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Toby Gerhart’s Race to the NFL

May 26, 2010

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Meet Toby Gerhart, the newest running back of the Minnesota Vikings, the All-American kid whose dreams came true when the Vikings selected him with the 51st overall pick in April’s NFL draft. As a senior at Stanford he finished 2nd in the Heisman Trophy voting after compiling 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns. The guy is no slouch in the classroom either; according to Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gerhart’s 21-credit class load last fall included “integral calculus, high technology entrepreneurship, introduction to optimization, investment science, and introduction to archaeology.” Did I mention he went to Stanford?

Another, and more obvious, detail about Toby Gerhart’s life is the fact that he is white. The color of his skin should mean about as much as the color of his socks, but unfortunately, race continues to be an issue in sports as well as society as a whole. Leading up to the NFL draft Gerhart was asked by a prospective employer how he felt about being a “white running back.”

“One team I interviewed with asked me about being a white running back,” Gerhart says. “They asked if it made me feel entitled, or like I felt I was a poster child for white running backs. I said, ‘No, I’m just out there playing ball. I don’t think about that.’ I didn’t really know what to say.”

Not only is this line of questioning reprehensible, it exemplifies the thoughts of many NFL executives, writers, commentators, and fans. Why is a white player always compared to another white player? Why is a black player always compared to another black player? Are television commentators, sportswriters, and fans afraid they might be called racist if they compare a white player to a black player or vice-versa?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that Toby Gerhart has the potential to be a pretty good football player. When you watch him run, he actually looks like one of his teammates (and I’m not talking about Albert Young). He is a shifty, powerful runner who is able to find that extra gear in the open field.

Do I think he is the next Adrian Peterson? Probably not. Do I think he might be the next Michael Turner or Frank Gore? I don’t see why not.

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