Toby Gerhart was a very good college running back. He nearly edged out Mark Ingram to win the Heisman Trophy this past season. But as he moves on to the NFL from Stanford Gerhart is facing something he didn't in college: That's the prospect of being overlooked by teams because he's a white running back trying to break into a position that's dominated by African-Americans.
Gerhart stated, "One team I interviewed with asked me about being a white running back."
He continued, "They asked if it made me feel entitled, or like I felt I was a poster child for white running backs. I said, 'No, I'm just out there playing ball. I don't think about that.' I didn't really know what to say."
One scout said of Gerhart, "He'll be a great second-round pickup for somebody, but I guarantee you if he was the exact same guy - but he was black - he'd go in the first round for sure," the scout said. "You could make a case that he's a Steven Jackson-type - doesn't have blazing speed but he's strong and powerful and versatile."
The assessments are both sadly real and true. But Gerhart shouldn't be too worried. If he performs he'll get a chance but if it doesn't work out for him on the field he'll surely increase his chances of success off the field in society or in the NFL in upper-management, as a head coach, General Manager or even an owner.
What Gerhart is experiencing is a small dosage of what African-Americans historically have endured in society and sport. People who look like Gerhart in society never had to endure "separate but equal" during the Civil Rights Movement. People who look like Gerhart never worried about consistently being denied employment because of skin color. People who look like Gerhart haven't been kept out of the free-enterprise system like African-Americans have.
In professional sports, particularly the NFL people who look like Gerhart historically never worried about playing quarterback, getting passed over for coaching jobs or owning teams. Just like in society whites generally can establish connections because of their shared complexion.
What Gerhart is facing is only slightly comparable to what African-American quarterbacks coming out of college have endured. Quarterbacks like Major Harris, Tony Rice, and more recently Troy Smith have either been snubbed or drafted very low.
According to legend African-Americans aren't supposed to think well under pressure as whites: They aren't supposed to read defenses proficiently. African-American quarterbacks are believed to be gifted athletically but a somewhat short mentally. And when all else fails they can be switched to another position because African-American athletes are supposed to be so gifted physically.
Remember Charlie Ward? Heisman Award winner who led Florida State to the National Championship in 1993? Ward won every offensive award imaginable yet no NFL really wanted him so he bolted to the NBA.
Word on the street was Ward really wanted to play in the NBA.
Rumor had it that Ward's arm wasn't strong enough and he was too short to look over defenders.
Ward wasn't drafted because he was an African-American quarterback and he supposedly didn't think as well as white quarterbacks. Ward was perceived not have the "intangibles" like other quarterbacks. He was the "prototypical pocket passer" who reads defenses and goes through his progressions quickly.
All this resulted in Ward not being drafted in the NFL.
Let's look at Warren Moon. Moon led the Washington Huskies to the Rose Bow title with his arm and legs in 1978. NFL teams didn't want him because of his tan so he bolted north of the border to Canada. He played there for six years then the Houston Oilers called.
After a productive career in the NFL Moon's bust now sits in Canton, Ohio as the first African-American quarterback inducted into the Hall of Fame. Despite the snub in 1978 once he got his chance he delivered the goods.
I understand how Gerhart feels. He should be judged on his merit, skill and ability. He shouldn't be categorized based on complexion. Gerhart should get drafted based strictly on his performance.
But he won't.
Bottom line: If Gerhart is good enough he'll get a chance. He'll have to endure a small dose of what African-Americans in society and sport have done for many decades and that's to persevere in the face of obstacles that stem from race.
But what the heck, if it doesn't work out for him on the field he can always work the odds and become a head coach or General Manager. Or maybe if he plays a few years he can maybe buy a team. White predominately own 100 percent of the teams in the league: There's never been African-American predominate ownership in the NFL.
The odds seemingly aren't in his favor on the field, but they surely are off it.