Friday, October 4, 2013
the black quarterback...
I remember the era of football when black quarterbacks were referred to as "black quarterbacks". Thankfully, we've moved past that era. But this new wave of quarterbacks will face many challenges...
Here is a pretty interesting read from William (Bill) Rhoden of the New York Times.
NFL protects the pocket as black quarterbacks transcend it
New York Times
A reporter called recently and said he wanted to talk about a golden era of the black quarterback. A record nine African-Americans started at quarterback in Week 1 of the N.F.L. season, signaling to some that this was the beginning of a dynamic new day in the N.F.L.
But calling attention to “golden eras” for blacks in sports has had mixed results. There once was a golden era of black jockeys, which ended at the turn of the 20th century when they were squeezed out of racing. The golden era of blacks in organized baseball ended in the late 19th century, with blacks banished until 1947. And a similar gentlemen’s agreement froze blacks out of professional football from the early 1930s until 1946.
Indeed, shortly after Jason McIntyre’s article appeared on the Web site thebiglead.com, the ranks of black starting quarterbacks in the N.F.L. shrank by one. On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Coach Greg Schiano announced that Josh Freeman, the Buccaneers’ first-round pick in 2009 and their starter since that season, would be replaced on Sunday by the rookie Mike Glennon, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound pocket passer.
The former N.F.L. coach Tony Dungy said the move would have created an outcry a decade ago.
“Is this racially motivated?” said Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “If he were white, would they be sticking with him longer? Would they have gotten more weapons around him?”
Dungy once coached the Buccaneers and later led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory. He said what happened to Freeman was less about race and more about politics.
“I think the Freeman case is really just a case of Football 101,” Dungy said. “New coach comes in, he didn’t draft Freeman, he doesn’t like some things about him; maybe he isn’t his guy and he prefers to start out with his guy.”
Schiano tried to recruit Glennon to Rutgers when he coached there, drafted him for Tampa Bay and is choosing to sink or swim with him. But Tampa Bay lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 13-10, on Sunday to fall to 0-4.
Dungy said he believed that racism had significantly disappeared from quarterback selection in the N.F.L., largely because coaches are desperate to win. The larger issue is how, for all of the talk about golden ages, the pro football establishment has resisted a revolutionary style of play emerging from the quarterback position.
“It’s not as much a black-white issue as it is an unwillingness to trust in quarterbacks who don’t conform to the traditional idea of what a quarterback is,” Dungy said. “If you are not 6-5, 230, you better have something really fantastic and special that people can hang their hat on. Because they don’t want to go out on a limb with what’s not prototypical.”
Defenders continue to become larger and more lethal, capable of delivering violence from any point on a field. The statuelike pocket passer is becoming an endangered species. The logical antidote would be a quarterback who could run as well as pass, putting defenses back on their heels. Instead, the N.F.L. has put in rules to protect quarterbacks in the pocket while allowing defenders to annihilate those who dare to venture out of it.
This is what the current crop of black quarterbacks — Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Geno Smith, Terrelle Pryor, E J Manuel and Freeman — is up against in the so-called golden age. The wide-open, freewheeling play associated with many black quarterbacks — and adopted by white players like Tim Tebow — is largely shunned by the football establishment.
Everyone is for the versatile quarterback in theory. But at the moment of truth, franchises routinely retreat into the pocket.
“I think we have gotten over the black-white issue,” Dungy said. “I think that most owners, general managers, even fans are past that. But it is still the perception of what the quarterback is, and what everybody’s looking for and what wins in the National Football League.
“You have to fight that, whether you’re Robert Griffin or Johnny Manziel, that is still going to be there. That’s what we have to overcome.”
I was pulling for Tebow. If a white, athletic quarterback became wildly successful, a mold would be created. Instead, Tebow was treated the way black quarterbacks used to be treated, and he is out of the league, three years after entering it.
“Johnny Manziel is the next hope,” Dungy said, referring to Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner. “Manziel is going to be the test case, no question about it.”
The greatest and most persistent obstacle to acceptance is the news media’s reluctance to expand its vocabulary of praise to include this new generation of African-American quarterbacks.
“It’s hard for the general American media to portray that and hard for people to accept it,” Dungy said. “You look at Russell Wilson, and why is he successful and why is he better than everybody thought? It’s because he’s sharp, he’s on top of things, he’s a leader. Pete Carroll said he took over from Day 1. But nobody wants to say that, nobody will tell you how smart and how great a leader this kid is.”
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and even Philip Rivers are routinely referred to as brilliant strategists, coordinators on the field — geniuses. Andrew Luck, the Colts’ second-year quarterback, is already being referred to as a great field general in the Manning mode. Wilson and R. G. III, for example, are largely described in relationship to their amazing physical skills: strong arms, speed, quickness and versatility.
“It’s just not seen that way,” Dungy said. “Part of Robert Griffin’s brilliance is his leadership and guys following him. And he is smart, but we can only look at the fact that he runs a 4.3 and has a strong arm.”
Dungy played quarterback at Minnesota but switched to defensive back in the N.F.L., where he played for Pittsburgh and San Francisco. He was heartened when the Washington Redskins drafted Griffin.
“Maybe we are ready to look at guys who win and lead, who are exceptional and exciting and put points on the board,” Dungy said. “That still is the bottom line.”
I wonder. Or is the new bottom line creating stars with whom the majority of fans can identify? Is that partly why Schiano made the switch for Week 4? Or is it a combination of the two? From Randall Cunningham to Donovan McNabb to Vick, versatile, highly athletic quarterbacks have had marvelous success in the N.F.L.
“We’ve had that, but I think in people’s minds, ‘O.K., it’s an aberration,’ ” Dungy said. “They say: ‘O.K., you can be successful, you can make some highlight plays and go to Pro Bowls. But you can’t win a championship.’ I think it will take winning a championship to legitimize this style in a lot of people’s minds.”
Until then, the so-called golden age will remain fragile.