|Ed McCaffrey: What's a white guy doing out there?|
The threats of Ali's psychological ploys and his flamboyance, though, were never so tightly intertwined again. All the lines were blurred. Still the spirit had already spilled out of the bottle. The dancing and the styling that often get derided as showboating today have a larger meaning, some say. That it is about freedom and control. Ali's style was axiomatic for the black athlete - especially coming from a heritage where as slaves they were allowed no identity. And ever after slavery was abolished blacks were still relegated to second-class status right up to the Ali era. This, the way "they" perform, is a by-product of that, said USC professor Todd Boyd, author of Out of Bounds: Sports, Media and the Politics of Identity.The success of Black athletes at Miami and other schools convinced other schools to drop all pretenses of recruiting white athletes (since Black athletes were obviously superior, right Barry Switzer?); some schools dropped their traditions and began to completely cater to Black athletes through the assimilation of Black culture in the style of uniform the team wore [How Does Oregon Keep Winning? Is it the Uniform?, Michael Kruse, Grantland, 8-30-2011]; most schools just completely dropped the recruitment of white athletes, with the belief that fielding a team of all-Black athletes gave you a competitive advantage over those with "slow white players."
"Ali was saying, 'I'm not just gonna beat. I'm gonna humiliate you,' and that come back to sports being much more than just sports for the black athlete, Boyd said, "because it's not just about winning, it's about winning with style. People always get this twisted, but it's real important for black athletes to be stylish so they can define themselves. It's like telling your opponent that, for instance, you are superior, and for a people who come from an environment where they don't have much to cling to or don't have things that they can call their own, this is something you completely control. That's huge."
For a generation that identity often has been tied into basketball, aka "the city game," which has been made a staple of the hip-hop world, in large part due to its playground hoops artistry and showmanship, but in reality, football operates on another level. As Luther Campbell, the notorious Miami-based rapper of 2 Live Crew fame, put it, football, because of its physical nature, digs even deeper into man's psyche. "Football showed we could rise above the slave mentality, the segregation, and be who we want to be," he said. "This game is our therapy. We can come out to the field and leave all our problems behind. It's therapeutic. While we're out here, we don't care about they fuck us over and everything. Football is all we got, man. They can't take this shit from us. We do own this game. I mean, y'all can take whatever the fuck you want to take from us - our land, our housing, our jobs, everything, man. But we got our pride and we got our dignity. We might not have ever had any leader to lead us to the promised land, but at least we got our football, and y'all aren't gonna take that from us.
Down here in Miami, football is like a rite of passage. It's even more so like that now because we have a reputation to uphold as the best football players. It's mandatory that we hold that down."
|University of Miami (1990 Cotton Bowl): Now that's what athletes look like!|
White society would be forced to acclimate to the underclass Black culture. The results haven't been pretty.The Hurricanes of 1985 were brash, bold, and dominant. They went 9-1 through the first ten games and would compete the regular season with a November 30 home matchup against Notre Dame.… the Hurricanes humiliated their once-proud visitors their once-proud visitors, 58-7. The nationally televised gamed was a coming-out party for the “new” Hurricanes. Miami’s taunted and strutted, trash-talked and end-zone danced.From that day forward, the Miami Hurricanes were no longer another collegiate football team. They were thugs. Hoodlums. In an era when many universities still instructed their coaches to recruit black players but not that many black players, [Miami head coach Jimmy] Johnson prowled the state of Florida seeking out great athletes, race be damned. “Jimmy got us,” said Brett Perriman, an African-American and former Hurricane receiver. “He understood what it takes to win.”As long as his players attended classes, showed up on time to practice and games, and dominated the opposition, he could not care less how they carried themselves. At, say, Notre Dame or UCLA or Florida State, black players were asked to conform to a white society. At Miami, white society would conform to the players.
