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  • Writer's pictureAuthor T.D. McLaughlin Talks

The new plight of the Black Quarterback

In Week 1 of the NFL season, history was made with eleven black starting quarterbacks taking the field, almost a third of the league. This marked what many perceive to be a significant paradigm shift in the NFL, once a domain where the starting quarterback position was predominantly occupied by white players because scouts, coaches and owners thought black quarterbacks were mentally inferior to play the position, even if they had been successful on the collegiate level. With two of the top projected picks in the upcoming draft being black quarterbacks, it's evident that the landscape of the league is somewhat evolving. However, amidst this progress, a troubling pattern persists – the harsh scrutiny and criticism faced by black quarterbacks we they are viewed not to be serviceable anymore.

The success stories of black quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Robert Griffin III (RGIII) and Russell Wilson, who have all at one point or another either led their teams to Super Bowls, been Pro Bowl selections, earned Rookie of the Year honors, MVP's, Heisman trophies and achieved remarkable statistical feats. These quarterbacks at time should be criticized for their play but not have had their character as people attacked. Yet, as these players exited the league or faced challenges in their careers, they are or were often met with unwarranted criticism and unfair character assessments. Some being called self centered and only interested in self promotion or not having the motor to play at a high level. These characterizations were both unwarranted and unfair for such an accomplished group of NFL quarterbacks.

Cam Newton is the poster child for these character assignations. Cam has been a lighting-rod for criticism going back to his college days at the University of Florida were he backed up media darling and "sainted" Tim Tebow. Cam who is a former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL league MVP, NFL Rookie of the Year, three time Pro-Bowler, former overall Number One pick and Super Bowl starting quarterback, has faced disparagement throughout his career. Cam who has had his his leadership called into question, been mocked for his joyous style of play and even has had his family's (mostly his fathers) ethics called into question, has still always handled the character attacks with grace and a smile. Even when the former owner of the Carolina Panthers who drafted him number one overall and dictated to Cam how he should cut his hair and not ink up his body with tattoos because he needed to appear to be clean cut young man (those of us who know, KNOW) Cam smiled and got through it. Cam made the low level, second-rate Panthers a hot ticket for the NFL machine. But even with that he was still discussed on the morning and evening run downs on debate shows as a type of cancer or virus that the NFL needed to ride itself of. Even in his post career this has continued and leaked over into people who come to football camps that he puts on thinking that it is ok to mock him because many in the media seemingly use him as low hanging fruit and a hot take punching bag. During football season this year a black female analyst openly questioned Cam's right to critique younger players. Now I'm not going with the tired take that a woman can't comment on football or that she has never played the game, so how dare her, but my question was and still is Tony Romo, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, hell even Dan Orlovsky are all paid by networks to question other players, especially quarterbacks and no one dare questions if they are qualified to comment on the play of current players. This is just one example of the attacks that come unwarranted and unprovoked because many have made up in their minds without ever meeting or talking to Cam Newton, what type of person they believe him to be. My "favorite" way that Cam has been disrepected came from my home state of North Carolina, were at one point Carolina Panther fans were calling for Cam Newton to be benched in favor of former sixth round pick and Cleveland Brown's castoff Derek Anderson. When is the last time you remember a number one over pick being treated in such away

This brings us to a former number two overall pick in Robert Griffin III, whose career was marred by injuries after returning too soon to help his team, he was scrutinized and accused of being selfish and a self-promoter. Again a former Rookie of the Year and Heisman trophy winner, RGIII was set up for failure by the very coaching staff(guru Mike Shanahan and big brain Kyle Shanahan) who was supposed to make him into a Hall of Fame type QB. Problem is that the coaching staff who was tasked with the project of RGIII was never sold on him and went as so low as to draft Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the same draft that the organization gave up a kings ransom to move up and select RGIII with the number two overall pick. When have you ever heard of an NFL team giving up multiple first round picks to move up and select a quarterback and then select a second quarterback in the same draft.. The Shanahan's nor the NFL was ever sold on RGIII even after he beat out the second coming of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck for Rookie of the Year honors. RGIII who was attempting to hold on to his job and prove the naysayers wrong, rushed himself back from a knee injury and all but cut his career short based of off the disrespect that he was dealt on draft day. Some analyst went as far as to call RGIII a bust which was again unwarranted. RGIII since his playing days has become part of the media machine that once criticized him, he advocates for players like Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson, who continue to face unjust scrutiny. While on TV, RGIII is still stereotyped, made fun of and disrespected. This year when he suggested that the Cleveland Browns should have taken a flyer on him, he was openly and loudly mocked even though the Brown's went and pulled Joe Flacco out of mothballs to lead them on a playoff run. There was no mocking of Flacco, just cheers but how dare a quarterback like RGIII suggest that someone should take a flyer on him. He was told he was washed up couldn't play anymore and couldn't lead a team, the same things that are being said about another quarterback who is sill playing

Russell Wilson, despite his exceptional performance on the field, has been labeled a diva and criticized for his perceived self-centeredness, even amidst impressive statistical achievements. Wilson is a former third round pick that played so well as a rookie that the Seattle Seahawks had to bench and ultimately let go a veteran that they signed in free-agency and paid a lot of money to. Russell a two time Super Bowl starting quarterback (one time winner) has always been a little quirky and measured. He has always displayed wanting to say and do the right thing no matter the criticism of him being fake or unauthentic. This year after being berated on the sideline of a nationally televised game by an overly stimulated, self aggrandizing, petulant man-baby, wanna be tyrant of a coach in Sean Payton. Russell still handled himself with grace, dignity and professionalism. This same coach bashed Russell for acting like a politician because of his outreach to the community in Denver. Russell was demonized for doing what many of his quarterbacking peers do or have done by using his position as a franchise quarterback to get things he wanted and things that made him comfortable. When Tom Brady wanted to bring in his own trainer and doctor, no one in the media questioned that, when Brett Farve dressed away from his team-mates and wanted an extra locker the media was quiet, when that quarterback in New York talks about everything from the jab to ingesting hallucinogenic drugs to roster construction and even plays shadow general manager by bringing in his guys who were all over the hill and no longer real contributors, the media is/was quiet but when Russell attempted to do some of the same things he was roasted and vilified in the media. Lets be clear Russell Wilson has as many rings as Aaron Rodgers and as many Super Bowl appearances as Brett Farce but he as seen as divisive figure for wanting to enjoy the same perks of the job that they did or do. Make it make sense.

What we have here is double standard faced by black quarterbacks in the NFL. Despite the progress made in increasing their representation on the field, Black quarterbacks continue to be held to different standards and subjected to unfair criticism. As the league evolves, it's crucial to confront these biases and ensure that all players are judged based on their performance and character, rather than outdated stereotypes and perceptions. Until then, the paradox of progress and regression will continue to haunt the NFL and its treatment of black quarterbacks.

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