Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Kickers in the NFL 1966 - Present: Final Prejudice or Rarest Athlete?


The lack of black kickers in the NFL, a league that's long been dominated by African American players, is one of the most perplexing sports anomalies of all time. The numbers are staggeringly low, so low they don't make sense and beg the question, how did this happen? (post updated April 2022)

The NFL has had 56 seasons since the Super Bowl era began in 1966. Roughly 60% of all NFL players have been black. Of the approx. 1,642 team roster spots for kickers during that time, only 14 spots have been held by 5 black kickers.

Incredibly, just 5 black kickers have played since 1966. Gene Mingo kicked for the '67 Dolphins and Redskins plus the Steelers for '69-'70. Donald Igweibuike kicked for the Buccaneers '85-'89 and Vikings in '90. Obed Ariri played one season for both the Bucs '84 and Redskins '87. Then there was Cedric Oglesby (Cardinals '01) and most recently Justin Medlock (Chiefs '07 and Panthers '12).

5 kickers with brief careers.
This does not include Chad Johnson's preseason extra point in 2009. It also does not include Lonnie Perrin, who did part-time kickoff duty for Denver ('76-'78) and Washington ('79) but did not attempt any known field goals in the NFL (added via comments).

To keep it simple, look at the phenomena from the beginning of the Super Bowl era until now, or from the 1966-67 season onward. That means this conversation post-dates Cookie Gilchrist, who primarily played fullback and never kicked field goals or PATs beyond 1962.

Also note that place-kicking and punting are different positions. Though this post is on kicking, the number of black punters in NFL history is almost as bizarre in rarity. ESPN's Scott Ostler said, "Equally few African American punters have secured regular-season NFL jobs -- most notably Greg Coleman and the late Reggie Roby, who between them kicked for seven different NFL teams over 12- and 16-year careers, respectively. (Since then, several black punters have played including Marquette King, Pressley Harvin III and Corliss Waitman.)

This is how the game has expanded from 24 teams to 32, including both the AFL and NFL from 1966-70 and the NFL since:

1966 - 24 teams
1967 - 25 teams
1968 - 26 teams (1970 AFL and NFL merged to NFL)
1976 - 28 teams
1995 - 30 teams
1999 - 31 teams
2002 - 32 teams

The minimum number of kickers needed, assuming just one kicker per team per year, for this 56 year period would be (24)+(25)+(26*8)+(28*19)+(30*4)+(31*3)+(32*20) = 1,642 kickers. This does not mean that many have played, just that there have been 1,642 team roster spots for kickers for those years.

If over half of all NFL players have been black, one might assume about half, or 821, of the kicking spots would be held by black players. The odds of having so few are astronomical. It's like flipping a coin 1,642 times and having it land on tails only 14 times.

Even historically black colleges and universities primarily have had, and continue to have, white and Latino kickers. Those exact stats are difficult to get, but the trend remains. What might explain this? 

During the 70s and 80s very few QBs were black. Those days are long gone thankfully. Then there were few head coaches but fortunately that's changed too; there were 7 black head coaches in 2011 alone. So what gives with the kickers? Why has this position remained so white and Latino?

Here are the main opinions to explain this that I've heard over the decades:

1. Black athletes don't want to play kicker. Hey, some athletes want to play the game, period. If a kid can't make the team at receiver, linebacker or another position, they might try for kicker if they have talent, and potentially go on to college or pro ball if they can.

2. Kickers don't get any respect. Historically kickers have been smaller or less athletic than other players, though it's ridiculous not to respect the kicker. It's how the game starts and often how it ends. Every team wants a strong kicker for the option of long field goals. If kickers still don't get respect, then there is something wrong with the mindset of NFL players, coaches and fans. And even yet, how would a lack of respect separate the races for a job?

3. Kickers don't make good money in the NFL. This used to be truer decades ago than it is today. In comparison to how much the other positions made on average, yes, kickers often made less. But the average kicker makes great money now and has for a while. In 2013 Sebastian Janikowski signed a 4 year, $16 million contract with the Raiders. Even way back in 1967 the average kicker pay was around $10,000 (about half that of the other positions) which was still decent money for a part-time job.


4. Most of the kickers played soccer first. Blacks don't play soccer. Again, this used to be truer decades ago but isn't true anymore. Approx. 25% of the MLS is black. Many have been stars on the USMNT including Altidore, Beasley, Zardes and others. Additionally, kickers can come from foreign countries, where soccer is king. Donald Igwebuke and Obed Ariri came from Nigeria, but why haven't others? African nations are full of soccer players as well as Brazil, Columbia, England, France, Germany and more. Why haven't more of these kids come to the NFL or been recruited?

5. Kickers aren't seen as that important. This is an older mindset but perhaps still active, which is ironic since kickers make up the bulk of the all-time leading scorers. The top leading scorers in NFL history played as place kickers. The highest scoring non-kicker of all time is Jerry Rice at #38 with 1,256 points. After Rice, Emmitt Smith is #58 as the second highest non-kicker with 1,052 points. (However, QB's aren't credited points per touchdown pass, so factor that in. If they were, Tom Brady would top the list.)



