Friday, August 21, 2009

And the Facts Mean? Part 3

Let's have some fun today.

If you look at NFL players it becomes obvious that Blacks are over-represented. That is apparent at nearly every position except one – quarterback. There have been some great black quarterbacks, including Doug Williams who led his team to a Super Bowl championship. However those are the exception, in general the dominance of Blacks in pro football has been confined to other positions. Why is that?

I cannot claim to know the answer but I do have a theory (though maybe it should be called speculation instead of theory). This theory being as yet untested, I do not claim that it is anything beyond a fun idea to talk about at this stage. In my theory there are two reasons for the relative scarcity of black quarterbacks in the NFL:

First, for a long time there was a myth that the black arm, while good for throwing things like baseballs, was not well suited to throwing a football. I even saw that published in a national sports magazine, albeit as speculation rather than fact. While few if any coaches believe that today, it probably did keep many Blacks from becoming quarterbacks in the past. Some of those quarterbacks who never developed in high school fifteen years ago might have been in the NFL today but for that false belief.

Second and most important now, I suspect that other abilities, especially speed, cause young Blacks to play other positions. To see how this might work, suppose you are a high school coach looking over the sophomores entering your program. You let them warm up and play around a bit and two of them catch your eye, Joe and Bill. Both have strong, accurate throwing arms and quick feet. Both are good at finding the open receiver. You have them do some specific quarterback drills and they are even more impressive. So impressive in fact that you start thinking about how you are going to tell your senior quarterback that he is now third string. The only question seems to be between Joe and Bill. Who will be the starter and who will be the back-up.

Next you do some other testing, including timing each sophomore in the 40 yard dash. Bill is about average for a quarterback. Fine, in your system quarterbacks don't usually carry the ball so speed is only a moderate advantage at that position anyway. Then Joe's turn comes. You must have made a mistake so you ask him to run again. You get a different stopwatch and ask him to do it a third time, then a forth time just to be certain. No, you did not make a mistake. Even as a sophomore Joe can probably outrun any defensive back in the state.

Now you know what you will do. Bill will be your quarterback and Joe will be a wide receiver, though he may play a little at running back and defensive back. Joe's speed can get him open on most plays and Bill's arm will get the ball to him.

Could Joe be as good a quarterback as Bill? Probably. Could Bill be as good a wide receiver as Joe? No way. The team will be better if Joe plays a position where he can catch and run with the ball. In fact, even a team with a less talented quarterback would benefit from Joe's speed at wide receiver, probably more than it would benefit from having him at quarterback throwing to less talented receivers. Because of Joe's speed he won't get the chance to play quarterback.

Now not all Blacks are speedsters but it is apparent that most of the great sprinters in the U.S. today are black. Those world-class sprinters, if they play football, will seldom be quarterbacks. That is discrimination based on talent, not on skin color. Some of them might in fact be able to become great quarterbacks, but they can become even greater wide receivers or running backs.

This is an example of how one talent can prevent development of another, which might in the end have been even more valuable. Another example would be the businessperson who might become a great CEO but whose language skills keep him assigned overseas in jobs nobody else in the company can do. In such cases one ability can keep a person from developing a different ability that might bring in more money. In compensation, the wide receiver or corporate linguist have a better chance of obtaining employment. Each NFL team has only three quarterbacks on the payroll but many more receivers, running backs and defensive backs. Each corporation has only one CEO but may need many linguists.

So there you have my theory. Have fun with it, I know of no empirical evidence to either support or negate it. Probably the only way to test it would be to look at a large number of young football players, measure their apparent talent, then follow them through college. It would be a long and difficult test.

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1 comment:

Bobkatt said...

I have often heard complaints in major league baseball about the lack of Black managers. I wonder if part of that reason is that in order to become a pro manager you usually have to start at the bottom. You first become a single A team coach in a small town at a low salary and struggle there for years before moving up the chain. Maybe many Blacks are unwilling to follow that route if they are good enough to play pro ball.
On another note: I work for the county government and constantly made aware of my "male, white privilege" via numerous posters throughout my building. When reading how women still only earn 70% of their male counterparts pay I am tempted to add to the poster that as a man I am responsible for 90% of all work related deaths. While they attempt to claim that somehow men and women who do the same job receive different salaries more likely there is a different variable in play such as uninterrupted years of experience, dedication to a career and different risk tolerances between the sexes.