King Kaufman's Sports Daily

McNabb says black quarterbacks face more criticism. Amazingly, there are arguments over this. Plus: Vote on Barry's HR ball here!


King Kaufman
September 20, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)

Donovan McNabb told HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" this week that black quarterbacks face greater scrutiny and more criticism than white quarterbacks.

Asked if whites such as Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer face the same level of criticism, McNabb said, "Let me start by saying, I love those guys. But they don't get criticized as much as we do. They don't."

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Could it be McNabb isn't controlling for the fact that he plays in Philadelphia?

Probably not. The reaction to McNabb has been predictable and customary. On one side, the "don't be ridiculous" crowd. On the other: "Well, duh."

The first crowd brings out the numbers. There are six black starting quarterbacks in the NFL right now, would have been seven if Michael Vick hadn't decided to run a criminal enterprise on the side. And it's just a matter of time before Byron Leftwich replaces Joey Harrington in Atlanta and Daunte Culpepper replaces Josh McCown in Oakland.

And the eventual new guy in Oakland, JaMarcus Russell, wasn't he a black quarterback, the top draft pick, 21 spots ahead of golden boy -- actually kind of a light beige, like the 26 other starting quarterbacks -- Brady Quinn?

The other side asks, how it can be that the assessment of NFL quarterbacks is the one corner of American life where society is colorblind? That's my side.

"There are not that many African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra," McNabb told James Brown in the interview. "The percentage of us playing this position, which people didn't want us to play, is low. So we do a little extra."

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He gave an example: "I pass for 300 yards, our team wins by seven, and it's, 'Oh, he could have made this throw here. We would have scored more points if he would have done this.'"

Sounds a little whiney, doesn't it? But that doesn't make it not true. As Jason Whitlock pointed out on Foxsports.com, McNabb has taken shots from every corner despite a fine career during which he's had exactly one elite receiver to throw to, and that receiver was Terrell Owens, a jackpot in the be careful what you wish for lottery.

Two years ago the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP criticized McNabb for abandoning his scrambling ways and becoming more of a pocket passer, which J. Whyatt Mondesire wrote in his newspaper column was a "breach of faith" because it amounted to McNabb trying to "disguise" his mediocrity "behind some concocted reasoning that African American quarterbacks who can scramble and who can run the ball are somehow lesser field generals."

Never mind that McNabb had never said any such thing, that it made perfect sense for a then-29-year-old quarterback who was starting to break down with injuries to stop running so much.

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Can you imagine anyone making an issue out of it like that if, say, Jeff Garcia starts hanging around in the pocket more?

And what's really funny about that whole brouhaha is that when black quarterbacks first started making their mark in the NFL in the 1970s, they couldn't be scramblers if they really wanted to make it. Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton could run around, but a black quarterback had better be a rifle arm who stood tall in the pocket. Otherwise, chances were, he'd get moved to wide receiver or, like Warren Moon, invited to try the CFL.

"You see these guys like Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Steve McNair running around making plays and it's accepted," Doug Williams told the Buffalo News in 2003. "That wasn't the case when I broke into the league" in 1978.

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"This dude is as good as it gets," Whitlock wrote about McNabb. "He comes from a great home, wonderful, dignified parents. He's carried himself with class through a ton of adversity. He's a winner. He's exactly what we claim we want pro athletes to be. But somehow that's not good enough. And you think there's not more criticism heaped on black quarterbacks?"

If it sounds like McNabb is crying just because things haven't been going well lately, listen to Damon Allen, Marcus' brother, who's been playing quarterback in the CFL since 1985 for Edmonton, Ottawa, Hamilton, Memphis -- don't ask -- British Columbia and, most recently, the Toronto Argonauts. He's the CFL's all-time leading passer and its third-leading rusher. Before the 1993 Grey Cup game, he made comments similar to McNabb's about how black quarterbacks were judged by a harsher standard.

"One reason why [McNabb] would feel that is because history has shown a prejudice towards black quarterbacks," Allen, 44, told the Globe and Mail Wednesday. "From what he's saying, it's no different from what quarterbacks were saying 15, 20 years ago."

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This coming from a quarterback in the CFL, where, Globe and Mail reporter Allan Maki writes, seven of the eight starting quarterbacks last week were black, and that's with Allen on the injured list.

"There's been an opportunity to play; that's been a change," Allen said. "Still, there's a different microscope for the black quarterbacks. It's much bigger than for the other quarterbacks.

"I think there's no question the black quarterback has to do more and that there's added pressure on him to do well because of everything we went through to play the position."

In Wednesday's Toronto Sun, Adam Rita, the Argos' general manager, laid into the team following a 40-7 loss to the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, and he said that Allen might not return when he becomes eligible to play in the last two weeks of the year.

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"The jury is still out," Rita said. "We have to move on. We as an organization have been stunted because of him being our No. 1 quarterback (for so long)."

In other words, even though Allen's been injured, it's his fault that the Argos are struggling because he's been too good to replace for too long, and that's somehow kept the team from moving forward. Or something.

Nah, black quarterbacks don't come in for any extra criticism.

McNabb would have been better off to make his comments when the Eagles were coming off back-to-back wins and he was playing well, rather than when they're 0-2 and he's looking lost on the field. But they were 0-1 when he taped the interview, and he probably figured he'd play well Monday night, the night before it aired. He didn't.

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Play the way McNabb's played so far this year, and you're going to get hammered, and rightly so. Ask any number of white quarterbacks over the years who have gotten an earhole full. But that doesn't mean that assessment of NFL quarterbacks is the one corner of American life where society is colorblind. It isn't.

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Barry's 756 ball: Vote here too [PERMALINK]

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Fashion designer Mark Ecko bought Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball at auction for $752,467 and announced that he would let the public vote on what he would do with it. The choices are: Give it to the Hall of Fame; give it to the Hall of Fame after decorating it with an asterisk; and shoot it into space.

Aren't there any more choices? There ought to be more choices.

I'm going to let the public vote on how this column reacts to Ecko's publicity stunt. Here are the choices:

1. Make fun of the NHL.

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2. Propose a rule change in a major sport that will never happen.

3. Implore the TV networks to point the camera at the ball.

4. Use my kids as column fodder.

Never let it be said that I offer fewer choices to the public than Mark Ecko. You can vote by leaning your head out any window -- not the window of the school bus, kids -- and shouting.

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That's right: Shout out the window. Mark Ecko is a hip street-inspired fashion designer. He can set up a vote on the Webernets. This column rocks it old skool. Yell loud.

Previous column: O.J. 3: This frenzy won't have legs

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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