Black Quarterbacks Have Come So Far, Yet Have So Far To Go
Jeremiah Short, The Current Voice
Marlin Briscoe was the first. But he wasn’t the last. A black player to start at quarterback in pro football, that is.
In the 45 years since Briscoe started for the Denver Broncos, the black quarterback has come a long way. James Harris became the first black quarterback to make a Pro Bowl in 1974. Warren Moon broke passing records. Randall Cunningham became the “Ultimate Weapon.” Doug Williams won a Super Bowl. Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper changed the NFL in the 2000’s. And with Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Josh Freeman, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick leading a new wave of young, black signal callers, the negative perception that black quarterbacks once battled has disappeared.
Or so we thought.
Nolan Nawrocki, Pro Football Weekly’s senior editor, critique of Geno Smith in the publication’s annual NFL Draft preview reminded everyone that the perception of black quarterbacks hasn’t changed all that much. At least to some.
“Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence — does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor — no urgency. Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic. Interviewed poorly at the Combine and did not show an understanding of concepts on the white board. Opted not to compete at the Senior Bowl and has approached offseason training as if he has already arrived and it shows in his body with minimal muscle definition or strength. Has small hands and glaring ball security issues (32 career fumbles). Really struggled handling the snow in Pinstripe Bowl (took two safeties) and will be troubled by the elements. Needed to be coddled in college — cannot handle hard coaching.”
“A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities.”
Scathing doesn’t begin to describe this critique. Character assassination more accurately describe it.
Nawrocki’s apologetic critique of Matt Barkley–a white, top rated quarterback in the 2013 draft–brings his criticism of Smith further into question.
“Has short arms and average grip strength (student manager was fired for deflating balls). Does not snap it quickly and spiral is not tight. Heavy-footed and cannot improvise or create with his feet. Cannot easily manipulate his arm and throwing platform under duress and the ball dies when he can’t step into it. Does not drive the ball down the field with high RPMs. Not quick-eyed — many throws are pre-determined at the line, and he will hold the ball too long on some progressions. Can be streaky (see Washington). Never beat Stanford’s pro-style defense in four years.”
“A cool, confident, rhythm passer who suffered as a senior behind a leaky, injured offensive line that left little time to throw. Looked much more comfortable as a junior with an elite left tackle. Is slow-footed and could be more prone to injury in the pros and take some time to adapt to live NFL bullets. Leadership traits, strength of character and football IQ will allow to operate at a high level in a play-action passing game with a clean pocket and a talented cast of receivers. Can become a very solid NFL starter and thrive with a strong supporting cast. A cross between Drew Brees and Colt McCoy.”
Not only did Nawrocki stick solely to football, he glossed over Barkley’s inability to defeat Stanford. And he blamed Barkley’s poor play as a senior on leaky offensive play.
Nawrocki has every right to evaluate a player however he wants. But when you say that a player has marginal work ethic, lack of understanding of concepts and will struggle against complex defenses, I question where you’re coming from with your evaluations.
It rubs me the wrong way that a talent evaluator described a black player with terms that are typically used to negatively portray black people.
His breakdowns of black quarterbacks the past few years doesn’t do him any favors, either.
Check out the glowing critique he gave Newton before the 2011 draft.
“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and always will struggle to win a locker room. Only a one-year producer. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.”
Newton’s behavior during his second NFL season gives some credibility to Nawrocki’s assessment. But Newton’s ability to perform at a high level while facing NCAA scrutiny debunks a lion share of his assessment.
Also, I can remember watching an Auburn football program. Before a game, leaders were trying to pump up their teammates. They were giving their “rah-rah” speeches. Newton interjected and deadpanned: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.”And everyone paused and absorbed what Newton had to say. If that’s not commanding a locker room, then what the hell is?
“RGIII” didn’t escape is ire.
Unlike Newton, Nawrocki didn’t attack Griffin’s character, he did tell reporters in press conference that that there a “considerable gap” between Andrew Luck and Griffin III. I don’t fault him for favoring Luck over Griffin III. But I do question him saying that there is a considerable gap between the two signal callers.
I’ll just come out with it. I want Nawrocki taken to task for his bias assessments. I have no problem with him giving harsh critiques of prospects. That’s what he’s supposed to do. What he’s not supposed to do, though, is go beyond the scope of football and destroy a kid’s character. Newton and Smith’s assessments reflect a criminal profile more than prospect profile. There’s no place for that in the NFL Draft process.
It’s not like Nawrocki is the only person bashing black quarterbacks.
He’s not. And that’s part of the problem. The struggle of the black quarterback in the NFL is well-documented.
After throwing for 14 touchdowns as rookie(still a Broncos’ rookie record), Briscoe was forced to become a wide receiver. Even with his early success, Harris was relegated to back-up duty. Moon had to win five Grey Cups in the CFL before getting an opportunity in the NFL. Vick got drafted first overall in 2001, but he was scrutinized for his unconventional style of play and “corn rows.” Vick’s refusal to become a traditional, clean-cut quarterback even inspired Ludacris to rhyme “Refuse to cut my hair like Mike Vick” on the song “In Da Club.”
You better not let Rush Limbaugh off the hook.
I’m not. He did say that Donovan McNabb was overrated and that the media wanted to pump him because he was a black quarterback. But what else do you expect from someone who has made a career off of making racially insensitive comments?
And don’t forget about that David Whitley guy, who compared Colin Kaepernick to a San Quentin inmate because he had tattoos.
Karma is you know what. That guy lost his job a few months later. I never want anyone to lose their job, but what goes around, comes around.
Do white quarterbacks get judged the same?
Of course not.
Ben Roethlisberger got accused of sexual assault twice–TWICE. But he is viewed as a married man that has changed his ways. Jay Cutler has displayed similar characteristics that got Vince Young put out the league. Yet, Cutler not only has a job, but he’s a starter. Brett Favre behaved like a prima donna the last three years of his career and sexually harassed a team employee, but he’s viewed as a heroic figure.
I’m not blaming those quarterbacks for what others are saying about them. But it would nice for black quarterbacks to get the same benefit of the doubt.
What can change this viewpoint? As Charlie Sheen would say, “Winning.”
Organizations want a franchise quarterback that can win games and sell merchandise. Newton, Freeman, Griffin III, Wilson and Kaepernick are proving their box-office ability. The next step is for them to win Super Bowls.
Then, they would shed that “black quarterback” label and just be…a quarterback.
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