Monday, May 18, 2009

Racial Stacking in Football: Where are all the African American Quarterbacks?

By Cory Kutcher

When looking at your favorite football team on a Sunday, you may notice a startling trend if you look carefully. Racial stacking is a phenomena in which there is an “overrepresentation or underrepresentation of certain races in particular positions.” (Woodward, pg. 357, 2004) In football, racial stacking is most prevalent at the quarterback, wide receiver and running back position; so that begs the question of why is there an over representation of one race at certain positions.

Although there are many examples of racial stacking in many different sports, the quarterback position is one of the best examples. In 2003, the ratio of white quarterbacks to black quarterbacks was 80% to 20%, and 90% of all starting wide receivers, cornerbacks, and tailbacks are African American. (Woodward, pg. 4, 2004) In a study done in 1970 by Loy and McElvogue, it was found that white players were more likely to play “central” positions and African Americans were more likely to play “peripheral” positions. (Woodward, p 358,) “Central” positions are positions that require decision making and interaction, and “peripheral” positions require less intellect, decision making, and more reaction.

In addition to this there is clearly a discrepancy in the lack of African American’s playing quarterback versus the overall population of African Americans in the N.F.L. According to the N.F.L’s website 67% of the league is composed of African Americans versus 20% of quarterbacks who are African American. There are many factors that contribute to this disproportionate ratio, and several are due to societal racism. The first being something we covered in lecture, is the idea of African Americans as the “natural athlete” and whites as achieving through hard work and intelligence. (Schultz, pg. 109, 2009) As offenses and defenses have gotten more complex, NFL teams have felt they needed not only a great athlete but an intelligent person at the quarterback position. As a result they have instituted a test called the Wonderlic Personnel Test, which is a generic aptitude test that was instituted in 1970, and is still used today to evaluate quarterbacks. (Chung, pg. 11) Teams expect a score in the mid 20’s which has historically been hard for African American quarterbacks to reach, which would often lower their prospects in the NFL or totally removed from consideration because teams just didn’t think they had the necessary intellect. (Chung, pg. 12) Yet the Wonderlic according to many people is culturally biased thus leading to lower scores for African Americans, and set up to give Whites a better score and thus a better chance to succeed on the test and higher draft status. (Chung, pg. 12) The effect of this test affects many athletes who were of comparable skill that were forced either to switch position or entirely retire from the game. (Chung, pg. 12)

“Scientific Racism” is another term discussed in lecture that is highly relatable in trying to explain the phenomena of racial stacking. Scientific Racism is using Anthropometric data and giving it social meanings. (Schultz, pg. 110) The African American quarterbacks because they scored lower on the Wonderlic assessment test were said to be intellectually inferior and thus justifying them as the “natural athlete” who should be using only their athleticism rather than their mind to make smart plays and decision making skills. Black athletes were put at “reactive” positions, or positions that were thought of as less “cerebral” or “less central” to their team’s victory. (Chung, pg. 9) Whites on the other hand were put in thinking positions such as quarterback, center, and inside linebacker.

The biggest problem with this finding is that it illustrates that there is still a lot of racism in modern day society and we can see that by looking at sport. It has negatively affected the careers of many African American athletes who have been devalued at these “thinking” positions, or forced to change positions, or even to give up football entirely. This shows that even now in the present time, racism and remnants of our past still impact many people’s day to day lives. The dialectic relationship between sport and society says that sport and society are interrelated and equally impact each other and are impacted by each other. (Schultz, pg. 29) Using the dialectical relationship, we can look at what positions people play and clearly see that societal racism is still very much a factor in many people’s lives, and in turn shows that by examining sport, we can observe larger societal trends and problems that lie beneath the surface.

Works Cited

Woodward, J.R. (2004).Professional Football Scouts: An Investigation of Racial Stacking. Sociology of Sport Journal. 21, 356-375.

Chung, J (2004. November, 29). Racial Discrimination and African-American Quarterbacks in the National Football League, 1968-1999. from

Schultz, J. (2009). History of Sport in America. Lecture Presented in KNES293. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Recommended Readings

Bigler, M (2008). “An Amazing Specimen”: NFL Draft Experts’ Evaluations of Black Quarterbacks . Journal of African American Studies, 12, from

Dufur, M (2009).Race and the NFL Draft: Views from the Auction Block . Qualitative Sociology. 32, 53-73.

George, T N.F.L. CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS;For Reggie White, Racism Is Hardest Foe . (1996). The New York Times,

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