It's possible to correlate the overall number of white players on an NFL team versus the number of games it wins during a 16 game season. If NFL teams are all making rational judgments, without any racial bias, about which players would help them win the most, then there should be zero correlation between the racial makeup of teams and their winning percentages.
But if teams with more whites tend to win more, then there will be a positive correlation between the number of whites and the number of wins. That would suggest that a number of teams are failing to hire enough whites to maximize their performance.
A professor of sociology (who wishes to remain anonymous because researching the possibility of discrimination against whites is the shortest path to career death in academia) has crunched the latest three seasons' numbers for me.
He found positive but low correlations. Teams with more whites did better. This suggests that all teams would do slightly better with more whites.
However, when we looked at the data in more detail, we saw that there isn't much correlation between winning percentage and the number of white starters—suggesting that teams aren't terribly irrationally biased about evaluating the top players.
But when we looked at nonstarters, a more striking pattern emerges. In 2003, the correlation between the number of whites sitting on the bench and the number of wins was a surprisingly high r = 0.38.
In the social sciences, the convention is that 0.2 = low correlation, 0.4 = medium, and 0.6 = high. So, 0.38 is just under "medium." A correlation of 0.38 says that 14% (0.38 squared) of the variation in winning percentage in the 2003 season was associated with the number of white reserves.
That's a remarkably large percentage in something as overwhelmingly complicated as winning in the NFL.
To put that in a perspective that coaches would immediately grasp, that means that 2.2 additional white benchwarmers were associated with one additional win per team, thus changing an average 8-8 team into a possibly playoff contending 9-7 team.
In 2004, the positive correlation between white benchwarmers and winning percentage was down to a less spectacular r = 0.19. But that still means that having five additional white players on the bench is associated with an additional victory.
In 2005, through October 9th's games, the correlation was back up to r = 0.28. At that rate, over the course of a 16 game season, 2.9 extra white nonstarters would add one win.
Consider an analogy from the theatre. If you are mounting a production of Hamlet, you will tend to have a more successful run if the actor you hire to play, say, the Norwegian king Fortinbras who walks on at the end can also learn enough lines to understudy for Laertes, Horatio, the Player-King, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern as well. Similarly, your football team will tend to do better if your second string middle linebacker can also learn all the plays so, if necessary, he can help out at outside linebacker, strong safety, and on the kickoff and punting units, too.
Or, possibly, the reason that teams with a higher number of white reserves have been winning more games is because whites are better team players about sitting on the bench without complaining about not starting. Perhaps white back-ups are less likely than black back-ups to poison the atmosphere and ruin the team spirit.
If you are directing Hamlet, you don't want your Fortinbras to be full of resentment that he isn't starring as Hamlet, causing him to constantly undermine your authority by whispering to your Osric that the only reason he isn't playing a big role like King Claudius is because the director is an idiot. Likewise, a football team is more likely to play together well if the reserves act like they accept the head coach's judgment.
After all, our society for the last 40 years has lavishly encouraged blacks to claim to be victims of injustice, so it would hardly be surprising that among pampered, egotistical athletes, whites might tend to be more likely than blacks to keep quiet for the good of the team when they feel they are being treated unfairly. [More]
Sports Illustrated's Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman is perhaps the dean of football writers, and he recently made an interesting comment about the racial pressures NFL teams are under. Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick has a $130 million contract, which was the highest in NFL history when he signed it recently. With his incredible footspeed and elusiveness, he might be the most exciting player ever. And yet, the question remains whether he's an NFL quarterback or a great, great athlete playing at being an NFL quarterback in an era when all the right-thinking types demand more blacks at quarterback. Zimmerman writes:
Chad of Dakota Dunes, S.D., feels that maybe Atlanta would be better off with Matt Schaub at QB and Vick as a runner.
... As far as the position switch, the question we have to ask is will Vick ever become an accurate QB? Randall Cunningham did. Remember that great comeback year he had with the Vikings? He was a complete quarterback then. Right now Vick is incomplete. Breathtaking, but inaccurate, despite the jive those guys at ESPN keep feeding us about how he has to do his own thing, etc. Could a great quarterback coach fix the problems? I'm not sure. They're in short supply, and some of them are too timid to mess with a superstar's fundamentals. And I don't know of a head coach brave enough to take him out of the spotlight and assign him a lesser role. And then we have to mention the following, as touchy as it is. There would be a racial undercurrent, too, hints of the old belief that goes back many years, that black quarterbacks automatically have to be converted to another position.
Today, Vick, coming off an injury, went a mediocre 11 of 23 for just 112 yards and one touchdown and one interception. On the other hand, he rushed for 51 yards on only 8 carries.
The idea of moving Vick to tailback is intriguing both because he's a fabulous runner and because, while he's only an average passer for an NFL quarterback, with his rocket-launcher arm he'd be a terrifyingly good passer for a running back. On every sweep, he'd be capable of pulling up and throwing the option pass far downfield. If defenses played deep against the pass, he could run with it and frequently break off 20 yard gains before the defensive backs could get to him.
But it won't happen, partly because NFL coaches don't like to take risks, and partly because of race.
By the way, rookie Matt Jones, the white running quarterback from Arkansas who was shifted to wide receiver (and almost to the white ghetto of tight end), made a spectacular one-handed catch for a touchdown in Jacksonville's upset of Pittsburgh.