January 13, 2009

Too Small? Or Too White?

pictured: Division III all-time leading rusher Nate Kmic is big enough for the NFL but too white to be given an opportunity

by Jimmy Chitwood

(1/8/09) College football is over for another season, and with it goes another year of nearly no white running backs. The reason for this, we’re told over and over again by the experts [sic], is that white runners simply don’t measure up. They’re not good enough, fast enough, big enough. While I’ve addressed the fallaciousness of the first two points in numerous other writings (as have many others here at Caste Football), I’ve never disproved the erroneousness of the third. Nor, to my knowledge, has anyone else.

Perception is reality, or so they say. However, reality is the real reality. And in this piece, I will address the facts. It follows, then, that the reader can form his own perceptions based on actual facts rather than some nebulous mythos portrayed by the media and always believed by the drunk white fans.

One final acknowledgment before I get to the important stuff. I focus this piece on running backs for two reasons: 1.) Running back is a highly visible and exciting position that carries with it a lot of prestige. Ergo, the position carries a lot of impact in the perception of the game of football. 2.) Success at the running back position is clearly defined by various statistics. Therefore, it is easy to demonstrate which players have the most success. Similar arguments could also be made for other positions on the football field where whites are verboten. Now, on with the show. . .

A year ago, Danny Woodhead set the all-time rushing record for NCAA football. He did this at a tiny Division II school, Chadron State, after having been ignored by every single Division I football program in the nation. He then went on to be ignored in the NFL Draft by every single team in the NFL. Seven times, no less. Despite putting up record-shattering numbers on the field, running the exact same 40-time as first-round draft pick (#4 overall) Darren McFadden, and putting up much better numbers in the bench press, vertical jump, and quickness and agility drills, Woodhead was ignored while McFadden was a freshly-minted millionaire.

Woodhead was too small, the experts [sic] proclaimed. At 5-8 (or 5-7 depending on who does the measuring) and weighing approximately 195 pounds, Woodhead is certainly no giant. However, that shouldn’t be a problem. I say shouldn’t, because the facts point out that size is rarely an issue for running backs. Or, at least, the black ones. You see, therein lies the problem. Woodhead is white. Does this matter?

I don’t know if white people have inherently low self-esteem when it comes to lack of size in comparison to black folks (insert joke here), but when it comes to playing football that certainly seems to be the case. Among the most ardently held opinions when I ask fans about certain gifted running backs I watch play (white ones, I mean) is the inevitably pronounced “fact” that, “They are too small to play Division I.” This is intoned with the type of sincerity normally associated with statements such as, “I am not racist, but. . .” The white fans sigh, shake their heads, and act as if every running back they see on the television is a god-man of epic physical stature, “It’s too bad such-and-such white boy isn’t bigger. . . he’s only 5-11, 205.” The complete wrongness of their belief is never considered.

Year after year, extraordinarily gifted white running backs at the high school level are indoctrinated with this mantra from supposed supporters (other white people), and even if they attempt to get an athletic scholarship to play tailback, they are bypassed by Division I football programs in order to get “real” running backs of the proper hue. The palefaces are forced to go other routes if they want either a D-I college education (changing positions or giving up football) or a chance to run the football (playing at lower division schools). Conversely, the black backs are always big enough, regardless of their actual size. The facts, you see, bear this out.

Let’s look at some of those inconvenient facts. . .

The top 25 runners in Division I football this season included 17 running backs who were 5-11 and shorter. 13 weighed 205-pounds or less. UConn’s Donald Brown, who finished the year leading the nation in rushing yardage, measures in at 5-10, 210-pounds. Javon Ringer, from Michigan State, led the nation in carries despite measuring 5-9, 202-pounds. Not exactly a nation of giants, huh? Of course, they are both black. Again, I wonder why UConn and Michigan State didn’t pursue Danny Woodhead?

A closer look reveals even more diminutive running backs who are featured throughout the country. Non-BCS conferences, who are constantly on the lookout for hidden gems, seem to find a lot of tiny ones. For example, 3 of the top 5 running backs in Conference USA are 5-11 or shorter, and all five weigh 205-or-less. Damion Fletcher of USM led the conference in rushing, and he’s a “huge” 5-10, 177. I wonder if Southern Miss ever heard of Danny Woodhead? Memphis junior, Curtis Steele, won the league’s Newcomer of the Year award at a “gargantuan” 185-pounds. Weird.

One might counter that I picked Conference USA to skew the evidence. I submit that they are far from alone when it comes to recruiting, and playing, small running backs.

The Mid-American Conference was led by Ball State’s MiQuale Lewis. He’s a “gigantic” 5-6, 184-pounds. In fact, 4 of the conference’s top 5 rushers are 5-11 or shorter. 4 also happen to weigh less than 200 pounds.

3 of the WAC’s top-5 are 5-11 or shorter, and 2 weigh under 200.

4 of the Top-5 running backs in the Sun Belt measure in at 5-11, 205 or less, including the conference’s only runner to average 100 yards-per-game, Tyrell Fenroy (5-10, 205).

The pass-happy Mountain West likes their backs a bit thicker, but even there the #2 rusher, Wyoming’s Devin Moore, stands a “goliath-like” 5-10, 191-pounds.

