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NFL Players: What Percent Is Black?

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The National Football League (NFL) has witnessed a significant increase in the number of black players since it started in 1920. At the time, only a handful of black players, with Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard identified as the first black NLF player. 

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A ban by team owners eliminated the participation of black players. But in 1946, Kenny Washington led the return of black players to the NFL. How many NFL players are black?

According to Zippia.com, 57.5% of NFL players are black. This is a drop from the 2016/17 season when the league had 69.7% black players. Black NFL players are the majority, as white players make up 24.9%, Hispanics and Latinos at 0.4% and Asian at 0.1%.

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Why Are Majority of NFL Players Black?

Some of the reasons why the NFL is predominantly black remain controversial. The argument about black people having a genetic advantage that makes them athletically superior and hence better at running and jumping is disputed. 

The other reason attributed to the dominance of black NFL players is convenience. This means that NFL is much more affordable compared to other sports like golf, car racing and tennis, among others. All an NFL player needs is a pair of shoes, and the team will provide the rest of the equipment.

Additionally, a lot of black players use sports as a means of building a better life as opposed to doing it recreationally. They come from lower-income homes and hence, they have no leeway to mess around, so they must be the best.

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NFL Race Distribution by Position

Despite the dominance of black players in the NFL, there are certain positions they haven’t been able to break into. This is attributed to racism and stereotypes that white people are better than blacks in those areas of the field.

For example, the blackest position on an NFL pitch is the cornerback, with 99.4 per cent of NFL players being African American. This position demands speed and athleticism, which explains the high numbers. 

When it comes to defence, about 80 percent of NFL players occupying this position are blacks, with most in the running back and wide receiver positions.

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That said, a lot of the specialist positions in the NFL are heavily titled toward white players, with about 97.8% of them occupying these positions.

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Race and the Quarterback Position

The quarterback, one of the most coveted positions in the game, has been the preserve of white players. The quarterback position demands several skills – leadership, intelligence, vision, athletics and mobility, among others – and black people was perceived not to have these skills.

In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first black NFL player to get a starting position as a quarterback. He played in that position for a while, was moved out, and never played in it for the rest of his football career. 

Over the years, there have been bits of progress in this area of the field. For example, in 1997, five black quarterbacks played simultaneously. That number has steadily grown. In the 2023 NFL season, there were 11 starting quarterbacks in the league. 

History was made in the Super Bowl in 2023 when two black quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes for the Kansas City Chiefs and Jalen Hurts for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Other notable quarterbacks who’ve played in the Super Bowl include:

  • Russell Wilson
  • Cam Newton
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Donovan McNabb
  • Steve McNair 

Will things get better for black NFL players in all areas of the game? If the latest report by The Institute For Diversity And Ethics In Sport (TIDES) is anything to go by, then yes. Progress is being made gradually. A continuous push needs to happen to ensure we don’t slow down.

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