim that half of the QB in the NFL could be black in 2015. In the BIG championship, about six out of the 14 teams have a starting black QB. Thus, Devin Gardner can be only to some extent seen as the “Michigan Difference” in this league.