It was in 2003 when Rush Limbaugh was fired by ESPN for his ridiculous and incorrect assessment of the media’s coverage of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
“I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go,” Limbaugh said at the time. “The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well … McNabb got a lot of the credit for the performance of the team that he really didn’t deserve.”
Limbaugh was wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to describe in this short space, but it matters not. His willingness to put his low “football IQ” on display is not the issue here. Donovan McNabb’s classy response to Rush’s commentary, however, is.
“It’s sad that you’ve got to go to skin color,” the QB said. “I thought we were through that whole deal.”
As a huge McNabb fan, I was impressed — but not surprised — to hear his thoughtful, delicate reply. Not wanting to blow the story out of proportion, he declined an opportunity to fire back, choosing to let his play do his talking for him. Now, four years later, the question has to be, “What changed?” If McNabb thought that skin color should no longer be an issue when evaluating quarterbacks in 2003, why has he suddenly placed it on the table in 2007?
McNabb told HBO last week that black quarterbacks are judged more harshly than white quarterbacks.
“There’s not that many
African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra,” he said. White quarterbacks, he claimed, “don’ t get criticized as much as we do. They don’t.”
The reason McNabb’s words have caused such a stir across the NFL is that the days when black players were thought by certain bigoted team executives to be too intellectually “inferior” to play the QB position are supposed to have been long gone. Pioneers such as Doug Williams, who became the first black QB to win a Super Bowl, set the stage for future Hall of Famers such as Warren Moon, along with superstars such as Randall Cunningham who redefined the position.
In today’s NFL, did anyone even mention the skin color of JaMarcus Russell when the Raiders made him the top overall pick in the draft? Or Vince Young last year? Michael Vick with the Atlanta Falcons? Or McNabb himself when he joined Daunte Culpepper and Akili Smith as first-round QBs taken in 1999?
The notion that black QBs can’t handle the position was dispelled years ago, and to use it as a means of deflecting criticism today is to grasp at straws.
“I pass for 300 yards,” McNabb told HBO, “and our team wins by seven, [and people say] ‘Ah, he could’ve made this throw, they would have scored if he did this.’”
Really? Kind of like a quarterback going to the Super Bowl, and despite every victory in the regular season and through the playoffs, the fans and media bludgeoned him with, “They won in spite of him, not because of him!”
Rex Grossman, of course, is white.
Black QBs face harsher criticism than white QBs, Donovan? Please, allow me to introduce you to Joey Harrington. Or Tim Couch. Or David Carr. Or Ryan Leaf.
The truth is that QBs who play lousy games are QBs who hear the loudest complaints. Complete passes and win games, you’ll be cheered from on high. Throw picks and lose games, even your friends drop you from their Christmas card lists. That’s the nature of the beast.
Donovan McNabb has been an outstanding quarterback in the NFL, and an even better person. But it’s not the color of his skin that seems to be the problem. It’s the thickness of it.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.