And recent comments from conservative talk show host turned sports commentator Rush Limbaugh may prove that race is still a source of tension in the sport, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.
Sunday, Limbaugh took on Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is black
"I don't think he's been that good from the get-go," Limbaugh said. "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."
McNabb all but laughed it off.
"What was said was said," McNabb responded. "You guys make a decision if you feel it was racist."
But sportswriters across the country, both black and white, weighed in with disbelief and disgust.
"To say that there's a social concern and a belief to want black quarterbacks to do well is ludicrous," says Sports Illustrated's Roy Johnson.
Statistically McNabb has performed better in his first four seasons than future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks John Elway and Brett Farvre.
The debate over black quarterbacks isn't new. For decades, from little league to college, black boys were discouraged from playing the position. The thinking was, "They weren't smart enough to succeed," reports CBS' Pitts.
"I'm a football player. I'm gonna continue to play football with my skin color and, you know, and with my muscular build as you guys say," McNabb said, addressing reporters. "That was my dream to play in the NFL and I continue my dream."
McNabb's comment about his "muscular build" refers to a stereotype perpetuated by one-time CBS sportscaster Jimmy the Greek, who used to say black men made good football players because they were built like horses with big, muscular thighs.
When it hired Limbaugh, ESPN said it was looking for controversy and higher ratings. With viewership now up 10 percent, they got both. And tonight, in statements released by the network, they are standing by their man.