For Cleveland Browns’ running back Peyton Hillis, what a different a year can make.
Basically an unknown last season, Hillis was packaged in a deal from the Denver Broncos with a sixth-round pick for the 2011 NFL Draft and a conditional pick for the 2012 Draft to the Browns for quarterback Brady Quinn. Hillis was at the bottom of the running back depth chart in Denver and was going to be in the dumps of the Browns’ running depth as well.
Unfortunately for backs James Davis and Montario Hardesty, who sustained season-ending injuries and James Harrison being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, Hillis’ fortune, or better yet, opportunity presented him the chance of a lifetime that probably would not have been given to him because he is white.
After a successful 2010 campaign of rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, Hillis earned another chance of a lifetime, as the face of the 2012 Madden cover.
With this honor, will the Arkansas running back be labeled as a running back—instead of a white running back?
Hillis and Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick were the two finalists for the 2012 Madden cover and they spend Wednesday at ESPN Headquarter’s, due to the announcement of the winner on ESPN2’ s “Sports Nation” host by Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle.
Close to 13 million votes were submitted in the five-week contest and Hillis beat out Vick 66 percent to 34.
In a way, the two most oxymoron topics of football, catering to race, were in the contest for a grand opportunity: a black quarterback and a white running back.
Black quarterbacks were labeled as not being smart enough to play the position, as white running backs are viewed as not being durable enough for such a physical demanding position.
The black quarterback came a long way with the likes of Vick, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb of the Washington Redskins, Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with several others.
However, self-consciously in the minds of many in society, the black athlete continues to be frown upon when they want to play the quarterback position on the NFL level.
Quarterback Cam Newton (who is projected to be the first-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft) is currently facing this situation, intellectually, of being a NFL quarterback, especially after his interview with ESPN’s NFL Analyst and Super Bowl winning head coach Jon Gruden when the former Auburn signal caller called numbers as plays instead of the typical language of a playbook.
No one will say that Auburn’s coaching staff simplified the playbook for Newton because he is black, but self-consciously many people in society are.
Now, let’s view the issue about Hillis being accepted as a running back, instead of a white running back.
Similar to the great quarterbacks who were black that set the stage for the African-American athletes of today, the great backs in John Riggins, John Rathman, Mike Alstott, to name a few who were white, had set platform for Hillis and Toby Gerhart of the Minnesota Vikings.
Dating back to slavery when blacks were forced to execute extreme physical labor (which does not acquire a lot of thinking) in unholy weather conditions because their bodies were stronger and tougher as the whites.
That is a fact folks. In football, self-consciously, blacks are better suited for the running back position, due to the slavery perspective.
However, for a Caucasian to be a running back in the NFL, self-consciously to many in society, is unheard of.
After Hillis had his way against some of the best run defenses in the NFL, especially against the Baltimore Ravens as he posted 144 rushing yards in his first meeting in Baltimore (which put him on the map), he continued to be ignored as one of the best backs in the league last season. But Hillis, a man of great faith, is not worry about what his doubters think of him.
Hillis was a seventh-round selection in 2008 and after paving holes for Darren McFadden, now with the Oakland Raiders, and Felix Jones, now with the Dallas Cowboys as a Razorback, he is finally able to showcase his talents, which made room for him.
As for the Madden curse, Hillis does not buy into this myth.
A Caucasian who cannot be a star running back in the NFL, being a minority for this particular position, this myth will soon become one dismissed—slightly similar to an African-American cannot be a successful quarterback in the NFL, if society can get pass it.