NFL Quarterbacks: Race Still a Factor, According to ESPN's Jemele Hill

C KSenior Analyst INovember 24, 2010

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 31:  Quarterback Vince Young #10 of the Tennessee Titans plays against the San Diego Chargers in the game at Qualcomm Stadium on October 31, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Titans 33-25.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Is the headline above a bit of a stretch? An over-exaggeration of Jemele Hill's point in this ESPN article? Certainly. But so is every one of her points that were made in yet another claim that racism still plays a dominant role in professional sports, more so with NFL quarterbacks.

I've read a few of Hill's article before, and most of the time she comes across as having a respectable and honest opinion.

In her latest piece, her opinion may be honest, but it's far from respectable.

Rather than simply spit back my opinion on the subject at hand, I think the smarter move would be to address each and every point Hill made in her commentary.

Let's begin.

"Has anyone else noticed all the drama surrounding black quarterbacks during this NFL season?

• Jason Campbell, who has been fighting for his job all season in Oakland, was benched for the second time this year against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

• Six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb was replaced by Rex Grossman during the final 1:50 of a close game against the Detroit Lions earlier this month because Redskins coach Mike Shanahan claimed Grossman was better suited to run the team's two-minute offense. Shanahan questioned McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance."

• On Sunday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher demoted Vince Young to benchwarmer after Young threw a tantrum following Tennessee's 19-16 loss to Washington. Although thumb surgery is the official reason Young's season is over, Fisher made it clear before he knew the severity of Young's injury that his 27-year-old quarterback was being removed as the starter.

The Raiders' Jason Campbell watched the fourth quarter of the Pittsburgh game from the bench.

In 2007, McNabb told HBO's "Real Sports" that black quarterbacks in the NFL face more pressure and tougher criticism than white quarterbacks do. The responses were predictable.

Racism is not an issue in the NFL.

Stop pulling the race card.

Quit whining.

But if you've paid attention to how some of the league's black quarterbacks have been treated this season, McNabb's words seem even truer now than they were three years ago.

I'm not calling anyone out for being racist, and I realize this might seem like an odd conversation to have considering that Michael Vick is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated and his comeback is one of the best sports stories of the year.

I'm also not overlooking the facts that Campbell played poorly in the games in which he was benched, that Young's antics in Tennessee are largely to blame for his problems with Fisher, and that Shanahan has had difficult relationships with plenty of white quarterbacks in the past.

But it still seems as if race is playing a role in how some black quarterbacks are treated, managed, perceived and, ultimately, judged."

Certainly I've noticed the drama surrounding quarterbacks this season.

But they're quarterbacks, not black quarterbacks.

Brett Favre has been scrutinized over the past three seasons more than any black quarterback to play the game.

Ben Roethlisberger faced enormous scrutiny for his irresponsible behavior this past off-season.

Do you turn a blind eye to those situations, only to pull out the race card when three black quarterbacks face the smallest scrutiny?

I hadn't heard a peep about Campbell's benching all season before this, and he's been downright terrible when he's played.

Donovan McNabb is 28th in the league in passer rating, and has more interceptions thrown than he does touchdowns.

Vince Young walked out on his team Sunday, and it isn't his first tantrum with the Titans.

A number of white quarterbacks have been benched this year, not because of their skin color, but because of their performance.

The same goes for black quarterbacks.

The number of contradictions just in these first few paragraphs is humorous more than anything. The last four paragraphs are filled with double-takes and 180's every other sentence.

"McNabb's words seem even truer now than they were three years ago...I'm not calling anyone out for being racist...I'm also not overlooking the facts that Campbell played poorly in the games in which he was benched, that Young's antics in Tennessee are largely to blame for his problems with Fisher, and that Shanahan has had difficult relationships with plenty of white quarterbacks in the past...But it still seems as if race is playing a role in how some black quarterbacks are treated, managed, perceived and, ultimately, judged."

Alright, let's try and decipher this. McNabb's remarks on racism are still true today, but you're not calling anyone racist.

You're not overlooking the justification made for benching these quarterbacks, but it still "seems" as if race is playing a role?

So what exactly is your point?

I'm currently in high school, and on a daily basis in my English class I am reminded to keep "weaker" words such as think, believe, hope, seems, etc. out of my essays.

