Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jamele Hill is not Courageous

ESPN journalist Jamele Hill has a new article which questions whether race is still an issue with black NFL quarterbacks. I was made aware of it earlier today by Michael C. Wright, another ESPN reporter who covers the Chicago sports scene. On Twitter, Mike framed the article by saying it was "courageous" of her to confront the topic.

Before I address the content of the article it is worth noting that I have been following Wright for quite some time and have usually enjoyed his tweets along with his reporting on sports in general. But after reading the article his use of the word "courage" seemed very misplaced.

Upon engaging him in a conversation on twitter, in which I questioned the merits of the piece, he resorted to calling me "typical", stating "the truth hurts" and then blocked me from following him. Above and beyond the generalizations he used the tired and worn out response of "if you don't like it, read something else."

Fascinating that someone who presents material for public consumption would find his only recourse to basically turn around and walk away from the discussion. That Hill wrote the article implies she considers it a point to consider, at the very least. That Wright felt the need to publicly support and defend what he called her "opinion" puts him in a position for public inquiry as well.

The further irony is not lost on me, that he would use the words "truth" and "opinion" within the same discussion. Follow the conversation based on his replies.

I noted I read the article and found it lacking merit.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf Needless to say, I think I see where u stand.

I claimed that she spent the article making claims then back tracking on them.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf No back tracking. It's called handling it w/kids gloves already knowing the typical backlash to something like that.

I stated that if she felt there was a race issue then she might want to evaluate the QB situation in Jacksonville.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf She's been there. Jax has no choice w/QB now. Plus u saw how hard folks worked 2 get Byron outta there.

I do not recall the specific reply.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf It's a column. Her opinion. If u don't like her opinion u can always read something else.

I noted that reasonable discourse is why these articles are written for public consumption.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf The truth hurts, they say. Not worth continuing. Your mind is made up. Typical.

Unfortunately I cannot pull the actual messages I sent as that would allow for a truly balanced picture.

Wright obviously feels that there is a race issue in the NFL and a failure to concede the validity of Hill's article is typical of a certain segment of society. Did Wright know I was white? I did not ask but considering the topic his choice of words begs the question of what his bias is regarding those who would disagree with him.

The question must then go to the article itself.

Hill's claim is based on three examples and she starts with them.

Has anyone else noticed all the drama surrounding black quarterbacks during this NFL season?

• Jason Campbell, who has been fighting for his job all season in Oakland, was benched for the second time this year against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

• Six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb was replaced by Rex Grossman during the final 1:50 of a close game against the Detroit Lions earlier this month because Redskins coach Mike Shanahan claimed Grossman was better suited to run the team's two-minute offense. Shanahan questioned McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance."

• And on Sunday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher demoted Vince Young to benchwarmer after Young threw a tantrum following Tennessee's 19-16 loss to Washington. Although thumb surgery is the official reason Young's season is over, Fisher made it clear before he knew the severity of Young's injury that his 27-year-old quarterback was being removed as the starter.

The immediate point is that team issues involving black quarterbacks is different than that of white quarterbacks. Now rather than continuing on with supporting evidence, Hill notes the following:

  • Has anyone else noticed all the drama surrounding black quarterbacks during this NFL season? I'm not calling anyone out for being racist, and I realize this might seem like an odd conversation to have considering that Michael Vick is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated.
  • I'm also not overlooking the facts that Campbell played poorly in the games in which he was benched
  • That Young's antics in Tennessee are largely to blame for his problems with Fisher, and that Shanahan has had difficult relationships with plenty of white quarterbacks in the past.

So then is there a problem? Hill's claim is yes.

• But it still seems as if race is playing a role in how some black quarterbacks are treated, managed, perceived and, ultimately, judged.

Confusing? It is to me. She cites examples in which black quarterbacks were being treated, offers counter examples, then follow up by saying there "seems" to be a problem.

