Quarterbacks and the Division of Labor

Rush Limbaugh got into a lot of hot water for his comment that Donovan McNabb is an overrated quarterback. He said that the media overrate him because he is black.

I have not seen McNabb play. I have seen exactly one pro football game since the day Joe Namath put it to the Baltimore Colts. That was Superbowl III. You get the idea. But even I know that great black pro quarterbacks are almost as rare as white players of the year in the NBA.

The reason for this should be obvious to anyone who has read Chapter One of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. He who specializes gains an advantage in production.

West Africans and their descendants are better performers than whites in sports that involve running short distances. The last time a white guy won the 100-meter dash at the Olympics was in 1972, and he was a Russian. Meanwhile, East Africans in the border region of Ethiopia and Kenya are dominant from 800 meters to 10,000 meters. Anyone who bets against these genetic facts in an Olympic track event is going to lose his money — immediately in every event below 800 meters.

I know this much: the odds are long against a white guy’s winning either the 100-meter, 200-meter, or 400-meter races at next year’s Olympics. The odds are about as long as an AWB in the NFL: all white backfield. I could check the odds with Jimmy the Greek, but I don’t gamble.


This brings us to football. The speed factor plagues would-be black quarterbacks. They can run faster than white quarterbacks. They can also run faster than most white flankers, ends, and halfbacks.

A quarterback is not expected to run. A coach panics when his quarterback starts running all over the field. Some 300-pound tackle may crush him. There goes the season. Again, dredging up memories from my youth, I can remember seeing Roger Staubach running to and fro across the backfield, and then scoring touchdowns, but that was in 1963. He was a scrambler, and a great one, but in those days, there were very few 300-pound defensive linemen.

[Where do they get these people? Where were they in 1963, or 1933? I can remember when the Colts’ Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb was the giant in the NFL at 290 pounds. He was famous for his explanation of his work: “I grab a whole armful of guys with the other color jersey, and then I peel ’em off until I find the one with the ball.” He was the only player Jim Brown ever admitted being afraid of.]

Quarterbacks are supposed to do one thing: get rid of the ball. They have two preferred ways to do this: throw it to someone on the team who catches it, or else hand it off to someone on the team who eventually moves forward. They are not supposed to get rid of it while fumbling, especially under a 300-pound lineman.

Quarterbacks are specialists. They are not field goal kicker-level specialists, but surely specialists. In the backfield, they are the consummate specialists: get the ball, step back, get rid of the ball.

Specialists take years to learn their trade. This, basic economics tells us. This is true of quarterbacks. From junior high school through the pros, quarterbacks are always learning and then reviewing three basic skills: get the ball, step back, get rid of the ball.

Quarterbacks are regarded as team directors. So, it is politically incorrect to hint that blacks cannot play quarterback well. This somehow impugns their intelligence. Well, as far as I can remember, the only mental giant in pro football history was Frank Ryan, the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns four decades ago, who had a Ph.D. in math. I think he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation in topography, which means nothing to me. He said this skill had nothing to do with his throwing. I believed him then, and I still do. Quarterbacking requires sharp instincts and the ability to read defenses, but it’s not rocket science.

The problem that blacks face as quarterbacks is that they can run. A black kid shows up at some major university, and the coach thinks, “I need this kid as halfback. Or flanker. Or linebacker. And I need him this season.” Maybe the player can walk onto the field and start as a freshman. He cannot do this as a quarterback. The coach already has a quarterback — white — who has two or three years of experience, with at least one year on the bench.

The coach could of course plan ahead two years. He could put the kid on the bench and let him play back-up. But the coach is not going to start him this weekend if his white quarterback is not injured. Coaches have games to win this weekend. They have their careers to advance. They have positions to fill, and black quarterbacks tend to be able to run faster than white halfbacks.

Which position is the kid going to play?

Note to nay-sayers who use Steve McNair as an example of why my theory is wrong. He can run quite fast. Sorry. Find another example. He played at an all-black college. That is why you probably never saw him play in college. On his team, he was allowed to specialize. He went there because coaches at Miami and Mississippi wanted to play him as a defensive back. Alcorn State’s coach was the only coach who offered him a job at quarterback. He then set the all-time NCAA record in total offense (16,823 yards).

Coaches want to win the next game. They are not big risk-takers. So, they passed up on McNair — a coaches’ passing record if there ever was one.


I figure there will not be many black NFL quarterbacks over the next few years, unless they possess the unique skill that Warren Moon had. He was slow.

October 10, 2003

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.freebooks.com. For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click here.

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