Can Cam Newton change the game for black quarterbacks? : ThyBlackMan

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Can Cam Newton change the game for black quarterbacks?

February 26, 2011 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Sports, Weekly Columns

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( When Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, I remember hearing Redskins radio commentator and Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff say that it was his hope that the stereotype of the black athlete not having the mental capacity to play quarterback in the NFL had finally come to an end.

But even with Williams’s triumphant moment, Warren Moon’s Hall of Fame career and the success of signal callers like Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair and more recently Michael Vick, you still hear in 2011 the same old song when it comes to African-American quarterbacks: “He’s a great athlete, but he doesn’t possess the IQ or leadership skills to be an NFL quarterback.”

It’s been something I’ve heard every time a highly touted black quarterback comes out of college to enter the NFL Draft. Even at a time when a black man    is the current president of the United States, that old wive’s tale about an African-American quarterback’s lack of mental prowess to be an NFL quarterback always rears its ugly head.

Recently, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock continued that long-standing tradition of questioning the mental intellect of a black signal caller. While other analysts were gushing over the physical tools of former Auburn star and Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton during one of his recent workouts, Mayock basically blew off Newton’s performance:

Can he adapt to, can he process and assimilate a very structured and complex pro offense against a complex pro defense? And secondly, and most importantly, when you get to a certain skill level in the NFL, which this kid certainly has, at the quarterback position what kind of kid is he? Is he going to be the first guy in the building? Is he a gym rat? Is he football smart? Is he a leader of men?

In all the years I’ve covered and watched pro football, I’ve never heard anyone question the football IQ or the leadership of white quarterbacks entering the NFL draft. They may question their accuracy, mobility or even their arm strength. Leadership and football smarts are rarely questions for white quarterbacks.

There’s still a terminology that’s used only when talking about Black quarterbacks that’s almost never used when talking about all the other quarterbacks out there,” said AOL Fanhouse columnist David Steele. “But the way (black quarterbacks) are evaluated and critiqued by these scouts, general managers and these TV analysts hasn’t changed one bit. You hearing the exact same thing in 2011 that you heard in 1961, 1971 and 1981.”

Steele thought Mayock’s assessment of Newton’s ability was not only the same old racist spiel, but downright lazy reporting for someone who is supposed to be a highly-touted analyst of pro football.

To get out there and say ‘I have questions about his football IQ, you owe everybody something better than that,” Steele said. “It’s lazy and it’s not thinking and it’s beneath what the job demands of you and it’s insulting to the player. (Newton) was the best player in college football last year. How dumb can he be?”

Amid the tumultuous stress of an NCAA investigation in which his father Cecil was excused of offering his son’s services to Mississippi State for a little over $180,000, Cam Newton never lost his focus on the field late in the season despite all the distractions. He brought his team back from a 24-0 deficit against arch-rival Alabama and then led Auburn to a win in the Southeastern Conference Championship game over South Carolina.

Doesn’t that make him mentally tough?

In the days leading up to the combines, Newton told Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King that he wanted to be an “icon and an entertainer.” And of course, he was criticized for having a bad attitude. Really? Self-confidence and some swagger constitute a bad attitude? Wouldn’t you want to have that kind of supreme confidence when the game is on the line?

In Philadelphia, fans and media pundits criticized Donovan McNabb mercilessly for not having that “swag.”

We know Cam Newton is a first-round player and already they’re saying he has a bad attitude,” said Lloyd Vance, author of the book, Third and a Mile, which chronicles the history of the black quarterback. “When he said he wants to be an entertainer and icon, they really blew that out of proportion. He’s a young man. He wants to come into the NFL, he wants to be a star and he wants to shine. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner. He has excelled on every level — he’s won at junior, he won in high school and he won the national championship last year, so why not come in here with some swagger.”

Vance said another example of bias towards black quarterbacks coming into the NFL is that they are often told to convert to a new position because of their athleticism.

According to a study that Vance conducted in 2008, he said that 33 black quarterbacks that were drafted dating from the 1930s to 2008 were converted to other positions. It amounts to about a third of the African-American signal callers drafted. Vance also found that of the 617 white quarterbacks drafted during the same time period only 10 were asked to change positions.

Vance said he saw current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb playing wide receiver at the Senior Bowl instead of quarterback like he did during his collegiate at Alabama-Birmingham.

Joe Webb was at the Senior Bowl with (now Broncos quarterback) Tim Tebow, ” Vance said. “Everybody kept saying you gotta give Tim Tebow his shot, but nobody was saying that about Joe Webb. At first, [the Vikings] were going to blindly convert him into a wide receiver because they had that ‘we have to get him on the field mentality because he’s a great athlete. Why not let him develop into the quarterback he’s going to be?”

I get the feeling that when it’s Terrell Pryor‘s turn to declare himself eligible for next year’s draft you’re going to hear the same old song once more. As we move closer to this year’s draft, you’re going to hear pundits do everything they can devalue the talent of Newton or Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor by questioning their mental prowess, their leadership or their character.