The braggadocios style of athleticism displayed by Black athletes made the straight-laced white athletes look square in comparison. Just ask record-setting Duke University white wide receiver Conner Vernon, who grew up a huge Hurricanes fan [Miami native Conner Vernon took his talents to Durham
Vernon, never on his beloved Miami Hurricanes’ radar, grew into a record-breaking receiver at Duke, Charlotte Observer, 8-27-2012]:
“I was a die-hard Canes fan,” Vernon said. “Going to the Orange Bowl all the time, before they moved to Sun Life Stadium, it was a lot of fun. A lot of good memories in that stadium, saw a lot of football games in that stadium.”
Shane Vernon, who received offers from FCS or Division II schools, has another theory.
“I knew the stereotypes and stigmas that were in football,” he said. “I got to learn it the hard way. It’s an uphill battle, and you have this white boy stigma. It’s always there, no matter how good you are, what you do, it will always be there, so you’ve just got to stand out that much more.”
Vernon stood out during spring football before his senior year. He was named the sleeper of the Under Armour/Scout combine after he ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash.Vernon lacked the "swagger" or "style" -- the Blackness -- mandatory for Rivals or Scout.com to heap lavish (if not homoerotic) praise upon his attributes as a high school college prospect. But he's not the only white athlete to be put in this same scenario.
New England Patriots white wide receiver Wes Welker has revolutionized the "slot" receiver position in the NFL. He received one scholarship offer from Texas Tech (where another NFL white receiver, St. Louis Rams Danny Amendola also excelled) and has become such a sensation that virtually every white receiver is compared to him. Including Cole Beasley, a Southern Methodist University receiver who went undrafted in 2012's NFL draft and is competing for a roster spot with the Dallas Cowboys:
Cole Beasley played it cool when asked about the spectacular catch he made over cornerback Teddy Williams on a deep ball Thursday.
“That’s just what you have to do in this league,” Beasley said. “(Kyle) Orton put it on the money. That’s all I can say about that one.”
We’ll say a little bit more.
It was the kind of catch that indicates that Beasley, an itty-bitty undrafted receiver out of SMU, might be more than just the stereotypical, short, white slot guy. He lined up outside, got open deep against a former NCAA sprint champion and made a twisting, leaping grab of a pass that was thrown above his outside shoulder.
Georgia's passing game is clicking so well these days that Michael Bennett may have shed his label as a possession receiver.
Bennett became the third different 100-yard receiver for the Bulldogs in as many weeks last Saturday when he hauled in four Aaron Murray passes for 110 yards in a 56-20 rout of Florida Atlantic. The most meaningful was a 67-yard touchdown late in the half that blew the game open, and it was the longest reception of Bennett's college career by 35 yards.
"I'm a white guy, but you've got to show them different," a smiling Bennett said this week after adding "deep threat" to his repertoire.
The 6-foot-3, 204-pound redshirt sophomore from the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta is Georgia's leading receiver with 17 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown are next in line, with King tallying 211 yards on 10 receptions and Brown amassing 150 yards on 11 catches.
Kris Durham put me under his wing when he was here, and that was really cool," Bennett said. "A white guy teaching another white guy how to play receiver in the SEC. He showed me how to carry myself, so I owe a lot to Kris and to A.J., who is a down-to-earth guy. He was showing me by his actions on the field every day."
Bennett admits arriving at Georgia with a chip on his shoulder. He was very productive as a redshirt freshman, starting four games a year ago and compiling 32 catches for 320 yards and five touchdowns.
Yet he averaged only 10 yards a catch, hence the possession receiver tag that existed until last weekend.
"He hates that label, because he's a kid who can move," Murray said. "You saw it the other night when he split the safety and the corner and took it for 70. Their DBs had speed, but he separated and showed what he had."Kris Durham, Bennett's white receiver mentor at UGA, was drafted by the Seattle Seahwawks in 2011 (though he was cut in 2012). Both players lack the "swagger" that Miami's players have. ESPN's David Ching dared write an article with the title "Notebook: Bennett proving he belongs"; as if to say that Bennett being a white wide receiver was an automatic liability that disqualified him from being taken seriously on the football field:
Michael Bennett knows there is something that separates him from other players at his position. He jokes about it all the time.Have you ever read an article where a Black PhD. candidate in astrophysics is lauded for proving that he belongs? No, of course not.
