Sports Are Not Colorblind: The Role of Race and Segregation in NFL Positions

(1) The Neighborhood Academy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Cover photo for Sports Are Not Colorblind: The Role of Race and Segregation in NFL Positions

The purpose of this study is to investigate the historical trends of racial segregation by position in the National Football League (NFL). Previous research has investigated how stereotypes of black players as athletic and white players as intellectual has produced racial segregation between certain positions. We hypothesized that the cornerback position, which is characterized as athletic, will over time remain racially segregated and “stacked” towards black players, due to continued presence of “black athlete” stereotypes. On the other hand, we hypothesized that the quarterback position, characterized as requiring intellect, will become less stacked towards whites with time, due to intellectual stereotypes about whites that have diminished but still endure. We predicted that the average career length of players, as measured by years and games, will differ based on the centrality of the position and the race of the player. Information about position, years, games, and race were collected from publicly available websites regarding NFL players who played in at least one game between 1990-2016. We found that the cornerback position has remained stacked in favor of black athletes over time, while the quarterback position has seen an increase in black athletes. We observed no racial differences in the number of active years or games played within a position. Our data suggest the “black athlete” stereotype continues to dominate in the NFL in both cornerback and quarterback positions.

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