Is the National Football League Hopelessly Racist? Why Using ‘Disparate Impact’ as Evidence of Racism is Ludicrous

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At every game this season in the National Football League, we were treated to propaganda emblazoned on the turf behind the end zone that racism is alive and well in America. At one end of the stadium, the words read “It Takes All of Us”; and at the other end:  “End Racism.” For some of us who love NFL football, it was difficult to tune into the games week after week with this misleading and highly political statement jumping out at us – a technique using the “Big Lie” more attuned to the Germany and Russia of the 1930s.

Instead of deconstructing the political catchphrase “systemic racism” used by most Democrats (including President Joe Biden in his inaugural address), let’s have some fun and explore racism in the NFL.

First, the facts. It is difficult to get the exact racial breakdown of NFL players in 2020, but as of 2016 the numbers were approximately as follows:   blacks – 69.7 percent; whites – 27.4 percent; Asians – 1.9 percent; Hispanics — 0.8 percent.

How does this league breakdown compare with demographics nationwide? Also in 2016, according to the U.S. Census, whites made up 62 percent of the population of the United States; Hispanics, 17.3 percent; blacks, 12.3 percent; Asians, 5.2 percent.

These numbers appear to show that there exists, on the face of things, dramatic racial discrimination against whites, Hispanics, and Asians in the NFL. Whites make up 62 percent of the population yet account for only 27 percent of all NFL players. Even worse, there are only a handful of Hispanics and Asians players on NFL teams, yet they make up a combined 22.8 percent of the U.S. population. (Again, using 2016 numbers.)

The concept of “disparate impact” would suggest that the above racial breakdown of players in the NFL is prima facie evidence of discrimination against whites, Hispanics, and Asians.

Disparate statistics have been used for decades in various contexts to claim that discrimination is the reason why various racial groups are not represented in line with demographics, as employees in companies or in public services such as fire or police departments. In most Woke newspapers these days, we read day after day about gender and racial disparities (using disparate impact concepts) for CEOs, board members, and professionals. Why not use the same yardstick for players in the NFL?  

Is the NFL a hopelessly racist league because 27 percent of NFL players are white yet whites make up 62% of the population? Blacks are clearly hugely overrepresented in the NFL compared with the percentage of blacks in America. It may take all of us to end racism in the NFL.

The implicit assumption about disparate impact is that racial and gender percentages in educational institutions, companies, and all manner of other institutions should reflect the percentage of these people in the population. But this is not the way the real world works.

Let’s take another example from the NFL. How often do you see a black place kicker or punter in the NFL? These positions, for whatever reason, are almost exclusively the preserve of white players. Can you use disparate impact to charge that racial discrimination is involved in keeping blacks, Hispanics, and Asians out of these jobs? That is, of course, absurd.

Is the NFL racist because 70 percent of NFL players are black?  Of course not. There are more black players for a number of reasons, the most important of which is ability in athletics.

Very few accuse the NFL of committing racial discrimination when it comes to the racial makeup of its players because the NFL is publicly and demonstrably a meritocracy. “Just win, baby,” is how former Oakland Raiders coach and owner Al Davis memorably put it. People who succeed are rewarded. People who fail are fired or cut. Everybody knows it.

No one attributes player selection in the National Football League to race because everyone who follows football knows that racism is suicide. It’s hard enough to win using relevant standards such as speed, quickness, accuracy, timing, vision, cleverness, and judgment. No one has time for other factors.

The same applies to various other sectors of life in America. Are there are more black basketball players in the NBA because of racism? Are Hispanics overrepresented in Major League Baseball because of discrimination against whites and blacks? Are there are a greater percentage of Asian-Americans at Harvard and MIT than their representation in the general public because of racial discrimination? Using the concept of disparate impact to judge hiring and admissions decisions is ludicrous in the real world. But unfortunately, it is politically correct.

The use of disparate impact as evidence of racial discrimination is almost always wrong. It is dividing the heart and soul of America. The NFL is not hopelessly racist because of the overrepresentation of blacks, and neither is America a systemically racist country. America is the only majority white nation in the developed world that has elected a black leader – not once but twice. How many other countries have black mayors of major cities that do not have a majority of black residents? In the United States, that describes the cities of Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Charlotte, Denver, and Washington D.C..

Widespread racism was once a fact in the United States. It’s now more of a memory. This is not the America of 1960. We need to stop using hateful propaganda to divide the country. America is not perfect, but it is still a beacon of hope and land of opportunity. Nearly 59 million people have immigrated to America since 1965, many from Third World lands. Hard to believe that they are flocking to a “systemically racist” nation.