It would appear this may be due to a lingering position prejudice that has been difficult to kick, pun intended. It's not my intention to offend anyone; it just seems to be the biggest anomaly in sports. Whether this has to do with a deep, hidden and perhaps subconscious agenda to keep kickers white or Latino by coaches and players, then that's a strange possibility to explain it. Sounds bizarre but not the worst theory on why this has happened.

This trend is probably about to end. The kids out there certainly can do it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.
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25 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:40 AM

    Very interesting observation, Jason. Worth noting, too, that Obed Ariri was only on the '87 Redskins as a replacement player during the NFL players' strike.

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  2. :-) My alma mater made history with the first woman (Ashley Martin) to play and score in a Division I football game a few years back. You can search for "jacksonville state university female kicker" to see the story. Go Gamecocks!!! :-)

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    Replies
    1. Ashley lives in my town, married a childhood friend of mine. Her son and mine are pals.she is super cool and not what you would expect a female kicker to act or look like...at all.

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  3. Anonymous2:10 PM

    Most blacks are not physically made up to be NFL kickers, in the "best of the best" category. Just anatomy

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous9:14 AM

      Huh? They have two legs, don't they?

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    2. Anonymous2:08 PM

      Bahahshahs

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    3. are you fucking serious?

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  4. Add Lonnie Perrin to your list, a running back for the Broncos '76-'78 who doubled as a place kicker.

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    Replies
    1. I'd be happy to but can't find evidence that Lonnie Perrin kicked in any games. His stats only show rushing, receiving and return numbers with nothing in the FG or XPT attempts or made: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/P/PerrLo00.htm

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    2. Anonymous12:47 PM

      from Mrs. Lonnie Perrin. Lonnie kicked off in and kicked punts in Denver and Washingon. He also kicked a 52-yeard field goal aat the University of Illionois. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=lonnie+perrin+images&view=detailv2&&id=14E3E4D5AE70D2C96D4928A00FFA50577A993DE9&selectedIndex=2&ccid=PfzArYUU&simid=607986393309907629&thid=OIP.M3dfcc0ad85142b52bb9e632e04bf2b0ao0&ajaxhist=0

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    3. Anonymous12:51 PM

      His being a running back and kicker was a recent Jeopardy question.

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    4. Anonymous12:53 PM

      Here's another photo http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Lonnie+Perrin+Football+Photos&view=detailv2&&id=2D2593F6892D9896DC73736DB6AE851CE2BF6226&selectedIndex=0&ccid=JRBLrl%2fs&simid=608019095177528724&thid=OIP.M25104bae5fecc1c5516054ac54e4abfeo0&ajaxhist=0

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  5. Replies
    1. Joe Roby? You might be thinking of Reggie Roby, who was a punter and is listed in the paragraph where it mentions the difference between punting and kicking.

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  6. Anonymous5:07 PM

    Here is a crazy idea how about maybe just maybe black people aren't good as kickers

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    Replies
    1. I don't believe that's true, but I can see why you might come to that conclusion based on the statistics. My feeling is that anyone who can rip a shot with a soccer ball from distance should be able to kick a football, and there are millions of black soccer players in other parts of the world and more in the US all the time.

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    2. If a black athlete is good enough to be a kicker they're most likely even better at a more athletic, and physically demanding position.

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  7. Anonymous8:36 PM

    Vikings had a black punter in the 70s.

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    Replies
    1. Kicking and punting are different positions. The article addresses that.

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  8. The Vikings black punter was Greg Coleman from Florida A&M University

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  9. You kinda answered your own question. Blacks are generally more athletic, Therfore more of them are playing other positions. Soccer players that play football are usually not athletic enough to progress in soccer. So an athletic black soccer player stays a soccer player.

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  10. I was a kicker in high school and there were a couple schools you were predominantly black schools that were in our league. Now I am half Italian and half Hispanic, so I'd like to point out that it is actually super common for minorities to be kickers. But these two schools both almost always had black kickers, but they also played other positions, usually on offense and defense. They were good athletes so they went on to play football at the junior college level, just at the other positions. I remember specifically one playing linebacker, the other playing wide receiver. So my take on this is not they don't want to kick because with most players, any player, that I played with everyone wants to at least try and kick, but when it comes to playing at the next level, they do not want to ONLY kick.

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  11. Yes this is a strange thing indeed. However, no more strange than the swimming thing. I recently visited Africa and found that water sports are as big as soccer. Soccer is all about kicking and not only kicking but precise kicking. The argument that Blacks don't want that job is laughable, the same as Blacks can't swim.

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  12. The calf muscle plays a huge role in the physics of sports. Blacks (IN GENERAL) have smaller higher placed calf muscles that help in jumping and running. Whites have thicker lower placed calf muscles that help in kicking and powerlifting. White men can't jump, black men can't kick. Nothing to do with skin color, everything to do with physics.

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  13. Furthermore for American Football, the barrier to entry is high due to it's cost to equip all players with pads and gear, and therefor has also been slow to adopt in many foreign countries, especially of the poorer variety. norwich city

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