The Georgia sophomore realizes that as a Caucasian wide receiver at a big-time college football program, he is like a living, breathing four-leaf clover -- extremely rare -- but he has also been a good-luck charm for the Bulldogs thus far.
Bennett leads the Bulldogs with 265 receiving yards and, among the SEC’s top 15 players in receiving yards per game -- he ranks fifth with 88.3 -- he is the only one who is not African-American.
“I’ve proved myself throughout my whole life, being a white guy playing a black man’s position. It’s just the nature of how it is,” Bennett said with a grin. “It’s not racist or anything, it’s just the way it is. I feel like I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder in high school and then coming here. No one’s really respected me. I remember going in 1-on-1s and no one wanted to go against me because they didn’t want to get burned by a white guy.”
Bennett regularly has fun with the subject of race, frequently joking that his coaches require him to block downfield for the other receivers because he’s white or that he learned how to function as a token white receiver in the SEC from Kris Durham, who was a senior at Georgia during Bennett’s first season in the program.
Bennett is not exaggerating, however, about players testing him or underestimating him because of his race, senior receiver Tavarres King said. Bennett said opponents make racial comments to him “all the time” and King said some teammates even gave him a rude welcome after he arrived at Georgia.
“When he first got here, our DBs just kept trying him all the time, hitting him,” King said. “Not unnecessary, but they wouldn’t hit me like that. If I had the ball going down the sideline, they wouldn’t just tee off on me, but they’d do him like that. We kind of made a joke out of it, like, ‘Yeah Bennett, it’s because you’re white.’ He just embraced it. He’s been funny with it.”
It helps that Bennett is having the last laugh. Following his career-best 110 receiving yards last weekend against Florida Atlantic, teammates and opponents alike realize that regardless of race, Bennett is a legitimate weapon in the passing game. Maybe even a good enough weapon to advance beyond the college game, as Durham did.
Reminded that the list of white impact receivers in the NFL is also short, King still said Bennett might one day join the likes of New England’s Wes Welker and Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson in the pros.
|Chris Doering, a walk-on at Florida: ran a 4.9 40 in high school|
Getting to Florida consumed Doering, taking "total time, thought and effort."
He overcame more rejection than a 17-year-old should: the Gator door that snapped shut in his face, the recruiting calls that never came, the graduate assistant who laughed when Doering's high school coach dropped off a highlight film.
How many times can a kid cry into his pillow?
There was a spite-filled tryout with hated rival Florida State--the chance to stick it back in Florida's face--before Doering came to his senses at a Florida-Florida State baseball game in Gainesville.
"Florida State was doing that little [tomahawk] chop thing," Doering said, "and I realized that was something I had grown up hating and something I really didn't want to be a part of."
Doering was born a Gator on May 19, 1973. He was raised by Gator graduates, who spoon-fed him Gator lore.
As if by osmosis, at an early age, he even started to resemble a former Gator, receiver Cris Collinsworth.
"I used to brag about it when I was younger," Doering said.
Florida Coach Steve Spurrier calls Doering the "ultimate college football success story," but it wasn't as though Spurrier ever paid a recruiting visit.
Considered too slow, too skinny, and not of Florida ilk, Doering has persevered to become one of the Gators' all-time great receivers.
This season, he has caught 70 passes for 1,045 and 17 touchdowns. His 149 career receptions are the fourth most in Florida history, 29 more than Collinsworth totaled in the late '70s.
Doering's 31 touchdown receptions are a Southeastern Conference record.
"If I was any good at all, I'd probably have 60," Doering joked recently.
While he was the self-proclaimed "skinny white dude" at Gainesville's P.K. Yonge High School, Doering made all-state as a senior, good enough credentials, he thought, to warrant consideration from his beloved Florida.
"I didn't consider myself a longshot," Doering said. "I thought I had the ability to play at a major Division I school, but a lot of other coaches didn't see it the same way."
The recruiting season came and went, and Doering was left standing at the mailbox.
"The low point in my recruitment was the entire recruitment," he said. "It was something I should have known. I wasn't getting many calls or letters. I kept thinking sooner or later the Gators would come through and sign me late, but that didn't happen. It was something I should have seen coming, but I really didn't allow myself to see it coming."
