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I have examined the records of active quarterbacks who have been playing in the NFL for at least three seasons and made a list of the 10 highest Lifetime Quarterback Ratings (see table, above). As there was a tie for tenth place, there are 11 quarterbacks on the list. The table also includes the Wonderlic test score for each player. All eleven of those players are white. |
I also made a list of the seven best active black quarterbacks who have played three or more seasons. Three of them (Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Vince Young) have been much ballyhooed in the press because of some spectacular plays. The others are less spectacular but are consistent performers with good Quarterback Ratings. All seven are included in Table 1. The data for each of the 18 players are also shown in a scatter diagram (see figure, next page).
Even a cursory glance at the scatter diagram makes it clear that there is a relationship between a quarterback’s intelligence as measured by his score on the Wonderlic test and his performance as measured by his Lifetime Quarterback Rating. A more precise measure of that relationship — or between any two sets of numerical data involving the same individuals — is provided by the linear correlation coefficient between them, usually abbreviated r.
Donovan McNabb is a better player than would be suggested by his Wonderlic score alone. He and David Garrard are outliers in the sense that their Lifetime QB ratings are considerably higher than would be suggested by their test scores.
Statisticians define r by a formula according to which the value of r can never be greater than 1.00, nor less than -1.00. A positive value of r means that as the value of one quantity increases the value of the other quantity tends to increase also; a negative value means that as one quantity increases the other tends to decrease. A value of + 1.00 or of - 1.00 (perfect correlation) means that the data points on a scatter diagram lie in a perfectly straight line, so that knowledge of one quantity enables a perfect prediction of the exact value of the other quantity. If the value of one quantity has no effect at all on the other quantity, then r = 0.00, and the two sets of data are uncorrelated.
For the sixteen players, a correlation calculation shows that Wonderlic scores and Quarterback Ratings are positively correlated, with r = 0.75. This is a very high correlation, and suggests that a quarterback’s intelligence substantially affects his performance.
This is not surprising, since quarterbacking is perhaps the most cerebral position in football, or perhaps in any sport. A quarterback has to be familiar with more than 100 different plays (including blocking assignments and the routes of pass receivers). He must be able to see which possible receivers are too closely guarded by defensive players, and which ones can be thrown to safely. He must be able to recognize different defenses, and to adjust accordingly. When defensive players rush in on him, a quarterback must be able to decide whether to try a risky pass (which might be intercepted), or to throw the ball away (where it cannot be intercepted), or to simply accept being tackled for a loss while avoiding a costly fumble. He may have only seconds or fractions of seconds to make these decisions. Experience helps, but natural intelligence is important.
Of course, high intelligence alone will not make a good quarterback. Size, strength, and speed are necessary. No one thinks that if only he had practiced enough, Albert Einstein could have become a good NFL quarterback.
Could the relatively unimpressive performance of black quarterbacks therefore be due to inferior physical ability? That is theoretically possible. Although Asians have somewhat higher IQs than whites, there are no Asian quarterbacks in the NFL, probably because they are smaller than whites. In fact, however, black quarterbacks are not inferior to whites in size, strength, or speed. Most of them are physically very impressive.
For example, Donovan McNabb, who was the second player selected in the 1999 draft, is 6’2” tall, very strong, and hard to tackle. Vince Young is 6’5” tall, with a superb athletic build, and was the third player and the first quarterback chosen in the 2006 draft. Michael Vick, who was the first player selected in the 2001 draft, is probably the fastest quarterback ever to play in the NFL, and has repeatedly made dazzling plays. Many of the white quarterbacks in the NFL are also superb physical specimens, but on average the black quarterbacks are at least their equal, and perhaps superior. Nor is there any evidence that black quarterbacks do not perform as well as whites because of a lack of physical courage.
The real differences seems to be in intelligence. The average Wonderlic score of the leading black quarterbacks is only 18.6, which is equivalent to an IQ of just over 97, whereas the average Wonderlic score of the leading white quarterbacks is 30.2, which is equivalent to an IQ of slightly over 120. This means that the top white quarterbacks have, on average, IQs that are 23 points higher than the top black quarterbacks. Indeed, with the exception of Ben Roethlisberger, whose Wonderlic score of 25 is equaled by that of black quarterback Byron Leftwich, every one of the white quarterbacks on the list has a higher IQ than any of the black quarterbacks.
In sports, as in life, IQ counts for a lot.
Professor Hart is the author of Understanding Human History.