The pseudoscience of racism has long found a fertile affinity with organized sports.
These “scientists” defined race in terms of the sense that Charles Darwin described “species”. And so in this misadventure, they thought of Caucasians as the most evolved of the humankind.
As Saul Dubow puts it in Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa: “The conception of race as ‘type’ encouraged a belief in the existence of ideal categories and stressed diversity and difference over similarity and convergence. This was overlaid by binary-based notions of superiority and inferiority, progress and degeneration.”
The point of faux studies such as phrenology was to taxonomize a hierarchy in human beings. European race “scientists”, after deciding their race was the epitome of humanity, sought to answer what they think other races were good for.
It was where they decided the African was only good for his or her physicality. That was where our kind was thought to be mostly incapable of more than satisfying base desires.
America’s black people were allowed to play sports after slavery but that did not mean America’s white people had forgotten the “science”.
Football, the sport from the end of the 19th century, has provided the field for what is probably the most-litigated dimension of anti-black racism: the intellect of the African.
The quarterback position, with its demand for game-reading and split-second decision-making, naturally became the point most black players were barred from.
These days, although some two-thirds of the National Football League (NFL) are black, only 17% of quarterbacks are black. These numbers have a political history behind them.
In 1933, the NFL reportedly took a decision to ban black players from playing. This is historically considered the single most effective executive decision to move against the evolution of attitudes towards black footballers.
The decision was said to be at the request of former Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall.
Infamous for more things than standing up against the communal value of sports, Marshall is the one who in a 1942 interview, argued that if African-Americans were allowed to play, “white players, especially those from the South, would go to extremes to physically disable them”.
Some of the teams went with Marshall’s desire out of a need to not bite the hand that feeds them among Southern whites. But the ban ended in 1946.
In the heat of the civil rights struggle, the American government had to force the hand of Marshall.
In 1962, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum to Marshall to either sign a black player or lose his team’s 30-year lease on the DC stadium.
In the subsequent decades, a new dawn was promised but the night still lingers. The progress that has come has not come along with the hopes of budding young black men who want to play in the quarterback position.
As William Rhoden wrote for Undefeated.com, “Constrained by the wrongheaded notion that brains and extraordinary athletic ability were incompatible, generations of blacks were deemed too talented, in some eyes, to play quarterback or not cerebral enough to play the position.”
To date, only a handful of black players are starting quarterbacks while just three have won the Super Bowl.
Teeth have been set on edge by the sour grapes of scientific racism consumed into the social fabric of America. Something has to give but for now, we wait.