When I was in college in the late 1970s, I had a friend who was blind—and also a fanatic football fan. At parties, he`d challenge anyone to name any National Football League game played in the last 20 years and he`d tell them the score.
Once he rang my doorbell early to ask if he could borrow the sports section.
Intrigued by what a blind man would do with a newspaper, I followed him. I found that he owned a state of the art (for the 1970s) optical scanner that converted printed text into Braille, one letter at a time. He could then feel it with his index finger.
I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a blind football fan today and have to rely on sportswriters rather than your own eyes.
You`d probably assume, from scanning hundreds of impassioned columns over the years, that the only racial imbalance at any position in the history of the NFL has been at quarterback, where blacks had been grievously discriminated against until very recently.
You would almost certainly have never read that, at the second most glamorous position, tailback (the main ball carrier), none of the 64 starters and second-teamers was white at the start of the 2004 season.
Similarly, you`d never hear that not one of the 64 starting cornerbacks in the NFL is white.
Why do sportswriters almost never mention what everybody can see with their own eyes?
My theory: sportswriters suffer from an inferiority complex. They worry that hard news journalists snicker at them for spending their days hanging around locker rooms, trying to extract usable quotes from men with necks thicker than their heads.
Hence sportswriters tend to be the most fervent exponents of the Mainstream Media`s liberal party line.
Back in the 1970s, the Washington Post`s sportswriters drove out of town George Allen, the Hall of Fame coach of the Washington Redskins (and father of Senator George Allen Jr. (R-Va), the potential 2008 Presidential candidate), because Allen reminded them of Richard Nixon. Vanquishing him made the sportswriters feel like Woodward and Bernstein.
Today, sportswriters fear that the patterns of profound racial inequality so visible every weekend on televised sports offend the MSM`s reigning pieties.
They feel they have to be the purest of the pure in what they dare to acknowledge.
As a realist about racial differences, I`m not surprised that there is a big disparity in racial representation at tailback and cornerback. At peak condition, young black men tend to have lower body fat percentages than young white men. And, in most sports, the muscle to fat ratio is a key measure.
Similarly, in the animal kingdom, creatures built for speed, such as horses and deer, have extremely tapered legs with the big muscles that move the legs kept up high in the main part of the body. In contrast, elephants have untapered legs, which is one reason they much don`t like running.
But are the physical differences so large that they can account for all of the huge racial differences in the NFL?
I`m increasingly doubtful. Without coaches stereotyping players into predefined positions, tailback or cornerback might be 90 or 95 percent black. But 99+ percent seems too high.
It`s crucial to keep in mind that traits are distributed according to bell curves. There are always overlaps between the races on any functional characteristic. Whites average about 15 points higher on IQ than blacks, but the top scoring six million African-Americans have higher IQs than the bottom scoring 100 million whites.
Thus, for example, the new astronaut Bobby Satcher, who was previously a surgeon at prestigious Northwestern Memorial Hospital and has both a medical degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT, is a black man who no doubt has a higher IQ than all but a small number of whites.
But where are the white Bobby Satchers of football?
For years, J.D. Cash`s website Caste Football has argued, perhaps excessively at times, that both the NFL and big time college football discriminate against whites, slotting them into certain positions and not giving them a chance to prove themselves in "black" positions.
For example, perhaps the most extraordinary athlete in college football last year was U. of Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones—an excellent running quarterback (6.6 yards per carry in his college career) and a decent passer (55 touchdowns versus 30 interceptions). At the NFL draft "combine" workout, Jones, who is 6`6" and about 230 pounds, turned in a spectacular time in the 40-yard dash of 4.37 seconds, comparable to the legendary Atlanta Falcon running quarterback Michael Vick`s best-documented time of 4.36. Jones` vertical leap of 39.5 inches was also impressive. (He started on the Arkansas basketball team.)
In recent years, the NFL has been snapping up running quarterbacks and hoping that they eventually mature into excellent passers (such as Donovan McNabb finally has become, but Michael Vick hasn`t yet). So Jones might have seemed like a natural.
