Timeout with Trevor Adams: racism in the NFL draft

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and Jadeveon Clowney, right, pose for a picture as Clowney was chosen No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans in the 2014 NFL Draft. Photo from Washington Post. https://img.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_606w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/05/09/Sports/Images/NFL_Draft_Football-0c6aa-8681.jpg

With the National Football League (NFL) draft coming up in about a month, I would like to reflect on the racism found within it. After taking a class entitled “Communication in Sport” during my first semester at Jewell, this became a focus of mine.

Every year, millions of viewers from around the world watch the NFL Draft; it’s almost like Christmas time for the thirty-two teams because they are getting new faces to help them win. The individuals that are drafted are having new experiences that they have likely dreamed of since they were young.

Each year, hundreds of potential new NFL players go through the NFL Combine, a series of physical and mental tests that determine how high their draft stock should be. As these players are being evaluated, media giants like ESPN and the NFL Network provide coverage of how they are doing during each event. This is where things take a turn for the racist.

During the entire draft process, commentators describe white and black players differently. I encourage you to listen to the broadcasters and how they talk about individuals going through the draft. Almost immediately, you will recognize patterns in how black players are described and how white players are described. Black athletes are more likely than not judged based on pure athletic talent, while white athletes are more likely to be judged on mental strength. Throughout the draft coverage, the analysts will show plays from the players’ collegiate football days. For example, a six-foot, two-hundred pound black running back could make an elusive play, and the analyst would deem that the player was using his pure, natural running ability. On the other hand, if a running back that was the same exact size, but white, his ability to make the play would be because of his intellect and ability to recognize the defensive player’s strategy.

While the running backs could do the exactly same thing, the way it is described perpetuates racial stereotypes in sports. In general, the sports population is conditioned to believe that black athletes have a natural talent, and that white athletes have to develop the ability to be intelligent while on the field.

Running backs are an important part of the game, but the most blatant racism, in my mind, is primarily seen from the quarterback position. Again, I urge you to listen to how these players are described. The white quarterback is often “smart,” “able to make the throw” and “has good playmaking vision,” while the black quarterback is described as “quick on his feet,” having a “rock-hard body” and being a “natural physical specimen.”

Although I have only highlighted the draft, these stereotypes are displayed throughout all sports. They come up in almost any athletic event at any given time. It is hard to change this way of systematic racism, but everyone needs to be aware of it for change. In daily conversation, I have caught myself discussing athletes in this way, but I stop and think about it. This is the best way to combat it. If everyone can become more conscious of this issue, then I strongly believe race-related incidents in sports would decrease dramatically.

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