The Undefeated's Rhoden: Luck Embodied White Privilege, Blacks' 400-Year Struggle

September 3rd, 2019 10:00 PM

Frequent race-baiter William C. Rhoden saw the retirement of the Indianapolis Colts white quarterback Andrew Luck as part of the decline of white privilege. In the opinion of The Undefeated's writer-at-large and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, Luck was a "hedge" against the rising wave of black passers. Luck played in a mere 86 games in a six-year pro career, but he's emblematic of an endless battle that has defined black life in America for 400 years, Rhoden alleged.

In Luck's absence and despite persistent racism, the NFL's young black quarterbacks now have a chance "to cleanse the NFL’s murky past," Rhoden wrote. Luck’s retirement will hasten the process, he added:

"To many fans, Luck was seen, consciously or unconsciously, as a cultural hedge against this latest wave of black players, who threaten to make quarterbacks look like the largely black NFL secondaries and wide receiver groups. He was being counted on to take the torch from Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers as the face of the NFL. The white face."

Even though Seattle's Russell Wilson and Carolina's Cam Newton, both African-American, have accomplished more in their careers, Luck was "elevated to the pantheon of all-time great quarterbacks," Rhoden said. In other words, nothing has changed in race and sport in the U.S. in the past century:

"This is a critique of the latter-day incarnation of Jack London’s Great White Hope admonishment to Jim Jeffries that he save white honor by defeating Jack Johnson and take back the heavyweight boxing championship (in 1910)."

This mentality was due to the white-dominant sports media Rhoden has seen in his 40 years of writing. Along with "a largely white fan base that craves white heroes and mythology at a time when both are disappearing from our landscape," he wrote:

Quarterback has replaced the heavyweight belt as a marker of white manhood and whiteness in general. In an environment where white nationalism has become more open, Luck’s departure and the rise of black quarterbacks, for some, is another sign of eroding white privilege. There is already unbridled excitement around Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who checks several boxes: talented, tall, blond, white. It remains to be seen whether Lawrence can stand up under the weight of having to carry cultural hopes and aspirations.

Rhoden predicted that the NFL will fill the vacuum left by the retired white Colts' quarterback with "players who look different, who run differently and act differently from anything that has come before.

"Those who want to cling to the old status quo will discover that, alas, their luck has run out."

However, Rhoden's story included a contrary opinion by Jimmy Raye, a longtime football coach and the black quarterback of Michigan State's 1966 national championship team. Raye was not convinced that the new wave of black quarterbacks will be accepted by white fans "as long as racism is the dominant theme of our culture":

“I think the numbers will increase and tilt more toward minority quarterbacks than it did 20 years ago,” Raye told me recently. “But I don’t think it will ever be a full revolution of all the teams in the NFL having black quarterbacks. I find that hard to believe. I think the NFL will disintegrate before that happens.”


“I think the fans will switch their allegiance from Andrew Luck to the Baker Mayfields of the world,” Raye said, referring to the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback.

Raye expects white people to make one of the young white passers — Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Mayfield — the new hero.