Saturday, November 29, 2008


The New York Times had a column in today’s newspaper bemoaning the difficulties of Donovan McNabb and Vince Young, two quarterbacks in the National Football League, both black. What a shame. What an unnecessary shame.

It used to be that football coaches – who were then all white – would not play a black athlete at quarterback or let a black player be an offensive center, and on many teams a black at middle linebacker was out of the question. These were thought to be “the thinking positions,” the signal callers, suitable only for white players who, of course, possessed the “necessities,” obviously thought to be lacking among black athletes, to handle the responsibilities for these difficult, strategic positions on the field. But, let’s face facts – let’s look at reality. Those days are long gone, not only in the National Football League, but also in college football. First of all, you would be hard-pressed to find a team, either in the NFL or in big-time college football, which still has an all white coaching staff. Not only are there now quite a few black Head Coaches, but also on many big-time staffs, the majority of the Assistant Coaches are also black. Second, no coach, on any level of play, even as far down the line as high school, has that type of job security that allows him to overlook the best players that he can find to play any position on the field.

The problems faced by Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles and Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans have nothing to do with the fact they are black. The issue of black quarterbacks simply doesn’t exist anymore.

There was a time when equality, especially in sports, didn’t really mean being “equal” – it meant making room for black athletes who were better than the white players currently on those teams. Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella - they didn’t need equality. They just needed a chance. They had few if any equals, black or white. In the 1940s and 1950s, there were many great black baseball players. All they needed was a chance to be on a roster of a major league baseball team. They were already better players, not equal players. So they did not need equality. They needed a chance to show their superiority and their greatness. Honesty dictates that equality is for average players, not great ones.

Equality finally arrived in Major league baseball – and in the other major American sports – not when the best black players were allowed to play, but when average, mediocre, or even bad black players were allowed to play. Equality was not being a starter on a big-time major sports team. Equality was having the same chance to be the last man on the bench, the worst player on any given team. Equality meant being a utility player, a pinch-hitter, the fourth outfielder, a middle reliever in the bullpen, or the big tall, clumsy guy sitting on the end of an NBA bench - you know, the one who never takes his sweats off, never gets into a game. When that guy is a black player – and he is these days! – Equality has come.

The New York Times ought to know the National Football League has reached a point where racial equality is a given. None of the variables that used to determine how many black players were on a team have any significance any longer. There are no positions on a professional football team that a black player cannot play if he is the best player available at that spot. And, we now have real evidence of this because it is obvious to all that the NFL has a quite a few average, mediocre, or just plain bad black players at all positions, even skill positions like quarterback. News flash for The New York Times: Donavan McNabb and Vince Young are not that good. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, with all their Superbowl rings, never had problems like McNabb and Young… and race has nothing to do with it.

Many years ago, professional teams - baseball, football, and basketball - arranged their squads so that an even number of black players would make the team. Teams had four or six or eight, but never five or seven or nine black players. This allowed black players to be segregated together as roommates on road trips and prevented what was then viewed as a terrible problem, having interracial roommates. It was normal practice, in those days, for the weakest players on any pro team to always be white players. For many talented baseball, football and basketball players, if they were black, they had to be starters or they were cut, while lesser white players remained on the roster. Those old, stereotypical requirements for hotel roommates and the need to fill out a team’s roster with white players - they are things of the past. Today, there is no professional sports team, or major college football or basketball team, that takes these considerations into account any longer.

The proof is on the playing field. Any viewer can turn on the television and watch a football game – professional or college – and see just as many not-so-great black players as not-so-great white players. A young black athlete who plays quarterback no longer has to be as good as Doug Williams, just as a young black baseball player no longer has to be Willie Mays or Henry Aaron.

If The New York Times wanted to write a column about the difficult season Donovan McNabb is having in Philadelphia or the personal problems that have delayed or destroyed the careers of Vince Young and Michael Vick, they might well have written a stimulating, interesting column. But tagging McNabb and Young’s problems as being related to the issue of black quarterbacks in the National Football League shows how out of touch the New York Times is.

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