While it’s true that African-American players make up about seven out of every 10 NFL players, it’s also true that they often play certain positions while white players dominate others. This is often the case with quarterbacks, and it’s even more prevalent when it comes to kickers.
The case of Pressley Harvin
The Undefeated recently looked into the lack of diversity at punter. They spoke with a college kicker, Pressley Harvin, about the issue of diversity. He was asked what it was like to be a black kicker in a position where people like him are increasingly rare. He spoke candidly about it.
“At [kicking] camps, it’d be, ‘That’s the black kid who can play,’ ” Harvin said. “I was really about the only one, so I got noticed a lot quicker, but I didn’t want to just be known as the only black kid. I wanted to be known by my name.”
Although there are nearly 900 scholarships at the position, Harvin and Oregon State’s Caleb Lightbourn are currently the only two black kickers in college football. While other non-white and non-American kickers exist, many find this curious given the diversity of the sport. In the NFL, things are no better.
Black kickers in the NFL
Marquette King is the most recent black punter or kicker in the NFL. He played for the Oakland Raiders for six years before joining the Denver Broncos in 2018. After a thigh injury, the punter was released. Now King plays for the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL.
As USA Today explains, being an NFL punter may be the most forgotten job in football. It’s hard to break in. Unlike quarterbacks or even field-goal kickers, there aren’t many statistical ways to track a punter other than whether they keep it in bounds and how far they can kick on command.
As the first black punter in the NFL in 1977, former Minnesota Viking Greg Coleman forged a bond with King. He spoke with USA Today about how hard it is to become an NFL punter. One reason he gave involved economic differences. Coleman explained that punters who do not break into the league quickly are not paid well and often must fall back on other jobs.
There are exceptions, like King, Coleman, and former punter Reggie Roby, but the statistics speak for themselves. Those who wait it out often have a financial cushion to rely on in the process. But those unable to seek out the position get left behind, even if they’re talented enough to fulfill the niche position.
Economics or bias for NFL kickers?
The Undefeated dove deeper into Coleman’s claim. There is evidence to support his claims that punters need a financial cushion to make it in the NFL full-time. However, there’s also an issue of bias. High schools and junior leagues across the U.S. have black kickers, yet when Harvin visited them, he was often an anomaly.
A process of elimination often determines specialty positions like punters. There is a portrait of a punter or kicker that coaches and general managers have. Everette Pearsall of the National Alliance of African-American Athletes discussed how the prototypical kicker has become so white.
“The skill positions are so much more enticing to kids who get into sports, and no one, especially not in African American communities, is stressing that a kid can develop kicking skills,” Pearsall said. “It’s a process of elimination as opposed to finding the most talented kid.”
Pearsall states that white kids are often pushed toward these positions while skill players are expected to have the physical gifts. Whether teams at all levels realize they are feeding stereotypes, there is an elephant in the room that has not yet been discussed.
Perhaps, Harvin will get his shot in the NFL. If he does, he’ll join an exclusive group of black punters. Until football looks into this, however, nothing will change.