Press Box: Tyrod Taylor and the NFL’s racial divide

Illustration by Ian Duffus.

The Buffalo Bills benched starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a Hampton native who played at Virginia Tech from 2008-2011, last week in favor of rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman, sparking widespread speculation regarding the organization’s motives behind the decision.

At the time, the Bills sat at 5-4, good enough for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs if the season had ended then. Typically, teams with winning records don’t make changes at the quarterback position, but Bills coach Sean McDermott pulled the trigger on Taylor — who has completed 178 passes for 11 touchdowns, three interceptions and 1,842 yards this season — anyway.

Peterman proceeded to throw five — yes FIVE interceptions in the first half against against the Los Angeles Chargers in his NFL debut. LA won 54-24.  

Granted, McDermott is in his first year and the Bills roster is in a transitional period. McDermott drafted Peterman while Taylor signed with Buffalo under the Rex Ryan regime. The easy answer is the Bills were trying to see what they had in the young, untested Peterman, while Taylor is a known veteran commodity.

The motives behind this benching, however — just like the public criticism of Cam Newton’s on field antics and the NFL’s refusal to sign Colin Kaepernick — are not simply football related.

The NFL has long ostracized the Black quarterback. Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick are examples of a stigma that has long held quarterbacks of color under a microscope, placing higher standards for them on and off the field.

Warren Moon, the only Black quarterback in the pro football Hall of Fame, wrote a book titled Never Give Up On Your Dream: My Journey on his battle with this disproportionate standard.

“You have to look at the history of pro sports in this country to understand how slowly things changed in the NFL with certain positions,” said Moon. “In football, the ‘thinking’ positions down the middle — quarterback, center, [inside] linebacker — were the ones that we [African-Americans] weren’t allowed to play.”

According to the annual racial and gender report card published by TIDES, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, the NFL is almost 70 percent black. Only 19 percent of NFL quarterbacks and 22 percent of head coaches are Black.

To be fair, this issue runs much deeper than one position. Quarterback is far from the only position indicative of the NFL’s racial divide.

There is nearly a 50-50 split on the offensive line, yet to Moon’s point, more than 81 percent of centers are white. Cornerback is the blackest position at a shocking 99.4 percent, while kickers and punters are the whitest at a similarly jarring 97.8 percent.

Carolina Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey became the first white tailback drafted in the first round in more than 40 years in April. The ‘skills’ positions — running back, wide receiver and defensive back — are generally dominated by Black players. The running back position is 86 percent Black, and wideouts are 84 percent players of color. McCaffrey feels his skillset is placed under a comparable microscope.

“A lot of people don’t give me credit for my skills and talent,” McCaffrey said at this year’s NFL combine. “I have a chip on my shoulder at all times. I’m constantly trying to prove myself.”

The underlying point is skin color drastically affects the NFL’s perception of a player’s skillset, regardless of position.

It’s important to recognize, however, that quarterbacks are forced to deal with this reality more than the rest of the league because signal callers are the faces of NFL franchises, and organizations seek to manipulate and sell them vastly more than any other position.

The real problem is, a full 100 percent of majority owners in the NFL are white.

Marquette King, the NFL’s only Black punter who is famous for his eccentric persona, isn’t worried about letting other people’s perceptions affect his love for the game and drive to be the best at his position.

When you see African-American kids, they’re usually the ones that play receiver, cornerback and all that. The positions that show physical ability. Well, if you think about it, physical ability is shown when you punt and kick a ball,” King said to The Undefeated.

“It’s more of a skill. So if you’re mentally strong, I think that shows a lot too. It takes a lot of mental and physical [strength] to punt and kick a ball. A lot of people can’t do that. I’m going to let you talk s— to me right now, but I’m [going to] win. You know why? Because I got the mindset and the motivation to do what you can’t do.”

Regardless of what position you play, it’s important that every young football player approaches the game with King’s mindset in tow.    

Zach Joachim, Sports Editor



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