NFL.com has published detailed profiles of almost all of the players who attended this year’s Scouting Combine, and all of those profiles include a section titled “NFL comparison,” which names the current NFL player who is the most similar to that particular draft prospect. There’s nothing unusual about that.
But here’s what is a little odd: For all four of the white wide receivers that NFL.com profiled, the “NFL comparison” is another white wide receiver.
I noticed that after I wrote about Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope saying that people are surprised that he’s a white guy who can run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. When I wrote that, I mentioned that NFL.com seemed to be falling into the usual stereotypes about white receivers, describing Swope as a hard worker with good hands who lacks straight-line speed, while saying the NFL player most similar to Swope is another white guy, Jordan Shipley.
After I wrote about Swope, I got a call from NFL.com Senior Editor Andy Fenelon. He was not happy. Fenelon lectured me about how unfair I was, demanded that I explain myself to him, and informed me that he stands by what NFL.com published.
I didn’t much care for Fenelon’s approach (he apparently never heard the old saw about attracting more flies with honey than vinegar), but I decided to take a closer look at the wide receiver evaluations at NFL.com and see whether I had unfairly represented the way the league’s official site evaluates white wide receivers.
And after taking that closer look, I don’t think I was unfair at all. White receivers are, in fact, exclusively compared to other white receivers. (Read the profiles of Swope and the other white wide receivers, Brandon Kaufman, T.J. Moe and Conner Vernon and see for yourself.) White receivers are praised by NFL.com for their good hands and their toughness, but downgraded for their speed. All four profiles demonstrate the stereotypes we’ve all heard about white receivers a million times.
I mention this not because I think anyone involved in compiling the NFL.com profiles is racist (I don’t) but because I think it’s important for all of us to challenge the stereotypes that we all encounter every day. At NFL.com, the stereotypes about white wide receivers are prevalent. Whether NFL.com wants to admit that or not.