Thursday, January 11, 2007

William Rhoden, Black Quarterbacks and Racism

I don't think William Rhoden, a sports writer from the New York Times, is a racist. I think he would better be described as a "one issue writer". In our general population we have many one issue voters. Whether the issue be the death penalty, abortion, gun control or something else, many people decide whom they are going to vote for based on that issue alone. Mr. Rhoden's issue as a writer is the advancement of African-Americans in sports, particularly professional sports.

I am not making a value judgment on whether this is a worthy issue or not. I do think most in our society realize how disadvantaged and discriminated against all people of color have been in their pursuit of careers, not only in athletics, but in all fields until very recently. This is almost universally accepted as fact.

But this is a drum that Mr. Rhoden feels necessary to bang incessantly for today's athletes, arguing that African-American athletes in today's world of professional sports, particularly quarterbacks in the NFL are getting an unfair deal. You can read his article published in this past Sunday's New York Times below.

January 7, 2007
Sports of The Times
Acceptance Still Lags for Black Quarterbacks
Glendale, Ariz.
Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Florida’s Chris Leak do not know each other. They have seen each other in passing, have exchanged hellos, but they do not really know each other.
“I’ve just followed him and what he’s accomplished through the years,” Leak said Friday when asked about Smith during media day for the Bowl Championship Series national title game. “Just watching him maturing as a quarterback, what he’s been able to accomplish, winning the Heisman Trophy. He’s had a great career.”
Leak and Smith will be central players in the continuing evolution at the quarterback position. Tomorrow night’s championship game will be the first time in B.C.S. history, and only the second time in the history of the Associated Press poll, that black starting quarterbacks have met in a game involving the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. In the 1994 Orange Bowl,
Charlie Ward’s Florida State defeated Tommie Frazier’s Nebraska.

Earlier in the season, Smith told reporters that he felt the African-American quarterback angle was a dead issue. “We’re way beyond it,” he said. “It’s not significant at all with quarterbacks. That’s a moot point. We should stay away from that.”
He added: “I don’t see color, I see people in any situation. I disliked it so much when they said Warren Moon was the first African-American quarterback inducted into the Hall of Fame. He’s a quarterback. I didn’t appreciate that.”
With all due respect to Smith, the Buckeyes’ senior quarterback, if you respect Moon, you must appreciate the arduous path that took him from Los Angeles to Edmonton to Houston to Canton. Moon helped clear the way for Smith to flourish in Columbus and for Leak to survive in Gainesville. Someone cleared the path for Moon, and earlier generations cleared a path for that pioneer.
There was a time when African-Americans were not allowed to play the game at all, and once allowed in were largely blocked from playing quarterback. The deeply entrenched stereotypes held that African-Americans could not think under pressure, lacked courage, lacked leadership skills.
Tomorrow night’s national championship game is a milestone that should be celebrated, not shunned, embraced as yet another marker of progress and triumph in the meandering history of race and sport in America. Never forget the history.
We are not talking ancient history.
Michael Vick, possibly the most dynamic player to set foot under center, continues to be ridiculed. Last year at this time, legions of Vince Young’s critics said he lacked the necessities, the mechanics; some even suggested he might be a better receiver or running back. Young was recently named the offensive rookie of the year in the N.F.L.
Louisiana State’s JaMarcus Russell turned in a dominating performance in the Sugar Bowl, a game in which the announcers were singing the praises of
Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn while soft-pedaling Russell. When it became clear that Russell was going to lead L.S.U. to a rout, they changed their tune.
Leak watched some of the game and heard the broadcast. “That’s the world we live in,” he said.
Leak and Smith represent a historical threshold of African-Americans playing quarterback. The writer Malcolm Gladwell might call them the sports equivalent of “The Tipping Point.” Today, having a quarterback who moves, and moves with speed and purpose, is not a luxury, and that is the essence of the revolution at quarterback. On Friday, Florida Coach Urban Meyer talked about his requisites for the position, which were the ability to get out of trouble and to turn a bad play into a big play.
It is fascinating to observe how tenaciously so many in the news media cling to the old standard of quarterback, as if it were the last preserve of culture and civilization.
Will the quarterback position become as Africanized as, say, the defensive secondary or the receiving corps in the N.F.L.?
EaglesDonovan McNabb expressed his doubts in a recent interview, saying: “I don’t think so. A lot of organizations — they may not say it — but that’s not what they want. I don’t know if they really want a true leader, an African-American, to be the face of their team.
“They’re billionaires. It’s all about making money. So they won’t have an African-American quarterback be the face of their team.”
During an interview in Jacksonville earlier this season, Byron Leftwich of the Jaguars said: “I think it all depends on how much the quarterback position changes. If you can still win by throwing the ball in the pocket, no. But if the game changes, where that man behind the center has got to be able to run around in order to win, then I think you’ll see that change, because that’s just what’s going to happen.”

