Is the Wonderlic Test Racist?


There has been ample press about Morris Claiborne scoring a four out of 50 on the Wonderlic Test. Since the revelation, Claiborne has admitted he blew off the test only answering 10-12 of the questions. Aside from the character assassination that has taken place against he and other low scoring African American players, the test does little more than to further accepted beliefs about African American athletes.

For those who are not familiar with the Wonderlic Test, let me explain it briefly to you. It is an intelligence test used to assess the aptitude of prospective employees.  It consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in 12 minutes. A score of 20 is intended to indicate average intelligence and a score of at least 10 points suggests a person is literate.

Now you may be saying to yourself, ok what is the problem with that? First off keep in mind these tests are administered during the scouting combine where these draftees are under enormous pressure to perform well physically. They must run, jump, make cuts, catch balls, throw balls, etc, then they are interviewed for hours and asked the most embarrassing, offensive and ridiculous questions about everything from their on field playing ability to their off field personal lives (some players have said they were asked if they liked girls…what does that have to do with football?). Then they must take this test and answer 50 questions in 12 minutes…I don’t know about you, but I do not perform well on timed tests. It has nothing to do with my IQ has been tested at 126 so I’m a pretty smart person, but something about the timing part gets me rattled. So imagine being given an intelligence test AFTER you’ve just been running around a field all day.

Second of all, the Wonderlic Test has nothing to do with football. None of the questions are directly related to the game at all.  Its use, to test the cognitive ability of a player to determine if he is suitable to play in the NFL, is ridiculous. The test is notoriously biased against African Americans who consistently have lower test scores on it. Now you may say how can a test that doesn’t know the race of the people taking it be biased? Well let’s see. Let’s say a test shows a picture of a bathroom with a number of sinks in it. Let’s say the question asked is phrased “How many basins are in this lavatory?” Depending on where you were raised and the schooling you received you may have never heard of a basin let alone a lavatory. So how do you answer this question properly if you’re not sure what is being asked? Thus the problem with so called intelligence test.


The Wonderlic Test is a prime example of the “intelligent” versus “athletic” argument when comparing African Americans and Caucasians in sports. That black athletes are naturally superior athletes physically while white athletes are naturally more intelligent. Read through articles on Caucasian players and they are most likely referred to as, smart, quick study, reads the field well while African American players are said to be athletic, naturally more physically gifted, etc. It creates a great disparage between the positions that players are thought to be capable of playing. This also plays into the reasoning for the void in coaching and the front office. If African Americans are thought to be less intelligent and incapable of leading, how can you possibly have them as the head coach or general manager? Currently there are only three African American head coaches in the NFL and ZERO African American general managers.

This issue has been a major barrier that African-American quarterbacks face the most as part of the reason to discredit them as being capable of handling the field general position and it stems from the increased use of the Wonderlic intelligence test. Michael Callans, President of Wonderlic Consulting, advances the popular argument that:

“They need the intelligence to think on their feet, evaluate all of their options and understand the impact their actions will have on the outcome of the game.” Wonderlic helps team owners make the best selections by identifying which players have the mental strength to lead their team to victory.”

This belief has been prevalent since at least the 1970s when Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys became the first NFL head coach to screen for players using the Wonderlic Personnel Test. Landry was looking for a tool to calculate intelligence and draw a parallel between that and performance. In the ensuing years since its introduction, the Wonderlic has become a key performance gauge for many NFL teams. Though most prospective NFL players are put through the test, those players in strategic (read white) positions are scrutinized more closely.

NFL scouts believe that the test will help them identify quarterbacks that will understand NFL playbooks quicker and identify quarterbacks that make better decisions. Generally speaking, a score in the mid-twenties is considered acceptable for a prospective NFL quarterback and most teams admit they are looking for a quarterback to score around a 24.

These high expectations have acted as an imposing intelligence barrier for African-American quarterbacks who, as an ethnic group, have historically had a tough time meeting this standard and thus were discounted from consideration by some NFL teams due to a lack of perceived intelligence. There were few black quarterbacks, the argument went, that had the mental capacity to succeed on the test and therefore on the field. The failure of African-American quarterbacks to meet the lofty mid-twenties standard has spawned criticism of the whole procedure.

The traditional argument against the Wonderlic has been that it, like all aptitude tests, was culturally biased and therefore systemically set up to ensure that black athletes receive lower scores. Still, because it remains the only indisputable method of measuring intelligence, the Wonderlic continues to be used by NFL teams. As a consequence, because of the reasons stated above, it seems black quarterbacks will generally continue to score lower on the Wonderlic than their white counterparts and will be shunned due to a low score and “low intelligence”.

One only has to look around the NFL to see how many African American college quarterbacks were moved to the wide receiver position once they reached the league to know how this perceived lack of intelligence can hurt an African American’s chance of playing the most key position on the field. To make matters worse, ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd defended the use of the Wonderlic Test on his radio show saying that the test “is not only a predictor of on-field success, but is also a predictor for off-field behavior.” He points out that wide receivers, defensive backs, defensive linemen and linebackers are arrested the most. Not surprisingly these positions are the ones that are mostly likely filled by African Americans.  This again plays into the stereotype that African American athletes are naturally more deviant, violent and unruly.

None of the Wonderlic questions directly concern football-related conditions. Thus, they don’t test “football-related” scenarios. The NFLs’ own coaches can’t defend the claim that it tests “football intelligence” yet that’s the image being communicated by much of the media and some NFL teams. If a player scores poorly on it, they, like Morris Claiborne, Patrick Peterson or AJ Green, are branded as not football smart, an absurd notion to anyone who has seen any of these players on the field. Regardless of the other tools used to evaluate personnel, the Wonderlic is the one most talked about by the NFL. It’s also the one that more often than not is used to discredit a player in the public eye. Thus, its damage can be extensive and extremely detrimental.

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