"There are a lot of variables in this problem," says one NFL player. "Remember: the idea in pro football is to create white heroes to please the white crowd. Negroes play cornerback because cornerback isn't what you would call a heroic position. It works out fine for everybody's prejudices—fans and coaches. The NFL, and the AFL, too, for that matter, is loaded with coaches who decide a priori that the Negro isn't fit for judgment-responsibility positions like quarterback, linebacker, offensive guard and center. Negroes get essentially straight-line jobs: cornerback (stick to your man); pass rusher (get the quarterback); flanker and split end (run like hell and catch that pass). These are jobs that require natural ability, which the white coach admits the Negro has, but less judgment, which the white coach doubts the Negro has."
Buddy Young, the All-America from Illinois who now works as Commissioner Pete Rozelle's assistant in the executive suite of the NFL, understandably takes a different position. "The black must learn that he is not a pick-and-shovel athlete, that he is capable of playing anywhere, that there are no restrictions but those he creates or accepts," says Young. Young seems to be suggesting that stacking is something the Negro player himself "creates" by not aggressively fighting against it from high school on. This, in turn, ignores the fact that, except for the Negro superstar, a black athlete who fights the system does so at the risk of his career.
The lamentable truth is that professional football is hampered and harassed by prejudice and discrimination. One would think that money—the great equalizer—would lead to the kind of concerted team effort that would transcend racism, but it does not. The depth to which racial unrest pervades football may be gauged by the Cleveland Brown fracas only three weeks ago. The white players on the Browns were invited to a golf outing that one of them, Ross Fichtner, was helping to promote. The blacks were not invited. "We black Browns are after the hide of this white Brown," Cleveland's noted Negro lineman, John Wooten, was quoted as saying after learning of the slight. Wooten later claimed he was misquoted, but the incident is a cause c�l�bre. The most important aspect of it, however, is that it should arise at all, for it suggests that the two races on the Browns are completely out of touch. Fichtner is no racist, but he used poor judgment in not asking the Negroes (they had come the year before, but declined to mix with club members—which was the point of the outing). Wooten apparently overreacted, as men do after years of bitterness. "Both of them were dead wrong," said Coach Blanton Collier. "I don't know where we go from here." Where, indeed.
The student who tries to pin down the exact locus of such racial problems in pro football—or in other pro sports—finds himself coming up with a blob of whipped cream and a puzzled look. Man for man, most members of the pro football establishment will insist that bonds of brotherhood link him to his Negro teammates. "Why, the Negroes have made this game what it is today," says an AFL administrator. "We'd have a hell of a time without them."
Says a white player for a Century Division team: "The prejudice takes strange and subtle forms in the NFL. I can say in complete honesty that I can never remember a coach mentioning a guy's race or color. I can't cite a single case of a player who was cut because he was black. I can't remember a single Negro-white fistfight, except one or two that had nothing to do with race. But the prejudice is there. The league reeks of it. The way the teams are composed. The way the locker rooms are laid out. The way Negroes are criticized more than whites. The way they're not supposed to know how to play certain positions. The way the white players are allowed to boss them around and criticize them. But if you accuse anybody of being prejudiced you get a lot of fancy rationalizations and explanations how this coach fought to keep a certain Negro on the team and, therefore, he can't be prejudiced, and how that coach makes regular trips to Blacktown to recruit Negro stars, so he can't be prejudiced. All those things that make them sound like big liberals. If I were a Negro I'd go nuts trying to fight it, because you can't fight it. Where do you start? It's like attacking a wall of mushroom soup."
In examining race prejudice in the NFL one encounters such research material as the fact that 11 of the 15 starting NFL quarterbacks in 1966 were from the South or Southwest, either by birth or college affiliation. That statistic seems harmless enough, until one talks to a Negro end who finds himself wondering whether he gets passed to as often as he should. Who knows? Pro football authorities will say the very idea of such a form of prejudice is preposterous, and any pro quarterback will say it is absurd to think that the color of his target matters—that he discriminates. But is it absurd? Statistics can't be compiled on matters like that.
Similarly, no one keeps records on quotas, and there is no way to tell what the black quota is on each team without reading the owner's mind or sitting in on front-office conferences, But quotas are a routine fact of life in all professional sports. The establishment thinks it is giving the fans (i.e., the whites) what they want. And though the front-office personnel shudder at the thought of being held responsible, they are the ones who establish the quota. The main reason offered in any honest discussion of the subject is identification: psychologically the fans have to be able to identify with the team, and how can white fans identify with black players? But fans also like a winner, and the general manager must work from two curving lines on the graph of his club's success. One charts performance, the other identification. The more star Negroes he uses the better performance he is likely to get. But, he reasons, the more Negroes he uses, the less white Ian identification he gets. It is where his two lines cross that a quota is established, one that varies from city to city, sport to sport and team to team. Nothing is more obvious in professional sport than the fact that there are quotas—and few things are as hotly denied.
"There are quotas on every NFL team and always have been," says Bobby Mitchell. " Paul Brown was a pioneer in the extensive use of Negroes, but eight or nine was about it. The Redskins had about 17 to 20 most of last year. That was high, and I bet we won't be that high tins year. Do you really believe that when a coach says, 'I'll take the best player at the position," he means it?"
One hears all sorts of rationalizations for quotas. "Negroes are moody," says Chris Burford, former Kansas City Chiefs' pass catcher. "They tend to range higher and lower emotionally than white players. If you get in a game on a day when a majority of them are moody, then you can be in trouble if you are playing a lot of them. To me, seven to 10 is the ideal number of Negroes to have on a football team."
Not many pro coaches operate on the premise that Negroes are moody and therefore ought to be held within limits, but main coaches do hold that individual Negroes can have a wrong "attitude" and cause team trouble. "The white man is always interested in your 'attitude.' " says Jim Parker, former All-League tackle for the Baltimore Colts. "You have to have the right "attitude' or you can't play. You look at a guy and you think he can play, and then one day he's on the train going home—something to do with his 'attitude.' You worry about it, but you don't ask any questions, because you base a family to feed."