Yet your basis for your points early on is that it "seems" like race is playing a role.

You know, it seems like you don't have much factual basis for your argument, either.

No, scratch that. You don't.

"The first time Campbell was benched this season was during halftime of the second game of the season.

The impatience the Raiders have shown with Campbell is stunning. They gave up a fourth-round pick to get him, and were convinced he was the answer after things went south with draft bust JaMarcus Russell, another black quarterback.

Campbell will start on Sunday against Miami, but it's baffling that he's still fighting with Bruce Gradkowski—whose career record as a starter is 5-11—for the No. 1 job.

When he's good, Vince Young is very good. But he's also been immature at times.

I know race doesn't completely explain the Raiders' treatment of Campbell or why he didn't work out for the Redskins. But Campbell's shortcomings are rarely clarified with the same perspective as some white quarterbacks.

You hear about his 25-35 record as a starter, but you don't hear that he's played for a different offensive coordinator in every season since the Redskins drafted him in the first round in 2005.

Most African-Americans are familiar with the notion that we have to be twice as good just to be considered equal with whites. And considering that there are only six black starting quarterbacks in the NFL, there isn't a lot of room for error."

Campbell was benched after halftime of the second game because of how poorly he was playing. A 69.7 rating after week one, followed by a 42.9 rating in week two would have any quarterback on a team like the Raiders riding the pine.

The fact is, Campbell wasn't performing.

Pointing out JaMarcus Russell doesn't help, seeing how many chances he was given to redeem himself in Oakland—and how miserably he failed.

Of course race doesn't explain the treatment of Campbell. It's performance.

I've read countless times that he's played for a different offensive coordinator in each of his NFL seasons. The fact that he's lasted this long with a 25-35 record in today's NFL is shocking, really.

When you say most African-Americans are familiar with the notion that they have to be twice as good to be equal, do you really believe that?

Yes, there are only six black starting quarterbacks in the NFL. But there are also 31 black starting running backs (leaving one white).

Last season, there weren't any white starting runningbacks.

In 2005, not a single white halfback received a carry. Why isn't this a problem?

Adding to that, (according to Wikipedia) surveys show that about 57-61 percent of players in the NFL are non-white. Why is this not a problem? And this expands to all other professional sports as well.

In the NBA, the percentage of white players hovers around 20 percent. Where's the hoopla on this one?

In baseball, blacks argue that there aren't enough African-Americans playing the game today. But is that because of race, or because basketball has taken over the inner-city lifestyle?

In the NHL, there are only a handful of black players. Why isn't there a stink made?

Couldn't it just be that blacks don't want to play baseball and hockey and they are better at basketball and football in today's world?

Why ignore the other side of the racism topic, you know, the facts.

The numbers in the professional sports world are in favor of the African-American population. You don't hear about the need for more white players or fair treatment for them only because white's don't care.

We realize what's going on has nothing to do with race. When will you?

"Young and Fisher have had a number of problems over the years; and let's not pretend that Fisher, who I consider to be a good coach, is totally blameless.

Young is 30-17 as a starter, and you could argue that he saved Fisher's job last season after the coach reluctantly inserted Young into the starting lineup following the Titans' horrific 0-6 start.

As the starter, Young led the team to an 8-2 record down the stretch. Had he started the entire season, the Titans might have been a bigger threat to make the playoffs.

During his time in Tennessee, Young certainly has shown some immaturity. He sulks. He refused to re-enter a game because the fans were booing him. He got into an altercation in a strip club this past summer, reportedly because a man insulted his school, the University of Texas. His behavior, at times, has been inexcusable, and it has undermined his incredible talent.

But is it possible that some of Young's actions are a result of Fisher's lack of confidence, which has been a persistent issue since the Titans drafted Young against Fisher's wishes?

Fisher and Young had completely different accounts of what unfolded after Sunday's loss to the Redskins. Undoubtedly, Young didn't handle himself like a professional; but then again, I don't know of any quarterback who would be happy about being replaced by a third-stringer.

Young wanted to play despite a busted thumb. If Brett Favre had done that, we'd say he was being fiercely competitive.

But this is Vince Young, so he's being a brat."

Where you went wrong is making excuses for Young's actions because of Fisher's "lack of confidence."

