Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports


NFL’s Racist Past Has a Part in the Jones Versus Fields Debate

Levin T. Black
Mar 31, 2021 at 6:00 AM


It's time to address the elephant in the room. Racism has helped Mac Jones' stock and hurt Justin Fields' in the lead-up to the draft. Yes, it really is happening.

Now before you freak out, take a breath, and keep reading because I don't mean what you likely think I mean. No, I don't think draft pundits are sitting at their keyboards and purposefully finding reasons to knock Fields while talking up Jones simply because of the color of their skin.

That would be what I would call blatant racism or conscious racism, if you will. Racism has more nuance than that. There is such a thing as unconscious racism and every single person in this country has acted on it at one point or another without realizing it.

How? Why? Because racism has purposefully been built into the very makeup of our society. It is so common, so ingrained, few notice it for what it is anymore.

I'm not going to launch into a non-sports-related topic as diverse and complicated as what our country was built on and how the rules were purposefully set up to give the advantages to those who got to make the rules (look at school district budgets). It's not what you are here for. However, I will explain how it is affecting the quarterback prospects in this year's NFL Draft.

There are two main ways. I'll begin with the bias towards the norm. It is human nature to resist change. Change brings risk. For 75 years a quarterback has looked and played a certain way. Immobile, scan the field pocket passers.

It worked for Johnny Unitas, it worked for Joe Montana, it worked for Peyton Manning and it's working for Tom Brady. A bias has developed towards that type of quarterback because that is all the league has had for most of its history.

The new-age mobile quarterback represents change and it has only really been common during the past decade. This means it is still in its infancy. The thing is, it's taken this long to become common due to the racist past of the NFL.

The athletic quarterbacks are predominantly black. Up until recently, there was a strong and well-documented belief that black quarterbacks weren't smart enough to succeed in the NFL. You can research that on your own. It is undeniable but I will provide you with one example.

Warren Moon is quite possibly the best pure thrower of a football the league has ever seen. Despite leading the University of Washington to a Pac-8 championship, a Rose Bowl victory, and being named the conference player of the year, Moon didn't get an opportunity in the NFL.

Instead, Moon had to go to the Canadian Football League, win five straight Grey Cups (championships) and a Most Valuable Player award before he would get a chance in the NFL.

The racism that delayed the rise of more athletic quarterbacks goes deeper than NFL teams, though. Many of the top colleges didn't give black quarterbacks opportunities, meaning many had to either swap positions (still prevalent today) or go to a small historically black college where the NFL could have justification for ignoring their abilities.

Heck, you can go to the grade school level when kids first start playing. Who is often picked to be the quarterback? It's not a coincidence so many of the quarterbacks in the NFL, especially historically, were clean-cut, All-American white guys. Those roots start at the pee-wee level.

How many great quarterbacks were lost because of this racism? How many ended up having lesser careers at other positions? These are two questions that I sometimes ponder.

Let's also not pretend blatant racism is completely gone from today's NFL. Who are the owners? Rich, old white guys full of privilege and stuck in their upbringing from before the civil rights movement. No, not all owners are this way. I wouldn't even say most. But enough are. (Jed York is not one of them. He is as progressive an owner as there is.)

Now we get to the second main way racism is indeed playing its part in this situation. White quarterbacks are given the benefit of the doubt while black quarterbacks are not.

San Francisco 49ers fans should know this better than most. Colin Kaepernick being blacklisted from the NFL (he literally won a large settlement) wasn't because of some hollow excuse about patriotism. Those old white owners didn't like a black man disobeying.

Even after Kaepernick announced he would no longer kneel, no offer came. It wasn't about the kneeling. No second chances for him, which brings me to Jones.

How many of you are aware he had a DUI while in college? I wasn't until recently. Why? Because NO ONE brings it up. It's been ignored. If Fields had a DUI in his past there's no doubt it would be brought up as a character flaw. Jones, who was involved in a minor car accident at the time of the DUI, was also charged with improper identification (fake ID) at the same time as his DUI.

Along with that, if Fields was carrying around 20 extra pounds he'd be called lazy or be said to be not dedicated to the sport or that he doesn't love football ... take your pick. It would be a major talking point debated and brought up constantly and used as a reason he shouldn't be taken in the top 5.

Jones has that extra weight, and the DUI, and yet has skyrocketed up boards. This is despite being unexceptional. He's not a good athlete, he doesn't have a cannon, he is accurate but Fields has been more accurate in college. He's not bad at anything but not so great at anything to justify ignoring negatives.

So why is he rumored to be in contention for being selected before Fields? It's that traditional quarterback mold I mentioned earlier. For lack of a better word, he's vanilla. He's the safe, reliable selection even though he clearly has multiple character question marks and doesn't possess the same upside as a prospect like Fields.

Allow me to wrap this up with two points I think are important to stress.

First, I don't think ANY talent evaluators or draft pundits are basing their rankings on the color of skin. I do think SOME are unconsciously affected by standards that exist due to racism.

Second, yes, I am white. I believe it is vitally important for anyone to call racism for what it is, but it is especially true for white people. When one group has the majority and the power, change won't come, at least not completely, until that group sees it AND acts on it. Racism has come a long way recently but it would improve so much more if white people cared as much as those negatively affected.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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