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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tré Watkins

Fear of the White Outspoken QB

The talent that GMs, Head Coaches, and Bloggers traditionally fawn over is Josh Rosen.  Standing 6’4, 210 pounds with arm strength that allows him to make all of the NFL throws, requisite mobility and escapability to extend plays and avoid the pass rush, and an unmatched football IQ, Rosen should be the clear-cut number one choice.  But all too often, this time of year (when games aren’t being played), the “experts” spend their days finding reasons to devalue a player’s stock (if that’s even a thing).  

So then, what’s the knock on Rosen? Well, it could be his numbers. Rosen came to UCLA as a highly touted prospect out of Southern Section powerhouse St. John Bosco.  Recruiting services had him listed as the top 2 at the position. For a resurging UCLA after consecutive 10-win seasons, Rosen’s signature was hailed as a coup d'etat over rival USC, signifying a new era of dominance for Coach Jim Mora and the PAC 12. Although he had great numbers as a true freshman starter (3669 yards, 23 TDs, 60% completion), the team’s record dipped to 8 wins and finished with a bowl loss.  Rosen saw his sophomore campaign end early due to a soft tissue shoulder injury, which required season-ending surgery.  By all accounts, Rosen battled to get back as quickly as possible and supported his fellow QBs on and off the field. 

The 2017 Bruins got off to a quick start, fueled by Rosen’s gunslinging ability (300+ yds and 3+ TDs in the first four games), with big wins over Texas A&M and Hawaii, and found themselves ranked in the AP top 25 for the first time in over a year.  However, both games were high-scoring affairs, and it was clear that the team had significant holes.  UCLA finished a disappointing 6-7 with a loss in the Cactus Bowl, and Jim Mora was relieved of his duties.  Although he did miss one regular season game due to a concussion, Rosen finished the year with improved numbers, throwing for 3756 yards, 26 TDs, and a 62.6% completion percentage, numbers which hold up against the draft’s other top QB prospects Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen.

This year’s draft season has seen interesting analysis on Josh Rosen, with most of it having nothing to do with this actual playing ability. In a recent Deadspin interview, his former coach Jim Mora lauded his talent and playing ability but also labeled him as a “millennial” (he’s Gen Z) who “wants to know why” and openly questioned his maturity.  This probably has a lot to do with Rosen’s outspokenness; comments made in a 2017 Bleacher Report interview questioning the feasibility of the competing interests of academics and big-time college sports caused an uproar in the news cycle.  “Football and school don’t go together,” Rosen said, “raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have.”  Some perceived these statements as a direct shot at college football’s most dominant team. They generated responses from Alabama’s Head Coach Nick Saban, Alabama players, and damage control by Jim Mora.  The problem is that his comments had little to do with Alabama’s program specifically and, if investigated further, shed light on the parasitic nature of Division 1 sports. 

Student-athletes at Power 5 schools graduate at lesser rates than non-student athletes.  Digging deeper, Black student-athletes, who overwhelmingly make up the majority of football and basketball rosters at these powerhouse schools, graduate at even lesser rates than their non-student athlete and student-athlete peers of all races(see Shaun Harper’s 2018 report on racial inequities in college sports).  Stated differently, Black student-athletes are recruited to institutions of higher learning specifically for their athletic ability. Then they are left to fend for themselves when it comes to actually engaging in a meaningful academic experience.  

It’s clear that Rosen gets it, as evidenced by his response to a question arguing the post-collegiate career aspirations of some NCAA athletes: Some do. What about those who don't? What did they get for laying their body on the line play after play while universities make millions? People criticize when guys leave early for the NFL draft and then rip them when some guys who leave early don't get drafted. [They say,] "Why did you leave school if you weren't going to get drafted?" I'll tell you why: For many guys, there is no other option. They were either leaving early (for the NFL) or flunking out. To me, that's a problem within the system and the way we're preparing student-athletes for the future away from football. Everyone has to be part of the process.

And there we have it.  Josh Rosen’s criticism questions the exploitative nature of college sports, and we all know that the good ‘ol boys in football hate to be questioned.  In a league where peaceful protests meant to highlight the systematic devaluing of Black lives are met with staunch opposition from owners, the media, fans, and even the President of the United States, it's no wonder why the narrative surrounding Rosen has been painted in such a negative light.  The NFL machine is built on submission to authority.  You don’t have to look far to find examples, as the New England Patriots, the league’s most successful team in the last two decades, prides itself on cutting players to prove a point and strict adherence by all to the “Patriot way.” With Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, the two ex-49ers teammates who are viewed by most as the faces of the protest, still unable to find employment on any of the 32 NFL teams, it is essential for players to continue to speak out against injustices.  It is even more crucial for White athletes, like 2x Super Bowl Champion Chris Long, to use their privilege and platform to support the fight for equal treatment of all people.  

While some might want Josh Rosen just to shut up and throw, he has a unique opportunity to prove that while academics and football may be incompatible, activism and football sure are not.  His success in the professional ranks at the sports’ most prestigious position could help usher in a new era of athletes who are applauded for their ability to be modern-day Renaissance men instead of cast aside as dumb, ungrateful jocks. I’m rooting for Josh Rosen, who keeps speaking out and slinging the rock, young man.

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