Ernest Thomason, wide reciver for D-III Emory and Henry, heard the words for the first time in high school. A rangy wide receiver for Grundy County High in Tennessee, he heard them as he watched a local community television of his 8 catch, 118 yard performance early one Sunday morning.
"I'd just made an over-the-shoulder catch against a corner who later got a scholarship offer to Virginia. Nothing little, mind you. The announcer couldn't give me credit; he said I had..."
At this point, the tears come. They often do when he talks about that game. Thomason wipes them away with a few rubs of the same huge hands that cradle passes in easy catches like a fat man catching donuts from heaven. He stares into space composing himself, then speaks in deliberate tones as he says the words that burned him so deeply that night.
"He said I had 'deceptive speed,'" Thomason says, choking up again. "He might as well have called me a 'possession receiver.'"
Chris Doering: "deceptively fast."
Thomason is not alone in his pain, according to Mike Sembler, founder and spokesperson for the Caucasian Wide Receivers Association of America. The discrimination faced by Caucasian wide receivers everywhere follows a similar pattern in football.
“The story’s always the same. Possession receiver. Deceptive speed. Good blocker. White wide receivers are always discriminated against in the same terms. It’s a national problem, and we’re taking steps to fight this on its own terms.”
The CWRAA’s campaign—“Catch And Release:Getting Stereotypes on the Hook and Letting Go of Predjudice”—aims to fight discrimination by turning the tables on the conventional perceptions of white wide receivers versus their predominantly African American counterparts. The tools: a website, a dream, and a series of pamphlets Sembler hopes to distribute at high schools across the nation.
“Our favorite is the ‘Role Reversal exercise, where we try to turn the tables on conventional use of language in sports situations. What if we always described a black wide receiver as “speedy” or “athletic”? Or calling a Jewish running back “wily?” What if we let every tall white kid who couldn’t run a 4.4 get automatically put at second string tight end? Or god forbid, long snapper? We can’t let the Chris Doerings and Mike Hasses of the world get pigeonholed before they ever get get tackled on a nine-yard curl route."
Clemson English professor Dr. Anthony Marco thinks Sembler is onto a real phenomenon. He's even written a paper on it: "Gritty Team Players: Language, Race, and the Semantics of Oppression in Sport."
"We counted the number of times broadcasters, coaches, and journalists referred to white wide receivers in terms we consider stereotypical," said Marco in a phone interview Tuesday. "What we found was astonishing: over 83 percent of the time any statement was made it referred to the terms we consider to be a negative stereotype about 'white' wide receivers."
The list of terms used to describe wide receivers included:
--"Not the most talented guy in the world"
--"Slow-ass, tiny-penised, Bass Pro Shop sticker-havin' cracker zombie"
The CWRAA hopes to petition the FCC to ban these words during sports broadcasts. Activists like Dr. Marco and Mike Sembler say that they hope to save the next generation of lanky white athletes, but at least one casualty won't be coming back from the disabled list of athletes hurt by the harsh language of predjudice: Ernest Thompson, who left the Emory and Henry team shortly after being labeled "deceptively fast."
"I can't deal with it anymore," he said, lacing up his running shoes before practice, the sound of Coldplay playing on his stereo in the background. "I'm going to where I'm wanted, where I feel accepted. Some people say Ultimate Frisbee isn't a real sport, but I'd challenge them to come out and try to hang with us for thirty minutes." He smiles, pauses.
"And no one ever called me possession receiver out there."
A safe place for white wide receivers: Ultimate, man.