Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey doesn't like stereotypes for white athletes. Recently, he told Sports Illustrated that he thinks his athleticism isn't fully appreciated simply because he is white:
Yeah, he's not wrong about that. At all. There is without question a stereotype about white athletes and it's existed for some time now. Certain positions in sports are just assumed to be dominated by a particular race. In football, quarterback is still a largely "white" position. So is Tight End, Offensive Lineman for the most part, kickers and punters. The skill positions, wide receiver, running back, defensive back and linebacker are considered to be largely made up of black players. That's just the expectation, not the rule.
In McCaffrey's case being a running back, he's in a unique situation where his race is definitely affecting his perception. I watched a good amount of Stanford football last season and I will tell you that if I had a Heisman trophy vote, it would have been for him over Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Derrick Henry of Alabama, who won the award. I know Henry and Watson slugged it out for the national championship playing for the two best teams last year, but Christian McCaffrey as a sophomore was light years ahead of both of them in terms of explosiveness, athleticism and the ability to change a game at any point. He is an electric player and will certainly be a Heisman candidate in his Junior year.
You'll never convince me that part of the reason he didn't win the Heisman Trophy wasn't because he's white. It most certainly played a part in how he is perceived by voters, pundits and fans. We shouldn't deny that, we all do it. Even white fans make jokes about it.
You don't see white running backs in the NFL very much and when you do, it's an oddity that everyone looks at with wonder. Toby Gerhart, who also came from Stanford, Peyton Hillis, Danny Woodhead to name a few more current ones. Go down the list and dig up Mike Alstott, Travis Jervey, Merrill Hodge and Frank Gifford.
Go look at a few way too early Heisman lists for this season. McCaffrey is listed as low as 4th in a number of them. This is a kid that broke the single season NCAA record for all-purpose yards with 3,864 last year, obliterating Barry Sanders' old record at Oklahoma. He and Henry were the only Football Bowl Subdivision running backs to rush for over 2,000 yards last season, yet Henry got a Heisman Trophy and a second round draft selection from the Tennessee Titans while McCaffrey prepares for his Junior year and hoping to follow in Henry's footsteps, at least to win the Heisman and get drafted.
He's understandably concerned that being a white running back could make him a later-round oddity in the NFL Draft instead of a first-round millionaire, something his father Ed, a three-time Super Bowl champion largely considered one of the best white wide receivers in NFL history might know something about. A Stanford grad as well, Ed McCaffrey was a 3rd round pick in the 1991 NFL draft by the New York Giants.
Conversely, Christian's younger brother Dylan, a Michigan commit in his senior year of high school, likely won't face this issue as he is a quarterback, a position generally assumed for white players and the flip side to Christian's concerns. Yes, he will be unfairly stereotyped for being a white running back......much the same way as black quarterbacks are also unfairly stereotyped.
Christian's situation is not unusual or unique to almost any black QB that comes into the NFL. There is a definite assumption made that black QB are more athletic runners and not strong pocket passers, an assumption that has been true in some, but not all cases. This stigma has led to players like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton being unfairly judged on their abilities to play quarterback in the NFL and it makes it even more difficult for black backup QB's, who don't seem to last in the league nearly as long as the starters do. Is that because they aren't good enough to be a backup, or is some of that because of the perception that they aren't as good at the QB position in the first place?
Just as Christian McCaffrey doesn't hear the words "explosive" or "athletic" used for white skill position players, Deshaun Watson or Deshone Kizer of Notre Dame doesn't hear the words "pocket presence" or "cerebral" used for black quarterbacks. It doesn't take anything away from Christian's point, but it does show that he is not alone in this racial stereotyping that goes on in sports, especially football.
The bottom line with all of this is that Christian McCaffrey is hopefully learning a valuable lesson in this situation: Racial stereotypes based on position do exist and apply to several players, not just him or any other white skill players. Is it right? No, but it is real and it's not going away anytime soon, so the young man best move forward and have the best Junior season he can have at Stanford, enough to put him on the radar and get his name back on that Heisman ballot, win it and then maybe impress an NFL franchise enough to take him in the first round, all of which is still entirely possible. It ultimately depends on him, not the people who think a white running back is "weird" or "tough" instead of "explosive" and athletic."