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Toby Gerhart and the Strange Case of Misplaced White Running Backs


J. B. Cash’s Column

Toby Gerhart and the Strange Case of Misplaced White Running Backs
pictured: Toby Gerhart

(4/28/10) With their second pick in the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings avoided a public relations problem for the NFL by selecting the only high profile white running back. Toby Gerhart, the 2009 Doak Walker Award winner (the award given to the best running back in the country) and Heisman Trophy runner-up, was a very productive player for the Stanford Cardinal and had easily the best season of any collegiate runner. Gerhart however is white, and there are currently no white running backs that receive any appreciable playing time in the NFL. Will Gerhart be one of the first in a very long time?

Even though the media generally avoids any discussion of issues relating to prejudice against whites because it doesn’t fit their script, if Gerhart had been picked far behind many other blacks with less credentials it surely would have prompted some discussion. However, now that he has been selected in the second round with the 51st pick of the draft and will almost certainly be rewarded with millions of dollars, it is difficult to claim any kind of actual “bias” against him.

Or is it?

The Minnesota Vikings currently have as their starting running back Adrian Peterson, generally considered the best running back in the NFL. Odd that a team that was one untimely interception away from the Super Bowl last season would use their valuable number two pick of the draft on a back-up for one of the league leaders. Certainly there are more important holes to fill with that pick?

Furthermore, Gerhart’s selection continues an odd pattern not easily explained away by coincidence. In 2007 the St. Louis Rams selected running back Brain Leonard of Rutgers with the 52nd pick of the draft. Leonard, like Gerhart, was a productive running back at an FBS school who also happened to be white. He was highly rated with good measurables. Leonard seemed like the type of back that teams drool over, a young up and comer that can be given the starting job right off. But as with Gerhart the Rams had at the time a star running back, Steven Jackson, coming off of a season as the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage and a Pro Bowl appearance. As with Gerhart it was to be back-up duty for Brian Leonhard.

Then in the 2008 draft the San Diego Chargers drafted running back Jacob Hester (also white), who had led the LSU Tigers to the National Championship in 2007, in the 3rd round with the 69th pick. And AGAIN the San Diego Chargers had the best runner in the league, LaDainian Tomlinson, coming off two season in a row of leading the NFL in rushing. Coincidence?

What could be the rationale of using a high draft pick on a planned back-up? A team usually expects that a highly selected running back is going to fill a need right away — every previous Doak Walker Award winner (except Luke Staley — white guy) was slotted to be the team’s main ball carrier.

Is Minnesota really planning to use Gerhart as a hedge against injury and/or for future use as they are claiming? Did that happen with Leonard and Hester?

No and no. Last season LaDainian Tomlinson’s skills faded and he only gained 730 yards. Did that mean Hester was called in for the role for which he was drafted? Not hardly. He only got 21 carries the whole year. And the Rams didn’t even wait for Jackson to fade before they dealt Leonard to Cincinnati, where he carried 27 times last year.

What explains this unusual behavior by NFL franchises? Selecting highly regarded white running backs with relatively high picks, paying them lots of money and then not playing them?

Let us exclude a couple of reasons that come quickly to mind. The NFL and coaches/GM’s are not members of some evil cabal that do not want to see white players succeed — ever. It can hardly make a difference to them if an occasional white running back plays and plays well.

And if it is not a case of planned prejudice, perhaps it’s because white players just aren’t good enough? But how can that be? The aforementioned players succeeded against the same competition that every black running back plays against. And there are example of white running backs playing well in the NFL when given an opportunity.

In 2008 Peyton Hillis was pressed into duty as a starting running back for the Denver Broncos when all of the other (black) running backs on the team were injured and the waiver wires and parolee lists were empty of replacements. How’d he do? Pretty good. In his first start he was a big part of a close Broncos road victory with 10 rushes for 44 yards and two touchdowns. A couple of weeks later he recorded the first 100-yard rushing game of his career in a road victory over the Jets, carrying for 129 yards on 22 attempts and a TD. He ended the 2008 season as the Broncos’ leading rusher. That would mean good things for him come next season right? Wrong. The Broncos selected a running back in the first round of the next year’s draft and Hillis went unused by new coach Josh McDaniels. He has since been traded to the Cleveland Browns.