Doering, 6 feet 4, was painfully thin and his 40-yard time of 4.9 had him rubber-stamped for Division III.
But he never gave up hope of playing at Florida.Doering, a self-professed "slow white guy" who had a 4.9 40-yard time in high school, received no scholarship offers and was a walk-on to the Gator team goes on to being one of the most productive receivers in Florida history, at a time when Steve Spurrier's 'fun and gun' was revolutionizing the passing game in college game.
What about a white guy who actually had some speed?
Bill Flowers, played football at the University of Mississippi in the early part of the 2000s. A high school standout at receiver, he was immediately labeled a "possession" receiver at Ole Miss, a synonom almost exclusively mandated for white receivers [Bill Flowers Builds on Family Legacy, BP Sports, 9-3-2004]
It's OK if you don't give Bill Flowers a second look. Opposing cornerbacks don't. Preseason football publications don't. Shoot, even his classmates don't.You see, we've been conditioned to view white athletes as automatically slower, their presence on the football an obvious handicap to the team that dares suit them up and put them on the field. Only vociferous, boisterous, heavily-tattooed Black athletes fit the mold of a modern athlete. Just ask former NFL receiver (and a walk-on in college, just like Green Bay Packer Jordy Nelson) Patrick Jeffers. He put a 1,000+ yard receiving season in 1999, but his career was short by injuries afterward. It almost never happened because of the legacy of Black athletes at The U [New Cowboys Receiver Makes Big Impression, AP, 12-4-1998]
Well, they don't until he makes a clutch one-handed snag, or roll is called and fellow students whip their heads toward the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Ron Howard impersonator and think, or even say, "You don't look like the Bill Flowers on the football field."
It's just further proof that it's not as easy as it looks to cover Bill Flowers, on or off the field.
Add to all that the possession receiver label he's been unfairly stuck with, and it would seem Flowers has a lot to prove this senior season. But he doesn't. He's already proven to himself what and who he is, and that's all he cares about.
Jeffers already has the tag of looking like former Denver teammate Ed McCaffrey.
"All tall white guys get thrown in that same category," Jeffers joked. "I have some size and I'm a little faster than most people probably think. As long as defenders think I'm slow, maybe I can run by a few of them."
4.53 is impressive speed and a solid time for a productive NFL receiver. Just ask Jerry Rice. And whose this "Ed McCaffrey" fellow that Jeffers was compared to? [White Lightning;With no pomp and precious little padding, the Broncos' deceptively fast Ed McCaffrey has become the NFL's unlikeliest star wide receiver, Sports Illustrated, 11-30-1998]:
He added he was no speed burner.
Michael Bennett, UGA white wide receiver: proving that he belongs in the Black SEC, so says ESPN
"I kept thinking he (Hitchcock) was going to catch me," said Jeffers, who was timed at 4.53 seconds in the 40 at the NFL combine.
Jeffers was a walk-on in college at the University of Virginia and caught 108 passes for 1,785 yards and 15 touchdowns. He grew up in Fort Worth as a big Dallas fan.
He's a goofy-looking white guy in a world of hip-hop flash, and that makes Ed McCaffrey one heck of a target. On Sundays the Denver Broncos' wideout subjects his nearly padless body to continuous punishment. On Mondays he reads rip jobs in the press about his supposed lack of athletic ability. But nothing is as daunting to him as the first practice day after he has had his shock of strawlike brown hair trimmed, a task the man who ranks third in the AFC in receiving yards entrusts to Supercuts. "I have a strong relationship with the people there," McCaffrey says. "They've tried out a lot of techniques on me." Not only is McCaffrey an affable lab rat; he often shows up at the Broncos' facility looking like one. On a recent Wednesday his newly trimmed, uncombed 'do caused a locker room uproar.
"What'd you tell 'em, 'Screw my s— up'?" John Elway intoned.
