Stephen A. Smith is calling people racist on First Take. Why is that newsworthy and not the daily expectation? Because this time, Smith is alleging a white athlete is the victim. We are not joking.
Thursday, Smith told Louis Riddick that the sports world ignores running back Christian McCaffrey because of his white skin color.
“I’ve said this about Christian McCaffrey before, and I’m gonna say it again,” Smith yelled.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s damn near reverse discrimination! If this brother were black, we’d be talking about him more. I mean, this dude is special.”
There are two layers to Smith’s statement.
First, if he is talking about the media — he’s probably right. If you close your eyes and hear the word “running back,” you instinctively picture a black athlete. Like most positions in the NFL, black people primarily make up the bulk of starting running backs. In addition, society mostly agrees that white people are less athletic than black on a per person average. Running back is a position based on speed and athleticism.
However, only someone who thinks about McCaffrey’s skin color would view him as a “white running back.” Meaning, TV hosts and sportswriters likely see him as such. By contrast, sports fans don’t care about skin color. They see players by their position, impact, team, and personality. Football fans who watch games on Sundays are not counting who is white on the field, in a nod to Max Kellerman.
So then why isn’t McCaffrey, a star on the field, a bigger deal? Because he is just that: a star on the field.
McCaffrey is the running back for the Carolina Panthers. By and large, national sports fans don’t pay attention to running backs on irrelevant teams. So while fans respect McCaffrey, they know his play has little impact on the overall NFL season.
Derrick Henry, a black man, is the only active NFL running back who is a household name. But remember, fans didn’t care about Henry nationally until 2019, the season Tennessee beat New England and Baltimore in the playoffs. Henry followed up that year by leading the Titans back to the postseason with over 2,000 rushing yards.
We talk about running backs when they lead teams to the playoffs, challenge historical records, or commit crimes. For McCaffrey: uncheck, uncheck, and uncheck
Moreover, the Panthers don’t play on national TV often. Therefore, the average NFL viewer hasn’t watched Carolina since they drafted McCaffrey. Should that change, McCaffrey’s notoriety would increase and more football fans would have an opinion on McCaffrey’s game. As a result, shows like First Take would cover him more frequently.
The interest around Christian McCaffrey wouldn’t look much different if he were black. But as Stephen A. Smith says, perhaps the coverage, led by personalities who see only skin color, would look differently.