What’s going on?

The position of running back occupies a special place on a football team. More than any other player he is the “man”. He is frequently the physical embodiment of the team. Generally the team’s best athlete. On each play where he carries the ball he has 11 defenders aiming to hit him as hard as possible and take him down. He has to take the punishment play after play, game after game. If he does well the team usually does too.

The first string running back is in many ways more important then the QB. Sure the QB is important, especially in the current pass happy era of football. But a QB is more of a director, a coach in uniform. He is a player that is “protected” and the plan is really for him not to get hit at all. If he does have to run it’s okay if he takes a dive and slides to the ground to avoid a tackle. Smart but not too inspiring.

NFL football team rosters are made up mostly of blacks. The demographic is extreme. All of these black males are selected for their hyper aggressiveness. Many are from the hard streets of America’s ghettos. It is safe to say that they are indoctrinated from an early age with a dislike for white people in general and white men in particular.

They have very few good male role models as it is and the only white men they see are the few that cannot escape the poverty of the city. Or even worse, the johns and perverts that troll the city streets. And if the real world images that black boys get of white men aren’t bad enough, the images they get from mass entertainment is even worse. The media image of white men consists of the same tired cliches of weak spineless losers, bossed around by every woman in their life and seeking empty thrills in cheering for black thugs in the home team colors. Name five white men of any fame that could possibly create respect in the eyes of a ghetto youth?

To expect them to be okay with a white guy representing them at a traditionally black position is to seriously misunderstand how things work. Fans, writers, and other media might not be aware of this or not want to admit it but the people that run NFL teams are acutely aware of the psyche of the black men that play for them. There are no head coaches or GM’s who have not learned the ins and outs of motivating and appeasing rosters full of these types of players.

There is no way that they would risk the wrath, or worse, the apathy of a team full of black players by saying to them that their fortunes and reputations are being carried literally and figuratively by a white man. Such a thing might be possible at a college such as Stanford, or under the strict discipline of some college coaches, but at the professional level — forget it!

It won’t and can’t happen. Blacks themselves such as Eric Dickerson have admitted that black players consider the running back position “theirs.” They are not going to give it up, at least not without a fight. There are few if any coaches that would even risk it.

There is virtually no scenario in the NFL where a starting white running back would be feasible except as an emergency injury replacement. A strong head coach with a sterling reputation might be able to pull it off for a while. Someone such as Bill Belichick could do it, and in fact the Patriots have used white players as runners for short stretches, something most teams would never ever do.

A team with a relatively large white representation by NFL standards such as Green Bay or Indianapolis might try it. But even those teams face another danger — being too white. A white running back, taking the handoff from a white QB, with a white offensive line blocking for him, and a white receiver or two would be such an anomaly in today’s NFL that the negative press would be terrible.

The sports media today criticizes sports for being too white even in those cases where the only ones that want to play are white, such as NASCAR and the NHL. Imagine the outcry about an NFL team being too white? That’s the kind of thing that brings out the AL Sharptons of the world and their enablers in the media. Who wants that?

Thus the only way to utilize the talented white running back in the pro game is to put him on a team where he has virtually no chance of being the main ball carrier and waiting a couple of years until the fans forget how good he was and then bury him on a roster as a career back-up. The player gets well rewarded for not rocking the boat and the coach gets to keep his black players happy.

The whole situation is racism at its worst, institutionalized but hidden. Obvious but never acknowledged. Enforced by a rigid set of guidelines that are unwritten and therefore incapable of being changed. Any attempt to get someone to admit the situation would result in denials and derision. So on it continues, now two generations embedded in NFL orthodoxy, with no end in sight.

  1. June 4, 2010 at 1:45 am

    They sure seem to bury them.Honestly I thought the disproportionate amount of blacks was due to whites continuing their college education and becoming real productive members of society. The blacks look for the fast money and abandon the remainder of their college and never plan to have a career outside of a professional athlete.I guess you could draw the conclusion that there is a fear of spotlighting a White running back to avoid antagonizing the black team. Heck for years now, they have been trying to get blacks to take over the quarter back and coaching positions. The blacks are missing a very key attribute for those positions so the NFL has to settle with Whites.

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