"Nice bowl," backup quarterback Bubby Brister chimed in over the laughter. "Hope they didn't charge you for that." No prominent NFL player has munched as much humble pie as McCaffrey. During his eight-year career he has been kicked off a team bus for impersonating a player, ordered to pick up towels by a locker room janitor and laughed out of a golf tournament filled with NFL players after he shot a sterling 155. But if you really want to see embarrassment, check out the body language of a defensive back who has just watched the 6'5", 215-pound McCaffrey beat him for a big gain. "You'll see their heads slump to the ground every time he scores," says Rod Smith, the Broncos' other starting wideout.
It's the same look that NBA players gave Larry Bird as he rose to stardom in the early '80s: the I-can't-believe-I-just-got-burned-by-this-white-dude face. "That's just a big old ego thing, to be shamed because a guy like Ed beat up on you," says Shannon Sharpe, Denver's All-Pro tight end. "But there's reality and there's perception, and people are starting to notice Ed for the wrong reason: because he's a big white guy and not because he's an unbelievable player. He'll probably be the first white receiver to go to the Pro Bowl since Steve Largent. At some point the guy's got to get some credit."
The underlying assumption, of course, is that white guys—especially large, long-striding receivers such as McCaffrey—are slow. McCaffrey can handle immeasurable grief about his hair, unhip wardrobe and nervous neck twitches, but make a crack about his speed and he's more defensive than Calista Flockhart. It's a reaction provoked by years of jabs, including one by a Giants Weekly writer who said he'd "seen better moves by Ironside" and another mat appeared in a 1996 SI article suggesting that McCaffrey "should be an Amway distributor by now, he's so slow."
If you're doing an interview with McCaffrey, speed kills. "Are you going to rip Ed for being slow again, or do you plan on writing the truth for a change?" his wife, Lisa, asks as she bounces through the kitchen of their house a few miles south of the Broncos' facility. While giving constant chase to their two sons—Max, 4, and Christian, 2—Lisa gets off the best lines of the interview. Noting that her father, sprinter David Sime, graced SI's cover in 1956, Lisa riffs, "That's why Ed and I got together—so we could breed fast white guys."
Shortly before the '91 NFL draft, Ed says, he ran consecutive 4-38 40s that were timed by the San Diego Chargers. Though McCaffrey never was a full-time starter with the New York Giants, who took him in the third round of the draft, he led the team in receptions in his second year, with 49. His aw-shucks appearance also made him a primary target off the field. He was routinely denied access to the team bus by drivers who didn't believe he was a player. "Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor would tell the driver they'd never seen me before and make me wait outside for five minutes," McCaffrey says.
Once at Giants training camp, McCaffrey was the last player in the locker room, and a janitor approached him and began screaming, "Pick up those damn towels!" When the shocked McCaffrey didn't respond, the janitor ordered him out of the room.The "goofy looking white guy"... this is what we call 'conditioning' of the masses to believe that only one type of athlete is legitimate on the football field (or at certain positions, like receiver). And it ain't white guys... it's the type of athlete that Miami exclusively recruits, leaving athletes like Vernon on the outside of the program looking in. Back to McCaffrey [There's Been Nothing Trivial About Mccaffrey's Performance Two For The Show, Boston Globe, 1-25-1998]:
"People just notice that Ed is white," said Sharpe. "That's all they say -- `He's a white receiver and there aren't too many white receivers' -- and that's all they notice. They don't notice how good he is. Ed's a great receiver."
True, McCaffrey, a product of Allentown Central Catholic High, is a member of a rare breed in the NFL -- Wayne Chrebet, Don Beebe, Ricky Proehl, and McCaffrey are among the few white receivers in the league -- but Sharpe said only fools focus on the color of McCaffrey's skin, not his talent.
"Ed makes tough catches," said Sharpe. "And he catches everything; he has great hands."
McCaffrey said he doesn't look upon himself as a "white receiver."
"You might ask one person one thing and another person another thing and they might say two different things," McCaffrey said. "But to me, it doesn't make any difference. That's because I don't see things that way; I'm just down here playing with my teammates and my friends and trying to be the best football player I can be. Once you put on a uniform, it really doesn't matter a bit what color skin you have."
