Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 12, 2024

The double standard facing Black NFL QBs

By MATTHEW RITCHIE | October 3, 2019


A couple of weeks ago, a wildly irritating clip appeared on Twitter from the early morning ESPN talk show “Get Up!” Noted ESPN and SEC pundit Paul Finebaum lambasted injured Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton for his performance this season. The 2015 MVP had been underperforming due to a mild Lisfranc sprain in his left foot that he suffered during the preseason and arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in the offseason.

Finebaum went on a vitriolic and spiteful rant celebrating the end of Newton’s peak, in an obviously personal attack on quarterback.

“It is the end, it’s over for Cam Newton... He’s a train wreck right now. He can’t do what he used to do,” he said. “And quite frankly, forget the sympathy tour. Cam Newton has never cared about anyone other than Cam Newton.” 

Now, there are numerous counterexamples to the idea that Newton is a selfish egomaniac that doesn’t care about anyone else besides himself. When he arrived in Charlotte, he began a Thanksgiving tradition called Cam’s Thanksgiving Jam — a giant holiday party for hundreds of families from the Boys & Girls Club. Every December, the Cam Newton Foundation loads up trucks with gifts, food and blankets for the needy and takes a tour of Charlotte’s schools, hospitals and homeless shelters. As recently as this past year, he’s held charity flag football tournaments and a celebrity kickball game to raise money for a children’s hospital. 

On the football side of things, he’s played through numerous injuries this season, putting his body on the line for his teammates in order to get the win. 

He puts his body on the line every game as a dual-threat quarterback with a below average offensive line, even taking five helmet-to-helmet hits in a 2016 game against the Denver Broncos.

At that very moment when he slandered Newton, Finebaum found a way to represent a large portion of the NFL’s media and fans’ opinion on black quarterbacks as a whole. There is a continuous effort to oust black quarterbacks for average play while their white counterparts perform as bad, if not worse, and escape the same sort of scrutiny. 

Now, this duality excludes the elite of the position: the Mahomes’, the Brady’s, the Rodgers’, the Wilson’s, and Brees’ of the position. Their standing as the best players at the position is secure, as they rarely ever receive legitimate calls to be benched or cut. 

This discrepancy is reserved for the middle and lower tier quarterbacks, where it becomes harder to discern between the abilities of individual players. 

Take the start of the season for Cam Newton for example. Due to his shoulder and foot injuries, he lost all effectiveness as a runner, making it even more difficult for him to solely depend on his arm. He looked awful. Plain and simple. He threw for 239 yards and an interception in the first game, and then for 333 yards while only completing 49 percent of his passing attempts. 

It was after this week that Paul Finebaum went on his rant. The predominantly white media was calling for his job, looking to bring about an early retirement for the former MVP.

However in that very two game span, Newton had more passing yards than NFC North quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Mitchell Trubisky, a higher passer rating than Trubisky, and fewer interceptions thrown than the anointed Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield. 

Now one would think that if a quarterback performed worse than Newton, who many considered to be at the bottom of the totem pole for quarterback play this year, then that player should be ousted and benched immediately. 

However on the contrary, there was no fanfare about how poor these players were performing compared to Newton. No parades calling for Cousins or Trubisky to hang up their cleats on national morning talk shows.

Newton, after only playing in two considerably poor games, still ranks higher than eight other quarterbacks in clutch-weighted expected points added on pass attempts, which is just a fancy way of saying how many points they add for their team by passing the ball. His five points added is notably higher than the aforementioned Trubisky (1.8), now-benched Giants quarterback Eli Manning (1.7), Titans starter Marcus Mariota (0.1) and Bengals starter Andy Dalton (-1.1). 

We can even go back a couple of years to the fiasco surrounding the Buffalo Bills quarterback situation. The Bills had a perfectly fine, black quarterback in the form of Tyrod Taylor, who was, by most statistics, the most successful quarterback for Buffalo since Jim Kelly. 

He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2015, led them to their first playoff appearance in 17 years in 2017, rushed for over 1,575 yards in three years as their quarterback and had the lowest percentage of his passes intercepted out of every quarterback in the NFL in 2017. 

However he received criticism for not being a conventional quarterback: for leaving the pocket too soon and making too many plays with his feet. His efficiency, dual-threat abilities and a capability to break off an explosive play with his cannon arm were overlooked. 

With the fans clamoring for change, he was benched for Nathan Peterman in Week 11 of 2017, who proceeded to be the absolute worst quarterback in the history of football in one half, going 6 of 15 for 66 yards with five interceptions. After the season, the Bills elected to not bring back Taylor, opting to draft Wyoming project QB Josh Allen and ride with Peterman for the upcoming season. In 2018, Peterman threw for one touchdown to seven interceptions, a stark contrast to Taylor’s efficiency and low turnover rate. 

The most egregious example of this double standard was the treatment of Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson in 2018. He took over in Week 11 and proceeded to go 6-1 as a starter. However pundits and “fans” alike endlessly railed against his ability as a passer. The common thought was that Jackson only added value as a runner. The big joke was that the Ravens had a “running back” playing quarterback.

But until this past week, Jackson held the longest active streak of pass attempts out of any quarterback in the league (249 attempts). In 2018, he had a higher passer rating than fellow first-round draft picks Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Allen. Lamar had the lowest interception percentage out of all of the rookie quarterbacks. 

The interesting fact was that Allen was similar to Lamar last season: Allen was more effective as a runner than he was a passer. In fact, it’s not far off to say that Allen was, and still is, a garbage passer, completing a lower percentage of his passes than Jackson. Interestingly enough, the “running back” jokes didn’t come for the white quarterback, only for Lamar. There was no rush to force Allen to play tight end, as there was to make Lamar a wide receiver. 

This is all to say that there is a difference between the perception of black and white quarterbacks. A tighter leash for black quarterbacks, if you will. Because there are so few black quarterbacks and with the biases that come with being a black player in a white position, there is greater scrutiny on those few players. 

Mediocrity in white quarterbacks is often overlooked, while every mistake a black quarterback makes is placed under a microscope. Some will disregard this criticism by saying that we are just “making it about race.” But with a quick examination at the discourse surrounding black quarterbacks, it makes it impossible to not notice the biases and prejudice.

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