I have to admit something here I'm not terribly proud of. I was thinking about this post on my drive into work today, and this title popped into my head almost immediately. And it popped into my head to the tune of Salt-n-Pepa's "Let's Talk about Sex," and I couldn't shake it. I don't feel good about that, nor the giggle it gave me, but in the interest of full disclosure, there it is.
Now, here's what triggered these thoughts today. I was listening to Mike & Mike this morning on my drive in, as I often do. I'm not sure I would really count myself as a fan, but it's the only real sports talk around in the morning. Pretty easily my least favorite radio show on ESPN other than Colin Cowherd, which thankfully 1070 (Indy's ESPN radio) no longer airs. I would much rather listen to another local show, but that's neither here nor there. Today (as they do every day, another gripe of mine) they were talking about football, even though it is out of season and the players are still locked out, so who knows how important this draft actually is.* Anyway, they started discussing how sports is the great equalizer in race relations, and how we've reached a point in football that race doesn't enter into the equation when drafting a quarterback. I don't know how they hit upon that subject, my reception was not the best this morning, but I've got some bones to pick with that assumption.
*I'm going to try to stop griping about it, really. And I know Golic played football and Notre Dame and in the NFL. But you could very easily be fooled that there are no other sports listening to that show. Baseball is the only other sport they really give the time of day to. Basketball makes a very rare appearance, and I've never heard them mention hockey. I would love a shot at their job, because frankly, I think I would be better and much more entertaining.
First off, each sport is wildly different in their race relations. I'm going to start with football, because that was my jumping off point. Now, I'm obviously not a football expert, but I do watch quite a bit and I pay attention to the media, which loves to cover football. It is certainly much easier for a black quarterback to break into the NFL than it was for, say, Warren Moon. I would love to say we have gotten over the old, tired, and wrong stereotype that black quarterbacks don't know the game well enough to run an offense. Although Donovan McNabb might have something to say about that. As might Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell.* But, it isn't a blanket assumption any more. There does seem to be (and McNabb again might be a posterboy for this) an assumption that a black quarterback must be an athletic quarterback. If there's a black Peyton Manning or Dan Marino that sits back in the pocket and makes it happen, I can think of him. And I can't think of any on the horizon. It seems Ryan Mallet, a white quarterback from Arkansas, is being groomed for that position.
*Although VY and Russell weren't necessarily chided for knowledge (for the most part) as they were maturity. Which, well, if you want the critics to shut up, quit giving them ammo.
Is Cam Newton (I'm assuming that was their jumping off point) an athletic QB? Of course. Is he good enough to be considered for the top pick? The national championship and Heisman trophies would say so (even if they're temporary). But would anybody draft him if he couldn't run? With the top pick, a la Peyton Manning? Or hell, even Ryan Leaf? I don't know. We haven't seen it. Is that the NFL's fault? I'm not sure. I don't know if that player has existed yet, or if he has, if he was given a fair shot. There is probably something to look at here, but I certainly haven't done any of the research to make that happen. I think it would be very interesting to see why this hypothetical quarterback didn't make it, or why he doesn't exist.
This one area where baseball is ahead of the curve, though that's because baseball has already gone through it's growing pains. There are books filled with these stories, talking to Jackie Robinson, talking to Bob Gibson, taking to Hank Aaron, etc. They all had their issues, as the entire country was (is?) going through a civil rights/racial revolution. And, as we're all aware, it was not always so peaceful. But, for a long time now, baseball has had no real race problem that I can see. Nobody bothers Ryan Howard, other than to ask what happened to his power. Nobody bothers Torii Hunter, other than to be a little sad that he had to leave Minnesota. Nobody expects a young black player to be a particular sort of player. No, baseball's race problem has more to do with black kids aren't as interested as they used to be. Other than Ryan Howard and Brandon Phillips, I can't think of any bright young black stars in baseball. And at 29 and 31, they're not all that young any more. But, MLB is trying to fix this with the RBI Project, which I know Torii Hunter and CC Sabathia have been very involved in. I wish them the best of luck, I think it's a great program.
Basketball has sort of the opposite problem. It's awfully hard for white players (that aren't foreign, anyway) to break into the NBA, and when they do, they're typically either spot up shooters or space eaters. Again, I'm sure there's a lot to be written here, and I'm sure there has been a lot written about this, but I haven't put in the time to research it. I've also been pretty clear (at least in person if not here) that I am a Pacers fan, not an NBA fan. I have a real hard time watching an NBA game not involving the Pacers. But I sure couldn't tell you the last white athlete that played on the wing. Mike Dunleavy might be as close as it gets, and I would think he counts more as a spot up shooter than anything else, though he does move really well without the ball. Don't ask about defense, though.
And hockey, well, I just don't think there's a ton of interest in the black community. It's not as rare as it used to be, but I don't think there are many black hockey players at any level. And it should be noted that all but seven current black NHL players are Canadian, where presumably there is much more interest in the black community in general. So, I guess it's a more severe version of baseball's race problem. Plus, it gives me an excuse to post the original "Bo Knows" commercial, although the hockey section goes down different than I remember. And, I should add, I like my version better. I thought Gretzky kind of skated around Bo while Bo stood there and said "Bo Don't Skate." Where I got that idea, I don't have the slightest clue