One might argue that all the aforementioned conferences suck, so they should be thrown out. After all, facts to the contrary, small conferences never produce NFL-quality backs. So, I’ll take a look at the BCS schools.

Notre Dame, possibly the most high-profile team in America, features Armando Allen, who is an “imposing” 5-10, 190. Notre Dame sucks now, though, so I’ll move on, and to give a more comprehensive look, I’ll examine the top-10 running backs in each BCS conference.

The ACC has 5 players in its top-10 who are 5-11 or shorter, and 5 who are 205-pounds or lighter.

The Big 12 might need to reconsider changing its name to the Little 12, because 8 of its top-10 rushers are 5-11 and under. Seven are 205 or lighter. The only running back in the conference to average over 100 yards-per-game is both. Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter is just 5-8, 190. One might consider why they didn’t want Danny Woodhead. . of course, Hunter is black, so he is plenty big enough, it seems.

In the Big East, the top-5 rushers are all 5-11 and shorter. Three weigh less than 205, as well, including West Virginia’s Noel Devine (5-8, 170), Syracuse’s Curtis Brinkley (5-9, 203), and Louisville’s Victor Anderson (5-9, 182). I suppose it goes without saying that all these “big enough” boys are black. On the other hand, the bottom half of the top-10 are the bigger men, including the only two white runners to get a chance to carry the ball in the conference. Both happen to weigh 225-pounds or more and are usually referred to as “undersized fullbacks.” So even when white men are big, they are still small. Funny how that works.

The Big Ten included 6 runners 5-11 and shorter in its top-10, including the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s top tailback, Shonn Greene. Incidentally, at 5-11, 235-pounds, Greene is the same height and 10 pounds heavier than Jacob Hester, who is now called an “undersized fullback” in the NFL despite being the featured runner for last season’s national champion, LSU. It looks like a bleak future of lead blocking is in store for Greene. . . no, wait. Greene is black. Please carry on. Four runners in the Big Ten also weigh 205 or less, including the already-mentioned Javon Ringer who carried the ball more than anyone else in Division I this season.

In the Pac-10, we once again see an abundance of small backs who are somehow big enough. It must be the melanin. Six of the top-10 runners are 5-11 or shorter, and 6 are 205-pounds or lighter, including the only two backs in the conference who averaged over 100 yards per game. Cal’s Jahvid Best is an “imposing” 5-10, 193. Oregon State “giant” Jacquizz Rodgers is a mere 5-7, 193.

The SEC, the most athletic conference in the country we’re assured time and time again, challenges the Big 12 for the smallest running backs. Maybe that’s why each conference has a team vying for a national title. Seven of the SEC’s top-10 runners are 5-11 or less, and four weigh under 205. Knowshon Moreno, considered by many to be the top running back draft prospect, measures in at just 5-11, 208-pounds. He led the conference in rushing. Close behind him is Michael Smith, who at 5-7, 174-pounds apparently has abundant size. They are the only two runners in the conference to top 100 yards-per-game.

Fact is, there are hundreds of small black running backs who carry the ball on a regular basis, but there is only one, JUST ONE, white running back in a BCS conference who gets enough carries to rank in a conference top-10 AND isn’t considered an “undersized fullback.” Kansas’ Jake Sharp is 5-10, 190-pounds, but according to his head coach, the staff “never wanted him to be the guy.” Despite being the fastest player on the Kansas roster and being the all-time leading rusher in Kansas high school history, he was never considered starting material until every black back on the roster proved inadequate. Strange, don’t you think?

(Vanderbilt’s Jared Hawkins suffers from similar “strange” coaching evaluation. Despite being the fastest player on the Commodores and leading the team in yards-per-carry the past two seasons, the 5-10, 202-pound junior only earned the starting spot this year reluctantly. Even more bizarre for Hawkins, who finished 11th in rushing yards-per-game in the SEC, is the fact that as a starting tailback he only averages 10 carries-per-game, possibly the fewest carries of any starting tailback in the nation.)

Even in the NFL, 12 of the top-20 rushers this past season were 5-11 or shorter, and many were thin, as well. Former first-round pick DeAngelo Williams, while well-built at 217-pounds, is hardly a big man at just 5-9. Steve Slaton is a mere 5-9, 203, but was drafted in the 2nd round last year. Brian Westbrook, one of the most feared running backs in the NFL, is just 5-10, and after seven years in the NFL still weighs only 203 pounds.

And while not in the top-20 rushers this year, players like Maurice Jones-Drew (5-7, 208), Willie Parker (5-10, 209), Warrick Dunn (5-9, 187), Joseph Addai (5-11, 214), and Ray Rice (5-8, 205) are well known, and well-respected players. Even the face of “electrifying excitement” in the NFL, Reggie Bush, is just 6-0, 203.

Furthermore, just ask the Indianapolis Colts if Darren Sproles (5-6, 181 pounds) is big enough to play. I’m pretty sure of their answer.

Of course, all these players are black. So when your local college team once again doesn’t sign a white running back, or your NFL team declines to draft Nate Kmic (the new all-time leading rusher in NCAA history; 5-9, 195) or Stan Zwinggi (he of the 4.29 40; 5-10, 190) you can rest assured it’s not really because all those white kids are too small. Or too slow. Or not good enough.

No, your favorite team ignores white players because they aren’t black enough.

1 comment:

J.R. said...

great article, you're right on target