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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tré Watkins

Will Quarterback for Food

Today, Colin Kaepernick ought to be playing in the NFL. Various arguments attempt to explain why he isn't, spanning from the practical (he is currently pursuing a collusion case against the NFL) to the ridiculous (claims that he can't perform at an NFL level). There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the primary reason Colin currently does not have an NFL job is the public stance he has taken against state violence.  Although his message has been co-opted, appropriated, and completely misconstrued, no one can deny its impact, generating an outpouring of support and criticism from fans, media members, and even the current sitting President.  

Critically acclaimed sports writer Howard Bryant describes “The Heritage” as the tradition of Black athletes using their platform to bring awareness to issues of social inequality.  This list includes notable athletes such as  Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Curt Flood.  Unfortunately, their commitment to social consciousness has also come at a price, as these men experienced notable costs, loss, and personal struggle due to their refusal to shut up and play simply.  Colin Kaepernick has earned his membership in this illustrious club for his unwavering dedication to the battle despite the associated risks.

But as we look at the current level of quarterback play around the league, taking into account the legacy of racism that exists around Black quarterbacks, a fair question to ask is, “Would Colin Kaepernick be playing if he never took a knee?”  By this, I am positing that Colin’s vocal stance against state violence is only a justification to shorten an already short leash that already exists for Black signal callers.  

Recently, former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel made headlines when he posted this recently deleted tweet:

“I usually never open up about my situation in Buffalo, but the fact that his Gus has had multiple games with 4+ interceptions...and I still don’t have a job in the league?...UNREAL”

The guy Manuel refers to is Nathan Peterman (AKA The Peter Man), who, through 4 games this season, has thrown for one touchdown and seven interceptions.  In somewhat defense of the Peter Man, the Bills QB options are far from good as he was playing as a replacement for their first-round draft pick Josh Allen, who, in his last season of college ball, completed only 56.3% of his passes in the Mountain West, a conference not known for elite defenses or talent.  

You would, however, be mistaken to assume that the perusal dedication to quarterback purgatory exists only in Buffalo.  As of this writing, 7 NFL games (14 quarterbacks) are currently being played.  Of those games, seven teams are playing with quarterbacks who could be considered in the bottom half of talent in the league.  I have broken them up into three categories:

Certified Trash:

Jaguars - Blake Bortles

Bills - Matt Barkley

Jets - Josh McCown

Bucs - Ryan Fitzpatrick

Certified Average As Fu*k:

Bengals - Andy Dalton

Washington - Alex Smith

Certified Can’t Get Right:

Titans - Marcus Mariota

The argument I am making is not that these quarterbacks do not deserve an opportunity to play at football’s highest level (although most of them don’t).  I assert that the only reason they have been given the amount of leeway they have is because they are not Black.  

Through five NFL seasons, 27-year-old EJ Manuel has compiled a 58.1 completion percentage and a 1.25 touchdown to interception ratio (TD to INT).  Pretty average. Also average are former Bills starter and current New Orleans Saints backup, 29-year-old Tyrod Taylor, who has a 61.6 completion percentage and  2.65 TD to INT ratio through his eight seasons.  Not bad, but not stellar. Last year, the  Jacksonville Jaguars made the AFC Conference championship game despite the mediocre play of Blake Bortles.  Bortles holds a career completion percentage of 59.1 with a 1.3 TD-to-INT ratio.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have recently switched back to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who, in 13 years, has a 60% completion rating and a 1.32 TD-to-INT ratio.  All things being equal, the Black quarterbacks I have mentioned who are not being allowed to start in the NFL appear to be better passers than their equally average white counterparts.  However, suppose you factor in rushing statistics, at least for Tyrod Taylor. In that case, it is mind-boggling how they are being overlooked for starting positions, considering the current state of the position. 

If I were to list quarterbacks with these statistics, do you think you could tell which are starters, backups, or out of a job?

QB #1 - 13 years, 62.4% Passing, 1.93 TD to INT ratio, 2552 Rushing yds, 15 TDs

QB #2 - 6 years,  59.8% Passing, 2.4 TD to INT ratio, 2300 Rushing yds, 13 TDs

QB #3 - 8 years, 62.4% Passing, 1.82 TD to INT ratio, 1090 Rushing yds, 19 TDs

Trick question: QB #1 is Alex Smith, the starting quarterback for the Washington franchise. QB #3 is Andy Dalton, the Bengals starter, and QB #2 is, you guessed it, Colin Kaepernick.  

The NFL often prioritizes winning and performance above all else. Athletes who commit violence against women, face drug charges or are caught taking PEDs typically receive second and third chances if they are valuable assets. However, the league treats Black quarterbacks as liabilities rather than assets. They face different (higher) standards and experience much less job security when their performance declines. Recently, the public feud between Malcolm Jenkins, leader of the Player’s Coalition, and the re-signed Eric Reid became highly visible during a game between the Eagles and Panthers. Reid claims that Jenkins' willingness to negotiate a deal with the NFL didn't consider reinstating Colin Kaepernick.

While Eric Reid's loyalty to his friend and former teammate is commendable, there is no indication that Kaepernick would have had a fair opportunity to succeed in the NFL even if he never protested. Focusing solely on Kaepernick's situation without addressing the broader evaluation and treatment of Black quarterbacks is too narrow and allows critics to exaggerate his case. The prospects for Black QBs in the NFL appear bleak. To effect real change, framing these issues as part of a more significant historical and league-wide problem is crucial. Until then, let's hope your favorite team prioritizes winning over identity politics.

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