Sunday, January 7, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 7, 2001

NFL was big loser for racial typecasting

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Sports Columnist

Twenty years ago, if there had been a Donovan McNabb playing in the NFL, it would have been as a running back.

If there had been a Steve McNair, chances are he would have been in somebody’s defensive backfield.

If there had been a Daunte Culpepper, you would have had to look among the linebackers or defensive ends to find him. You wonder where on the roster Aaron Brooks or Shaun King would have been exiled.

To marvel at the young black quarterbacks who have helped guide their teams into these NFL playoffs and the thrills they have supplied this season is to also wonder how much the game hurt itself by not opening up the position a lot earlier.

It is to reflect on how far the NFL set itself back by a stubborn insistence on nonsensical racial stereotyping.

It wasn’t that the idea of a successful black quarterback never dawned on NFL personnel people. It was that despite the accumulated evidence to the contrary, they refused to accept it on wide terms until the past decade. Like the late Al Campanis, it was ready to look for reasons why not rather than why.

For as NFL history goes, it wasn’t all that long ago that if you were black and a quarterback, your choices pretty much came down to changing positions or, like Warren Moon, going to Canada for several years.

Being a black quarterback who could run or catch as well as throw was the surest guarantee of a transfer to another position.

It wasn’t until 1978 that Doug Williams became the first black quarterback taken in the first round as a quarterback. And despite his Super Bowl success with the Washington Redskins, it wasn’t until 12 years later the league got around to taking another, Andre Ware. Then it was another five years until McNair became the third.

It was bad enough that the NFL had a closed mind on the subject and virtually closed its doors. It was worse that in doing so the NFL’s attitude tended to rub off on colleges and even high schools, too.

It was part of why, you suspect, players like McNair (Alcorn State) and Culpepper (Central Florida) never got the opportunity to perform on larger stages in college.

Culpepper, legend has it, was stuck at wide receiver in high school until, one day, a quarterback underthrew him on a pass pattern. In throwing the ball back over 60 yards in a nice, tight spiral, some coach put two and two together and quickly moved him to quarterback.

Only in recent years have the NFL teams done the same. The rookie class of 1999, McNabb, Brooks, Culpepper and King etc., the young quarterbacks just two seasons into their careers who led their teams into the playoffs, have shown what can happen when there is equal opportunity.

It is just too bad it took this long.

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