I love the NFL Draft. Watching film, finding strengths and possible scheme fits is part of what I love writing about. Each year, hundreds of draft-eligible players head to postseason workouts, combines, and pro days is what keeps the NFL young. Like Ponce de Leon’s search for the fountain of youth, teams thrive off rookie players. Unless you’re a Black quarterback. No other ethnically specific position endures more scrutiny and simmering bigotry than the Black quarterback. As mentioned, I love the NFL Draft. However, I despise the process surrounding Black quarterbacks.
Growing up in the eighties, the idea of the Black NFL quarterback didn’t seem embraced by large pockets of front offices and fanbases. Names like Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham seemed like the exception instead of the rule. Yet, I always took time to watch Moon and Cunningham. I remember talking to my father about the lack of Black quarterbacks. he said: You know, they’re never going to let us lead all of these teams. you know why” I was ten. I really did know why. Even after Doug Williams lead Washington to the Super Bowl, the dearth of Black signalcallers became glaring.
“You Know Why”
In life, stereotypes and preconceived notions remain the toughest obstacles to climb for Black athletes. While teams directly control their careers, the media needs to assume culpability for building the ignorant foundation with fans. From Al Campanis to Jimmy The Greek to Nolan Nawrocki, saying/writing stereotypical comments damages the Black player in the eyes of the fan. Then, as generations age, the comments are heralded as fact in some circles. Why? Lazy, bigoted stereotypes generate attention, clicks, and downloads. On top of that, it plays into the base of Americans that believe that Black players are not smart enough to play quarterback in the NFL.
This week, NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky decided to chime in about Ohio State QB Justin Fields. Couching his statements in ” what he’s heard”, Orlovsky questioned Fields’ work ethic and desire. Now, that is not to say that criticism isn’t fair on its face. Jamarcus Russell is still running his 40-yard dash from the Combine. However, it was how Orlovsky delivered the comments. By not definitively giving his opinion, and passive-aggressively stating someone’s words, he fed the ” lazy Black athlete” narrative. Later, Orlovsky backpedaled, but the damage was done. If he didn’t know for sure the depth of Justin Fields’ worth ethic resides, why speak. Then again, he did heap effusive praise on Carson Wentz, and we know how that turned out.
Perhaps the modern lightning rod for unfair stereotyping is Cam Newton. Coming out of Auburn, Newton’s athleticism and electric play style captivated many. On the other hand, Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki took a different tact. In 2011, Nawrocki wrote this:
“Newton has a track record as a non-dependable, non-trustworthy, fake rah rah leader at a very key leadership position, he could really struggle to win a locker room. He projects as a top 15 pick in this year’s draft, but he is still very much a project. In five years, don’t be surprised if he is looking for another job.”
Facts Over Fiction
Aside from Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers loved Newton as their quarterback and face of their franchise. Next, he leads them to a Super Bowl appearance, while winning an MVP award. Also, he played nine seasons in Charlotte. Additionally, as a Patriot, the team re-signed him. If you know anything about how Bill Belichick operates, you know he doesn’t suffer fools or divas. As a result, everything Nolan Nawrocki stated about Cam Newton was demonstrably false. Few players lead their teams on and off the field as well.
While Nawrocki’s Newton assessment remained a profile in failure, he’s not alone. We all know, TV commentator Skip Bayless. Bayless is the godfather of the loud, hot take machine that enveloped sports. In 2014, the Cleveland Browns drafted Johnny Manziel. Bayless exploded with joy and over-the-top love. Johnny Manziel washed out of the NFL at age 23. Plus, his lawyers settled a domestic violence case, involving his former girlfriend. Eight NFL starts, a CFL failure, and bouncing around smaller leagues. Where’s the outrage? Can we see other White quarterbacks held to the Manziel standard?
Do Your Job
While I am no fan of the Patriots, see Tuck Rule, I respect their mantra. I implore NFL draft analysts and talking head types because of the draft, so they need to actually do their jobs better. If a prospect struggles, put your name on your opinion. To use modern vernacular, say it with your chest. None of this anonymous scout/personnel executive foolery. Hiding under the cloak of anonymity, while costing players money feels rather ignoble. The NFL media/draft machine needs to seriously examine and change how they evaluate all prospects. Falling into stereotypes is lazy.