Player Profile: Mike Epstein
In the NFL, 70% of the player population is African American. More specifically, down to the position of runningback, there has only been one white player taken in the first round in the last 40 years: Christian McCaffery. For Mike Epstein, he finds himself in a rare, but interesting situation—a white halfback playing, and starting, for a Division-I university. There’s no secret that it’s different, and there is nothing wrong with that. Footballville Nation sat down to speak to the south Florida native about his career and the culture surrounding it, as well as the current social climate in the US.
Epstein is entering his senior year at Illinois coming off his 3rd injury of his collegiate career which kept him out of action for his entire junior year. This is Déjà vu for Epstein who missed his high school junior year as well due to a knee injury. For the past few years, he’s been on and off the injury list, but shows so much potential that he got the start and proved his worth on the field. As a freshman in college, he was “thrown into the fire” and gained the respect of his coaches and teammates immediately. From being a top-100 player at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Epstein is no stranger to immense success on the field. For Mike, he is currently residing down south, rehabbing and preparing for a season of dominance. He said in our interview, “It’s not about what happens. It’s about how you come back from it.”
Mike Epstein has always been good at football, but for a white runningback, his situation has always been a bit different. Dominating in a mostly African American sport, especially right now where there is social and political unrest in the nation. In the interview, Epstein said he felt a responsibility to be one with the culture but also to recognize racism and use his platform to make change. One thing that stood out in particular was the fact that he likened the game of football to the real world. “Here, we all have each other’s back. How it should be in the world… It’s like a small sample size of the real world… they accept me.”
I asked Mike how it was being a minority in his sport and position. He told me that he doesn’t see color and he encourages others to do the same. He is just a runningback and that’s all he wants to be seen as. At the same time, he stated that he realizes that there is social inequality outside of the game and that he needs to his part as well.
Mike Epstein is one of the humblest people that I have had the opportunity to interview. He speaks with a confidence and professionalism that you sometimes don’t even see at the next level. The only real weakness this young man has is his history of injuries. Fortunately for his teammates and coaches, he’s got the mentality and work ethic to rebound—and he always does.
His alma mater’s 2017 roster was filled with talent and Mike says they all do their best to keep contact. Names from the roster include Mike Harley, Drew White, and Zach Sweeney. Epstein comes from a school that is a direct pipeline to the NFL and he is looking to make his mark at the next level. He has a real shot at the next level with all of the tools and resources he has at his disposal. I can guarantee that Mike Epstein will be on television on Sundays.