The few white receivers there are generally are stereotyped as "possession receivers," which are code words for being relatively slow. And relatively slow they are, since few have the speed to make the game-breaking long catch. Still, McCaffrey has a very important role in the Broncos' passing attack as they prepare to face the Green Bay Packers today in the Super Bowl.Sound like the way Jordy Nelson was treated last year? Maybe Toby Gerhart or Peyton Hillis? At least those aforementioned white athletes get a chance to play in the Black man's NFL, most notably at positions dominated by Blacks with loads of swagger, unlike the 2001 Doak Walker Award winner Luke Staley. A white running back from Brigham Young, Staley never got a chance in the NFL. He almost never got the chance to play running back in college. [Pro Football Weekly: 2002 NFL draft and Scouting Combine Q&A with Brigham Young RB Luke Staley, 3-3-2001, Nolan Nawrocki]:
INDIANAPOLIS — Brigham Young RB Luke Staley declared himself eligible for the NFL draft after his junior season, when he rushed for 1,582 yards. His average of 143.8 rushing yards per game was the third-best in NCAA Division I. Injuries plagued his career at BYU, when he had more than nine surgeries on his ankles, knees and shoulders. The most recent injury was a broken fibula, which kept Staley out of the final three games of BYU’s 12-2 season. Staley answered questions about his health, his decision to leave BYU early and how he developed his remarkably sized calves.
Q: What do you bring to the table for NFL teams?
A: I think I bring a little versatility. I think I can adjust to whatever the situation calls for. I think I can go with the flow of the game and be able to change paces.
Q: There aren’t that many top-notch white running backs. Is that something you have dealt with throughout your career?
A: Yeah, I think a big blow was when I came out of high school. Everybody wanted me for defense except for BYU. They are the only school who wanted me as a tailback. And of course, I’m going to jump on that. I committed to them the day after they offered me.
Q: You were a running back all during your time before college. How frustrating was it that schools wanted you to play defense?
A: For me, it wasn’t that frustrating because it has always been a childhood dream of mine to go to BYU. It was an easy decision once they offered me.
|One school gave the white running back Luke Staley a chance. One.|
But it's not just white offensive players that are "blacked-out" from playing positions that we have been 'conditioned' to believe are only for superior Black athletes. Jemele Hill, the Black female columnist for ESPN now, once wrote for the lowly Detroit Free Press (if Black people are such great athletes, why can't they convert that dexterity into maintaining a city -- like 90 percent Black Detroit? Never mind...). There, she penned this article on Michigan State - a future NFL player - white safety Eric Smith [Spartans safety defies skeptics and stereotypes, 10-9-2003]:
He had good speed and size. But there was just one problem with Eric Smith.
He was white.
An assistant coach at a Division II school in Ohio told Smith in high school that he didn't want a white player in the secondary. He wasn't the first college coach to doubt Smith, who had become accustomed to being called too slow, too small -- everything except too good.
"He said he'd rather take a black player than me," Smith said.
But it's interesting how life can work out. The guy who was too slow, too small and er, too white, is the starting strong safety for Michigan State -- the only Division I school that offered the 6-foot-1, 196-pound sophomore a scholarship.
In fact, Smith not only is a starter, he's a playmaker. Smith, who runs the 40 in 4.6, leads the team in tackles with 49 and was Big Ten player of the week following a 12-tackle, two-sack performance against Notre Dame. He also has seven pass-breakups, which is tied for the team lead, and his 59-yard interception return against Louisiana Tech is the longest by the secondary this season.
"People look at me and say, 'He's a white guy. He won't be able to play,' " Smith said. "I just like to go out there and prove them wrong."
|Eric Smith: a white safety at Michigan State (now in the NFL)|
And now, all of college football has assimilated to culture of these Black athletes, alumni and coaches fearful of appearing of 'racist' and losing the opportunity to recruit these individuals (or having their career ruined by an opposing coach who tells recruits and high school coaches of bigotry and discrimination -- especially if they play a white running back or white receiver!).
So white people who make in college football (and those precious few who make it to the NFL) succeed in spite of their debilitating whiteness; Black players succeed because, well, we have been conditioned to believe that in a match-up against a white athlete, the Black player will always be more athletic because of their Blackness.
This is the true legacy of what Feldman calls a 'Cane Mutiny.