BOULDER, Colo. — Even with a strong crop of incredibly talented black signal-callers in NFL, like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, people still stereotype quarterbacks based on their race. Fans and the public as a whole are still affected by racial stereotypes in their perceptions of black quarterbacks, two recent studies found.
Researchers at the University of Colorado – Boulder surveyed college students in the two experiments to test their perceptions about quarterbacks based on skin color.
The first study had students of different races rate paragraphs and photos of black or white quarterbacks on four stereotypical descriptors: strength, leadership, natural ability, and intelligence. All participants stereotyped the quarterbacks to some extent, the researchers found. Black participants, however, stereotyped both races the most, indicating that students of color, particularly athletes, may not view themselves as quarterback material. Such a finding could even affect a student’s desire to play football in adolescence, the authors surmised.
The second study recorded impressions from only white participants from a wide range of economic background, age, and education level. These participants assigned stereotypical descriptors to photos and paragraphs showing or describing black quarterbacks, but not the white quarterbacks. Even when told that a particular black quarterback was extremely intelligent, the participants still didn’t rate that player as being as intelligent as a similarly-described white quarterback.
“We are all aware of the stereotypes that are out there in the discourse—it’s almost unavoidable,” says Patrick Ferrucci, co-author of both studies, in a release. “In these two studies, we were looking to see if people actually apply them, and the answer is yes.”
The studies suggest that unconscious racial bias, sometimes encouraged by sports media, influences how the public evaluates and views quarterbacks. This phenomenon may also turn into self-fulfilling prophecies for some black athletes who may be discouraged from playing quarterback in high school and college.
Previous studies have decoded some of the language used by sports media to describe athletes. Black athletes are usually lauded for their natural ability and strength while white athletes are praised for their intelligence and work ethic. Sociological research has also indicated that members of a given social group usually think of their group as more diverse than they are and think of other groups as more homogeneous. Sociologists dubbed this phenomenon “social identity theory.”
The latest findings continues to cloud the perception of how public opinion impacts one of the most decorated positions across all sports.