Blacks Remain Invisible at the Kicker Position
Published: Friday, October 16, 2009
Updated: Friday, October 16, 2009 08:10
Since the establishment of the National Football League (NFL) in 1922, blacks have been able to participate. However, nearly 90 years later, there is one position where blacks have failed to make any imprints -- place kicker.
African Americans have made major contributions on the gridiron, entering the professional Football Hall of Fame as running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends and even quarterbacks.
With the NFL being 70 percent black, the assumption would be that there are a significant number of African-American kickers, but that is not the case. Currently, there are no black kickers in the league.
Granted, Chad Ochocinco, the wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, kicked an extra point and won the game against the New England Patriots this August. However, that was a preseason game and place kicker is not Ochocinco's official position.
The question of why there are no black place kickers in the NFL has been posed to athletes, football coaches, students and even a Washington Redskin. This question takes on more relevance at the Mecca, which has developed a few offensive and defensive players who have moved on to the professional ranks and is legendary for developing leaders in America.
Ironically, even at Howard and a few other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs), the place kickers are white.
Howard's kicker Dennis Wiehberg, who has been playing that position here since the 2006 season, has been kicking for the past 7 years. Wiehberg grew up in Germany where soccer was his main sport. "I think most kickers have played soccer in some point of their life," he said.
Although at the beginning of Wiehberg's football career his position was receiver, he says that died down quickly and he soon returned to what he loved, which was kicking. Despite being on a predominately black team at a predominately black school, Wiehberg doesn't feel out of place.
"Football transcends all of that," Wiehberg said. "In addition to that, I could never wrap my head around the American conception of race or ethnicity. It's just foreign to me."
Phillip Daniels, defensive end for the Washington Redskins, said the kicker is just not a position of choice for most black players. "We don't want to kick the ball," Daniels said. "We like contact; we like sports where we can hit people. We play main positions where we can run the ball."
Daniels explains how training also plays a big role in what position a player decides to pursue. When players are very young and participating in little leagues, especially in most urban communities, soccer is not a very popular sport.
"Most of the kickers play soccer; most blacks don't really play soccer," he said.
Howard's head football coach, Carey Bailey, was at a loss for words when asked the whereabouts of black kickers in the football league and even at the collegiate level. "I honestly can't remember a black kicker," he said while pondering with another coach attempting to come up with names. Reggie Roby, Donald Igwebuike and Vince Coleman are some players that the two were able to recall, but Bailey added that, "most blacks just don't care [about place kicking]."
Some people may think race plays a big role and that blacks aren't given the opportunity to play as kickers, because whites and other ethnicities have excelled at the position.
"That position you give to soccer people," Coach Bailey said. "You'll see several [black kickers] in the conferences, but then that trend will change. You just don't see a lot of recruitment. They are far and few between."
Edward Lyles, sophomore journalism major, believes kicking isn't the route most black kids used when taking out their aggression, so it wasn't something they wanted to do.
"We usually don't go down the street kicking stuff when we're mad," Lyles said. "Therefore we never develop that skill. However, when I was younger and I was mad at my little brother, I'd much rather slam him to the ground than kick him. Now that's fun."
Whether blacks never learned the proper skills at a young enough age, or the kicker position doesn't offer enough full body contact to satisfy occassional aggression, the fact still remains that there are no black kickers today in the NFL and there appears to be no initiatives under way to change this reality.