Why then does she choose race to be the cohesive element? When Shanahan made the move to bench McNabb for Grossman I chalked it up to a desperate coach making a bad decision. McNabb has since been signed to an extension. The problems with Young are well detailed and Fisher was never a fan of the draft pick.

That he's had to deal with an immature prima dona hasn't helped ease the friction.

Though she points out "But Campbell's shortcomings are rarely clarified with the same perspective as some white quarterbacks.", she doesn't offer any strong counter examples. The two she does present are Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning.

She claims Manning's lack of criticism for the late game interception against New England would've received much criticism if it were McNabb. With respect to Palmer she asks if why he isn't labeled as an "underachiever" as Campbell has been.

Is this the best we get?

Looking at the body of work, Manning has significantly out performed McNabb. Palmer has been handcuffed by injuries and significant personel problems in Cincinnati. Hill's claim is predicated on the reader accepting that the two comparisons are of quarterbacks with equal backgrounds and upon equal performance.

One attempt at doing so is to note McNabb's 17 fourth quarter comebacks and 25 game winning drives. Per Pro-Football Reference Manning has 37 reported and 28 actual fourth quarter comebacks.

The correlation between Palmer and Campbell is qualified by Palmer's recent record and that he has only had two winning season in seven years. Campbell, however, didn't have a single winning season in four years at Washington. So Campbell gets the pass because of the rotation offensive coordinators? She also further fails to note that Palmer's worst season, in which he started a majority of the games, was a seven loss season and that one of the two playoff games he was in saw him get injured early in the game.

So much for the 1:1 comparison.

My favorite, however, is where she compares Young's injury to Favre's injury, stating that Brett is considered tough will Vince is being a "brat". Considering she already noted that Young is a bit of a head case, and has used injuries to get out of playing, does she honestly want us to believe that Favre's body of work warrants a comparison? Favre gets the nod because he is also mentally tough, which has nothing to do with him being white.

What I found most damning were these statements.

• Most African-Americans are familiar with the notion that we have to be twice as good just to be considered equal with whites. And considering that there are only six black starting quarterbacks in the NFL, there isn't a lot of room for error.

• I'm not saying black quarterbacks are above criticism or that race plays a role every time one of them loses his job. White quarterbacks are benched and second-guessed, too, same as black ones. It comes with the position, regardless of race. But if most of us agree that racism is still an issue in this country, how can we dismiss its influence in sports?

First, the statement that blacks have to be twice as good to be considered equal with whites is a convenient foundation to start from. It paints blacks as victims of an unfair system on the whole. This isn't consistent with Hill's earlier premise that this is happening to "some" black quarterbacks. Obviously they all do not have to be twice as good. But if you want to single out race as the mitigating factor you first have to label your oppressor.

Second, if we agree that racism is still an issue in this country, why does it stop with white on black racism? ESPN recently ran an article on Peyton Hillis noting he is more than just a "white" running back. Is Hill willing to acknowledge that there may be some racism with respect to white positions at certain positions?

When Jamele Hill asks if racism is still an issue for NFL quarterbacks, it actually speaks to society on the whole and the answer is an obvious yes.

However, by throwing around the word "racism" so cavalierly it assumes she knows the intent behind the actions of those involved with McNabb, Campbell and Young. Is she calling Shanahan, Cable and Fisher racists? And if not them, then who?

Hill has presented us with an argument which goes roughly along the lines of "it could be this or it could be that..." She uses the history of bias towards white quarterbacks as evidence that these three examples "could" fall into that same category. The problem is that beyond her speculation there is not any compelling reason to make us accept her premise.

What I see from Hill and Wright are two people who assume racism is an element of the problem and make an effort to find it, regardless of whether there is any validity to the opinion. There is nothing courageous about yelling fire in a movie theater because you think the steam coming from the kitchen is smoke. This is lazy journalism meant to get website hits.

As Wright so appropriately stated: "the truth hurts." Yes, Mike, the truth does hurt.