Vince Young is a 27-year old man. He is accountable for his actions, on and off the field. You agree that his behavior has been inexcusable at times, then go on to make a possible excuse.

It's not Fisher's fault, it's Young's. Simple.

The reason Young is looked as being a brat is because of his past. He's done this before, over and over again.

You even stated his poor behavior.

Why isn't Brett Favre looked at as a brat if he wanted to play despite injury? Well, it's because he's done it time and time again. We know he's a fierce competitor on the field.

Young has shown almost nothing to earn that title.

Plus, Brett Favre is widely considered a brat all across the nation. Just not for his on-field performance.

Attempting to justify Young's tantrum by saying no quarterback would be happy about being replaced is a little off. Sure, no single player would like being replaced. But most would be professional about it.

For example, Kevin Kolb was deemed the Philadelphia Eagles' franchise quarterback after McNabb's departure this past off-season. Not even a half into the season he was hurt, and Michael Vick went on to take over his starting job. Kolb wasn't exactly given his fair chance to prove himself, but he took the demotion professionally.

And guess what? It was to a black quarterback.

"I don't question whether black quarterbacks receive opportunities in the NFL, because it's obvious they do. But how fair are those opportunities? Despite all the progress that's been made by black quarterbacks, why does it still seem as if they are held to a different standard?

'Any franchise Caucasian quarterback will get unlimited opportunities to realize their potential,' says Shaun King, an African-American who quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Bucs to the NFC Championship Game in 1999. 'If Jay Cutler left Chicago, and even if he played badly, he's always going to be viewed as a franchise QB. For African-Americans, their value is strictly tied to their current performance. It's tough to stick up for Vince Young because his immaturity has been a consistent issue, but a Caucasian QB that has been as successful as Vince Young wouldn't be pulled as much as him.'

In that interview with HBO, McNabb said this about quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning: 'Let me start by saying I love those guys. But they don't get criticized as much as we do. They don't.'

He's right. Manning has a Hall of Fame résumé and is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the position. But he isn't facing an avalanche of criticism from the fans and media for the interception against the Patriots on Sunday that ended the Colts' comeback attempt and sealed the game for New England.

Manning accepted responsibility for the mistake, of course. But had that been McNabb, the reaction would have been downright vitriolic."

Held to a different standard? No, they're held to the standard of performing as a professional NFL quarterback. If you call Young's antics and McNabb and Campbell's lackluster performance the standard of NFL quarterbacks, you're mistaken.

Why don't Manning and Palmer get criticized as much as black quarterbacks? Well, who would criticize one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time? He's been successful, he's won a Super Bowl, and he's been a professional in each and every way.

Palmer has received more and more criticism with each season that goes by. But at the time, what was there to criticize? He was a winning quarterback who was one of the best in the league at the time. He didn't stir trouble. There wasn't a reason to criticize.

What about Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, etc? These are all white quarterbacks who face scrutiny. Whether it's because of their on-field performance or off-the-field antics, the criticisms are there.

"People are still searching for ways to blame newcomer Terrell Owens for the Bengals' disappointing 2-8 season, even though Palmer has guided the Bengals to only two winning seasons and hasn't won a playoff game during his seven years in Cincinnati.

So why doesn't Palmer get the Jason Campbell treatment? Why isn't he labeled an underachiever like McNabb?

Palmer and Manning certainly have been criticized, but rarely in their careers have they faced the same microscope or backlash that McNabb, Vick, or most other black starting quarterbacks have.

Hard to imagine that Donovan McNabb, an 11-year veteran, doesn't have the 'cardiovascular endurance' for the Redskins' two-minute offense.

The late Steve McNair and the Titans had such a bad relationship at one point that the organization locked him out of the Titans' facility. On Tuesday, according to a report out of Nashivlle, Young showed up at the Titans' practice facility and was asked to leave.

'When you're an African-American president, you have to be mentally tough. If you're an African-American heading American Express, you have to be mentally tough,' says Doug Williams, who is still the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl (for the Redskins in 1987.) 'It's a lot of stuff we kick under the rug. As an African-American, there's just some credit you're not going to get.'

And there's a certain amount of respect black quarterbacks still can't seem to earn.

