The Peyton Hillis Syndrome

Via PostBourgie, former NFL Center LeCharles Bentley picks up on a theme:


Today, Peyton Hillis, the Cleveland Browns' most impressive running back since Kevin Mack, is the latest "victim" of the NFL's color cycle. Hillis isn't the run of the mill 6-foot-2, 250-pound chocolate bruiser. He's an Arkansas born-and-raised white guy. Don't you remember the white running back who starred at the University of Arkansas before Darren McFadden and Felix Jones (both African-Americans) pushed him off the depth chart? What about the guy who played for the Broncos and averaged 5 yards per carry before being traded to the Browns? None of this rings a bell? 

I'm sure, too, that you are familiar with the names Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter. These two bronzed tailbacks are the guys Broncos coach Josh McDaniels felt were better than Hillis. Buckhalter missed the 2002, 2004 and 2005 seasons with knee injuries. Apparently a white running back who struggled because he was pigeon-holed as a fullback isn't as valued as a black running back with multiple knee injuries. This is eerily similar to the early years in the NFL when black players struggled with typecasting but kept their mouths shut for fear of being labeled a "troublemaker." 

Many NFL coaches pounded the notion into Hillis' head that he could only be a fullback in the NFL and he should brush up on his special teams play. Evidently, that's as far as his skin tone would take him.

It's worth checking out our earlier discussion on this. In the course of comments, I became more convinced that there may well be some kind of inchoate pressure pushing white kids away from the running back position. Having the case made by someone with NFL experience helps also. But, even listening to my folks over at Postbourgie hash this out, it all feels so very vague to me. 

In the case of Hillis--who really is having a great season--I also think that simpler explanations may well be in order. Josh McDaniels  (who was fired mid-season) may well be blinkered by race. But I think it's just as likely that he was, at least in this instance, a poor evaluator of talent.

I would not argue that no amount of stereotyping happens in pro athletics. But I'd like to see something more detailed and less based on vague impressions. I've linked to this before, but I think this Josh Levin piece establishes a pretty convincing pattern in the NBA.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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