Like in every other aspect of black life in America, African-American quarterbacks have to realize that when they come into the NFL the scrutiny on them is far more intensified than it is on their white counterparts because there’s still a belief among scouts, the media and some coaches that they don’t have mental capacity or the work ethic to succeed in the NFL.

The bottom line is that African-American quarterbacks are always on double-secret probation in the NFL. There is no margin for error for on or off the field screw-ups. Even acts of self-confidence and youthful exuberance like Newton wanting to be some sort of iconic figure are frowned upon because its seen as arrogant when comes out of the mouth of a young black quarterback.

When Newton, Taylor and eventually Pryor come into the league, they better know that playbook better than the offensive coordinator or their quarterback coach. They better be the first to arrive and the last to leave their team’s practice facility.

It goes back to that time-honored adage you often hear in many African-American homes: you have to twice as good as your white counterparts. It’s no different in pro football.

Written by Chris Murray


4 Responses to “Can Cam Newton change the game for black quarterbacks?”
  1. Tommy says:

    Wonderlic Test

    The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test (formerly known as the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT)) is a twelve-minute, fifty-question test used to assess the aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving in a range of occupations. The test was developed by industrial psychologist Eldon F. Wonderlic.[1] The score is calculated as the number of correct answers given in the allotted time. A score of 20 is intended to indicate average intelligence (corresponding to an intelligence quotient of 100; a rough conversion is accomplished via the following formula: IQ = 2WPT + 60.[citation needed] A new version was released in January 2007 called the Wonderlic Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test (formerly known as the Wonderlic Personnel Test – Revised). It contains questions more appropriate to the 21st century and is available both online and in printed form, whereas the original test is only available on paper.

    No African American Quarterback has ever scored above average on this test while NFL Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo recorded scores in the upper 99 percentile and there isn’t a white Quarterback currently in the NFL who has scored anything but above average on this exam. You can call it racist but science calls this a law.

  2. JacksonTrigg says:

    Good points mgginva. The simple fact is black quarterbacks do not succeed on a regular basis within the nfl. Maybe they aren’t given the opportunity to develop as non-running quarterbacks in high school and college like the white kids are, I don’t know. I don’t see white people complaining that black players take up almost all the other positions in the NFL. Could it be because black players are just genetically better athletes? PROBABLY! Could white players have a greater genetic disposition to play QB? QUITE POSSIBLY!

  3. Chas says:

    Great article – you nailed it.

    I’m white, but I’m disgusted by the way the media is treating Cam

    About 70% of NFL players are black, but there are only a handful of
    black quarterbacks. Can anyone explain that?

    Also, there are hardly any black head coaches or front office execs.
    I’d like an explanation for that too. That’s all we get is a bunch of
    tired retreads whenever there’s a head coaching vacancy.

    Seriously, I wish the black community would boycott the NFL until
    there’s more black representation in the management ranks.

    I would join and I hope other rational thinking whites would join

  4. mgginva says:

    Well I just don’t know at this junction how much the race card counts. I’m a ‘skins fan and a graduate of Va Tech. I have cheered for Williams and for Vick. Williams is currently making a fool of himself whining about racial bias when the numbers say the opposite, and Vick, of course, really screwed the pooch and shamed our great program at Va Tech.

    I don’t believe that genetically black QB’s are incapable of grasping the complexity of the position, but there does seem to be some disconnect somewhere. There does appear to be a problem when the spot light gets too bright. Look at Cam. He’s already making statements that make many of us (‘skins fans) nervous. Is he going to flake out when he gets to the next level? I hope not – but I sure hope the ‘skins don’t draft him.

    Is there a cultural problem? I sure don’t know, but there does seem to be a problem. Why is it the only top QB that’s black is the only QB that’s running his mouth? It sure is easier to say that black players are held to an unfair standard but I just don’t think that’s true. In Washington we really don’t care what color our QB is – and if we did lean any particular way it would be in the direction of wanting to win another Superbowl with another black QB as that helps make our team special. When we drafted JC there certainly was talk that now we’d win again and we’d win with another black QB.

    I think to make this discussion more valid the question of why it seems like black QB’s are more of a risk than white ones has to be asked. On a percentage basis I wonder how many white QB.s fail because they let the power and money and attention affect their judgement. I wonder this as that’s what it seems like to me. It seems like for every one Tyrod or McNabb there’s a Michael Vick. Perhaps the “me” players aren’t predominately black, but that’s not what it seems.
    Just this year alone – look at JR or VY. Two immature irresponsible picks that really hurt their teams.

    I think that it’s time to try and figure out why the black QB is failing and to do it without trying to find a way to blame the white man. Plenty of black QB’s have been given every possible chance to win yet for some reason they aren’t. Perhaps they are lacking something at home.

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