McNabb, who despite being an 11-year veteran who has been to five NFC title games, had to listen to his coach essentially call him too out of shape and simpleminded to run his offense.

McNabb, by the way, has led 17 fourth-quarter comebacks and 25 game-winning drives in his career.

I'm not saying black quarterbacks are above criticism or that race plays a role every time one of them loses his job. White quarterbacks are benched and second-guessed, too, same as black ones. It comes with the position, regardless of race.

But if most of us agree that racism is still an issue in this country, how can we dismiss its influence in sports?

The history of black quarterbacks in the NFL isn't pretty. Things have come a long way since Williams played, but it would be foolish to think that lingering perceptions and biases don't still exist. Let's not forget that while Vick was imprisoned for dogfighting, more than a few analysts suggested he should change his position when he returned to the field. That's what NFL scouts once told Warren Moon he had to do if he wanted to be drafted at all.

After McNabb made his comments to HBO, Campbell and Young were quick to say they didn't feel like race was a factor in how they were perceived.

I wonder if they feel that way now."

Who would blame Owens for the Bengals' poor season? That's reaching for something that isn't there. Again, Palmer and Manning aren't criticized as much because there isn't much to criticize.

McNabb irritated a lot of fans in Philadelphia because of how he came off as unenthusiastic and apathetic. Nobody viewed him as a black quarterback. He was just a quarterback who felt the need to label himself as a black quarterback.

Then there's Michael Vick.

The man mercilessly tortured and murdered countless dogs. He was never a model citizen and showed plenty of irresponsible behavior while with the Falcons. If that's not justification for criticism, what is? And now he's begun to redeem himself in the national spotlight. He's been given yet another chance, and people are accepting him once again.

Blacks need to be mentally tough? We all need to be mentally tough.

NFL coaches today are being shoved out the door in what feels like a weekly basis. Most of those coaches are white.

Almost every position in the NFL is never secure, so no matter who's on the the field starting on Sunday's, they each need to be mentally tough.

Regardless of color.

I don't care if it "seems" like black quarterbacks can't get respect these days. It's simply not true.

Nobody can really get respect these days. One day you're in the spotlight, the next, you're out.

Whether you'd like to believe it or not, McNabb received the loudest ovation when entering the field of any player each and every Sunday during his tenure with the Eagles. He wasn't traded away because of lack of respect. It was due to the fact that he couldn't win a Super Bowl. In fact, the Eagles showed tremendous respect by sending him to a team he requested to go to, a team in their very own division for that matter.

That's respect.

NFL Scouts tell players all the time they need to change their position, or that they simply won't make it in the league. Color has no influence on that. Using two examples of Vick and Warren Moon is pathetic, honestly.

I beg to differ that most of us country-wide see racism as a lingering problem in sports. It's only those narrow-minded thinkers that are too ignorant to realize that racism is a thing of the past.

It's people like Campbell and Young that are right when they say race is not an issue. Bryant Gumbel is also frequently making note of the fact that color is no longer a problem.

If blacks really wanted to be equal, can't they just be quarterbacks? Why does Donovan McNabb have to regard himself as a black quarterback? Never once have I heard a white man call any African-American player a "black" quarterback/ running back/etc.

Quit reaching for what is not there.

Racism does not exist in today's world of sports.

Enough of the soft-shell feelings and paranoid attitudes.

This is 2010.

Our President is African-American, and one could argue that his race is a huge reason as to why.

If anything, the professional sports world is more favored to blacks.

The Rooney Rule forces teams to interview at least one minority coach before hiring any candidate.

The quarterback position is dominated by whites, yet the running back, wide receiver, and secondary positions are dominated by blacks.

The facts are the facts, don't ignore them.

You can use perception and gut feelings all you want, but in the end all that leads to is biased and irrational thinking.

Donovan McNabb, Jason Campbell, Vince Young and Michael Vick are not black quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Tony Romo are not white quarterbacks. They're quarterbacks.

The only way for true equality is to eliminate these monikers based on race and religion. And quite frankly, these labels are coming from the one's crying out for equality in the first place. If you wish to be equal, don't separate yourself from the rest.

The problem of racism doesn't lie in the hands of those taking the criticism. It lies within those dishing it out. Take a long, hard look in the mirror and maybe you'll see that, too, Jemele.


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