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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

SEEMAN: The ‘race’ for Madden cover is on

Peyton Hillis is white.

That’s not worth talking about on its own merits. There are plenty of white people. As Marquette students, we should know that well.

What is worth talking about is what he does for a living. He’s an NFL running back, and a really good one at that. He had 1,177 rushing yards, good for 10th in the league, and only five players had more than his 11 rushing touchdowns last season.

As the Cleveland Browns’ best player — not a difficult distinction to earn — the people at EA Sports who produce the Madden video game franchise put him on the ballot as the team’s representative in the fan vote to decide who would grace the cover for the 2012 edition.

They put him down as a 10-seed in their tournament, counting on him to get eliminated by one of the odds-on favorites, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan or Green Bay quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Instead, Hillis bulldozed his way through the competition the way he bulldozes through linebackers on Sundays, and he’s now set to face off against Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick in the final vote.

The sociological nature of the vote is fascinating.

We want to believe that sports are colorblind, that the racial tension that exists in everyday life (you’re lying to yourself if you claim it doesn’t) is non-existent on the gridiron, the baseball diamond or the basketball court.

Obviously, it doesn’t take long to find evidence to the contrary.

In this case, we have a rare role reversal. It’s the white person who’s fighting for recognition in the almost-exclusively black world of NFL running backs.

In my experience in classes concerned with media representation, white peers seem largely unsympathetic toward minorities’ push for equal representation in media. They’re the people who argue against affirmative action or the NFL’s “Rooney rule,” which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate during a head coaching search.

With the tables turned in this way, it gives those white folks the chance to see what the other side of the representation coin feels like.

Not surprisingly, people — whom I’m willing to bet are overwhelmingly white — have been going to ESPN by the truckload to vote for Hillis, just like blacks went to the polls in 2008 and cast ballot after ballot for Barack Obama.

Maybe I’m stretching in comparing a vote for a video game cover to a presidential election, but it’s easy enough to see how the voting patterns might be similar. White people want to be able to go to the media and show their kids that a white person can become an NFL running back, just like black people want to be able to go to the media and show their kids that a black person can become an American president.

Don’t underestimate the importance of Hillis beating out Ryan and Rodgers on his way to the final, either. Whiteness is the norm at quarterback.

But white running backs? They’re the NFL’s aurora borealis. Only one other white running back registered in the top 50 in rushing yardage last season, New England’s Danny Woodhead — who, incidentally, had a strong showing himself in the Madden cover voting.

The dueling racial novelties — a white running back versus a black quarterback — add another intriguing dimension to this vote that the people at EA and ESPN probably never expected.

I don’t want to say a racial breakdown of this vote would serve as an accurate gauge of the current state of race relations in this country. It could just as easily serve as a gauge of Cleveland loyalty against Philadelphia loyalty.

But you have to admit you’d be interested to see what that breakdown would look like.

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