Last week, a reader, Luis Guyenda, said that my (incessant) predictions of transformation at quarterback were way off.
In an e-mail message, Guyenda said: “Did you notice the 12 teams that made the playoffs? All of them have pocket-passer QB’s. You all too often write about the future role of that position. Your daydream of having ‘exciting’ QBs like Vick and Young changing the way that position is played is still far off.”
I told Guyenda that he was in denial. The revolution is not coming — it’s here. And this time, the revolution will be televised.

I have trouble generating much sympathy for the people Mr. Rhoden feels that it is necessary to defend. He talks about Vince Young’s critics, but Vince Young was taken third in the NFL draft, the first quarterback taken, chosen ahead of Heisman trophy winner Matt Leinhart, who is white. Vince Young signed a five year contract worth a guaranteed $25.7 million with incentives that could total $58 million ( And Vince Young was given an opportunity to start early in his rookie season (Phillip Rivers, who is white, had to sit for two years to get that opportunity after being chosen fourth in the draft in 2004) and was therefore afforded the opportunity to win offensive rookie of the year.

As recently as a few years ago Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Eric Crouch was told that he didn't have what was necessary to make it in the NFL at the quarterback position. He tried to make it as a receiver and later as a quarterback and failed both times. Eric Crouch is white. Conversely, successful college quarterbacks such as Antwaan Randle-El of Indiana (African-American) and Matt Jones of Arkansas (white) were told the same thing and both have successfully made the transition to receiver in the NFL.

Who cares what Vince Young's “critics” say, he took advantage of the opportunity presented to him. His statistics do put him in the very bottom of qbs in the NFL. He had the third worst quarterback rating in the league. But, if one wants to argue that he is a “winner” I’m all for that because it certainly has been true throughout his career and winning is what matters at the end of the day--particularly in the NFL. But is Vince Young beyond reproach? Because he is black he isn't allowed to be criticized? Is that Mr. Rhoden's point? I don't get it.

However, you can’t then have it the other way with Michael Vick. Mr. Rhoden calls Michael Vick
"possibly the most dynamic player to set foot under center”. It's hard to argue with that. He has proven to be a great and elusive runner setting the single season rushing record for a quarterback this past season. He has also proven to be a mediocre passing quarterback who many analysts feel has been slow to learn and run the West Coast offense efficiently. And he certainly has not been a consistent winner. Saying he continues to be ridiculed is silly. Quarterback in the NFL is probably the highest profile and most difficult job in sports. Peyton Manning, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks ever, is constantly ridiculed for his lack of playoff success. His brother Eli gets killed by both fans and the media these days even though his team has been to the playoffs the last two years because of poor decision making and an apparent lack of leadership. The Falcons haven’t been in the playoffs the past two years and have, in fact, imploded both seasons. Simply, in today's NFL winners are cheered and losers are jeered. It really is that simple. To argue that any team in today's NFL isn't putting a quarterback on the field because he is black is bordering on racism. In the South, not necessarily in the forefront of race relations historically, Atlanta starts an African-American quarterback, Jacksonville started two African-American quarterbacks, Miami started the season with an African-American quarterback until he was injured. New Orleans and Carolina have recently had African-American quarterbacks as starters.

In my view Mr. Rhoden's arguments are untenable and I feel he does a disservice to pioneering African-Americans athletes, current owners and coaches and even fans involved with the NFL to suggest that skin color is still deciding who plays quarterback in the NFL. In his one issue mind I don't think Mr. Rhoden will be happy until all thirty-two quarterback positions are held by African-Americans.

1 comment:

The Hammer said...

Fair points all. In addition, Rhoden’s implicit argument that blacks will take over from whites at quarterback once the position requires QBs who can run as well as pass seems inherently racist, no? Hey, there aren’t a lot of record-setting white sprinters these days, but I don’t know that I’d be standing up proclaiming that only black QBs can run and white QBs can do nothing but throw the ball (better than blacks). (From E.G.)