There was a problem, though: unlike all the recent running quarterbacks, Jones is white.
Jones was perfectly willing to switch to wide receiver, but that raised another difficulty: that`s a stereotypically black position too. So, many teams wanted Jones to beef up so he could play tight end, an unglamorous blocking position where many whites are stashed.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN wrote:
"You know, it`s funny," one AFC head coach told me last week. "We asked [Jones] about putting on some weight and playing tight end, and he made it clear that he thought it was foolish. He said, `So you want me to put on 20 pounds and be a 4.57 guy instead of a 4.37 guy?` When you put that into context, you have to admit he makes sense."
Anecdotal evidence like this is interesting. But of course data is better.
However, there are so few white players at some positions in the NFL that you can`t get a statistically significant sample.
Still, it`s possible to correlate the overall number of white players on an NFL team versus the number of games it wins during a 16 game season.
A professor of sociology (who wishes to remain anonymous because researching the possibility of discrimination against whites is the shortest path to career death in academia) has crunched the latest three seasons` numbers for me.
He found positive but low correlations. Teams with more whites did better. This suggests that all teams would do slightly better with more whites.
However, when we looked at the data in more detail, we saw that there isn`t much correlation between winning percentage and the number of white starters—suggesting that teams aren`t terribly irrationally biased about evaluating the top players.
But when we looked at nonstarters, a more striking pattern emerges. In 2003, the correlation between the number of whites sitting on the bench and the number of wins was a surprisingly high r = 0.38.
In the social sciences, the convention is that 0.2 = low correlation, 0.4 = medium, and 0.6 = high. So, 0.38 is just under "medium." A correlation of 0.38 says that 14% (0.38 squared) of the variation in winning percentage in the 2003 season was associated with the number of white reserves.
That`s a remarkably large percentage in something as overwhelmingly complicated as winning in the NFL.
To put that in a perspective that coaches would immediately grasp, that means that 2.2 additional white benchwarmers were associated with one additional win per team, thus changing an average 8-8 team into a possibly playoff contending 9-7 team.
In 2004, the positive correlation between white benchwarmers and winning percentage was down to a less spectacular r = 0.19. But that still means that having five additional white players on the bench is associated with an additional victory.
In 2005, through October 9th`s games, the correlation was back up to r = 0.28. At that rate, over the course of a 16 game season, 2.9 extra white nonstarters would add one win.
Why would having more white nonstarters help a team? Caste Football`s J.D. Cash has suggested that perhaps white utility players are more likely to master the playbooks for multiple positions (as suggested by their higher average IQ scores on the Wonderlic test mandated by the NFL).
Or, possibly, the reason that teams with a higher number of white reserves have been winning more games is because whites are better team players about sitting on the bench without complaining about not starting. Perhaps white back-ups are less likely than black back-ups to poison the atmosphere and ruin the team spirit.
After all, our society for the last 40 years has lavishly encouraged blacks to claim to be victims of injustice, so it would hardly be surprising if, among pampered egotistical athletes, whites might tend to be more likely than blacks to keep quiet for the good of the team when they feel they are being treated unfairly.
Whatever the reason for this pattern, this quick study, while not definitive, is important news—both to team officials in charge of player personnel choices and also to anyone who likes to bet on football games.
It would pay to extend the study over more years to see if it represents a long-term pattern, and to go into more depth to find the reasons for this apparent market failure.
So what are the chances that the sports media will pick up and run with this story about discrimination against whites in the NFL?
My estimate, based on past experience: somewhere in the range from zero to negative infinity.
Two years ago, I showed in my UPI article "Baseball`s Hidden Ethnic Bias" that baseball teams had long been irrationally discriminating against American players, white and black, in favor of more free-swinging Latins.
The Caribbean players weren`t actually quite as good as their gaudy batting averages suggested, because they had poorer average on-base percentages than American-born players.
Hooray (not for the first time) for the internet!