Every morning I tune into ESPN to hear the latest coverage and debates around the sports world. As I ate a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (great breakfast) tuesday morning while watching "Pardon the Interruption", I almost choked hearing what co-host Michael Wilbon said. Wilbon when talking about the Heisman finalists, praised Stanford's Christian McCaffrey for being "the best player in college football by far" but this didn't cause my near-death experience. He continued to go on and explain that since McCaffrey is a white running back, that will hurt his chance at winning the Heisman. Stereotypes and talent certainly collide when this topic is brought up, but is it enough to prevent him from winning the trophy awarded to college football's best athlete?
As an ex-college football player and a man of color, I've always looked at McCaffrey's story with amazement. Despite being the son of three-time Super Bowl winner Ed McCaffrey, Christian has paved his own way on the gridiron. As a sophomore at the University of Stanford McCaffrey has broken Barry Sanders' 28-year old all-purpose yards record, recorded five games with over 300 all-purpose yards, and has made many defenses look silly this year.
When I see these stats I usually cringe with the thought "and he's only a sophomore". However for others it's different, when they hear these stats and see a photo of McCaffrey they say "That's a white boy playing like that? Or man stop playing he doesn't have speed like that". Then I turn on the tape for them, particularly the UCLA/USC games and watch them go from non-believers to McCaffrey defenders, simply amazed at how talented he truly is. McCaffrey's color of his skin does not take away his playmaking ability and in fact has caught many college football fans' attention. I'm curious to where McCaffrey will stand if he had a record-breaking season if he was a quarterback with the competitive drive and edge like Johnny Manziel or Tim Tebow? Will his accomplishments stand higher in Heisman voting? Or will it be expected?
The evolution of positions and stereotypes has been something for the ages since football has begun. One position that sticks out like a sore thumb is none other than the quarterback. For decades the skin color of a field general has played a significant part in an organization. Some teams have found success with the Warren Moons, Randall Cunninghams, and Steve McNairs, while others haven't, drafting guys such as Akili Smith. If you look in Charlotte, North Carolina it won't take you long to find the Panther's savior and entertainer is within quarterback Cam Newton and his stellar performance this year. African-American quarterbacks has found the stereotype of "only being able to run" shattered quickly as many has passed their way into wins and Super Bowls over the years in the NFL. As fans and media have accepted this position to be open to any person of color, one unit continues to be closed off to the majority: running back.
11,352 rushing yards, 104 touchdowns, 14 years pro, and a Super Bowl champion as a running back is one incredible feat. That incredible milestone was accomplished by no other than Hall of Famer John Riggins who played for the Jets and Redskins, who was also known as one of the best to ever play the game. Riggins paved the way for guys such as Mike Alstott, Peyton Hillis, Toby Gerhart, and now Christian McCaffrey. These players have always been in the backseat when it came to backs such as Jim Brown, Terrell Davis, Mark Ingram, and in McCaffrey's case Derrick Henry. McCaffrey is not the traditional bruising running back such as Gerhart coming out of the Stanford system, but instead possesses remarkable speed, vision, and cutting ability, something believed to be only traits of a black running back.
However it's more than just being a running back when it comes to Heisman voting. McCaffrey has dominated every time he touched the ball, running, passing, throwing, and returning the pigskin for a touchdown. Everything Stanford has asked McCaffrey to do he's done it, clearly leading the Cardinal to victory every week since their unfortunate season opening loss against Northwestern and late against Oregon. Stanford is setting up their Heisman-hopeful for success, utilizing him in various positions that create an edge for the Cardinal.
In an interview with Jim Rome, David Shaw went on to say that Christian McCaffrey is the best player in the country without a doubt and he excels in whatever he does. The average football fan would probably agree with Shaw as McCaffrey has topped many with his explosiveness, speed, play-making ability, and character all wrapped in a six-foot 200-pound frame. All this comes within a running back that doesn't have the skin tone of Adrian Peterson, the name Marshawn Lynch, nor the "swag" of Devin Hester, this is Christian McCaffrey: Your go to back for a big play and more.
At the end of the day the Heisman shouldn't be based off the stereotypes or color of a student-athlete because the trophy is simply bronze. This award is given to the best athlete in college football, not to who performs the best in one particular position. McCaffrey has shown weekly why he deserves the award and why the position he plays shouldn't collide with the color of his skin. Once we take football to the gridiron and keep it strictly there, there is no such thing as a position limited to a certain ethnicity. Football is for anyone with the will to win and that's exactly what Christian McCaffrey does.