Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blame Rush



Donovan McNabb is a black quarterback.

I blame Rush Limbaugh for telling him, because it's ruined everything. Just like when somebody told Steve Martin that he wasn't black in that movie, it got into Don's head and he's become a jerk.

Now, I admit I already knew Donovan was a black quarterback, and I figure Donovan suspected it, too. But I'm a born-and-bred Philadelphia Eagles fan, so he was just our quarterback, and the best one we'd had since Randall Cunningham ten years before. (Who was also black.)

But Rush Limbaugh had to go and open his trap. All his success notwithstanding, Limbaugh had just fulfilled the secret lifelong dream that many guys have, becoming a sports commentator, and he got himself hired by ESPN. Doing what got him there in the first place, being Rush, instead of saying something bland he called it like he saw it:

"I don't think he's been that good from the get-go...I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."


Well, he was sort of right about the quarterbacking, although he didn't take into account the Eagles' pathetically slow, uncrafty, and hamhanded receivers and substandard blocking by his offensive line.

But I really agreed with the part about the press, and found it uncontroversial: all things being equal, like in a game I didn't care who won, I always cheered for the black quarterback, if there was one.

Racism and stereotyping in American football always said that blacks weren't intelligent enough to make the quick calculations needed to outsmart a deceiving defense. The discrimination started at the college level, which fed the professional NFL. The growth in the number of black NFL quarterbacks was slow indeed.

So, I meself plead damn guilty to social concern. I was always desirous of seeing a black quarterback do well, to put that racialist canard to bed once and for all. Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam, Vince Evans, James Harris. Finally, Doug Williams ended up breaking all the Super Bowl passing records leading a crushing victory for the Washington Redskins.


When Limbaugh let the cat out out of the bag, Donovan McNabb was being touted in the press as one of the very best quarterbacks in football, but it wasn't quite true. He was close, and the reason he was close was because he could run away from anyone trying to tackle him.

Now I've always loved running quarterbacks: it seemed to make more sense and was incredibly more stylish to run away and gain yards then sit in the pocket and get utterly smeared for a loss. I liked the white guys who did it, Greg Landry, Steve Young. Many of the black guys could do it. Some say there's a genetic component to running well because Olympic running champions have been disproportionately black. But maybe it's a cultural thing, that to be authentically black you have to be able to run, just like to be authentically white you have to be able to play "Stairway to Heaven" on guitar.

Although charitably an OK passer, Donovan McNabb's extra edge was that he could run and run astonishingly well. But somehow it got into his head that running made him a "black quarterback." Damn you, Limbaugh, damn you. He stopped running. Donovan wanted to be "a quarterback," and turned his back on his best gift.

Even a writer at a black Philadelphia newspaper noticed. Black pride is fine, Donovan, but winning football games is where it's at.

Later, an amazingly troubled yet sublimely gifted receiver named Terrell Owens joined the Eagles, and made Donovan look statistically splendid as a passer for awhile. But Owens, as toxic people do, went on to destroy everything around him, the team, and McNabb, who'd worked to bring him aboard. Today, Donovan, with nowhere else to turn, is echoing his father's previous wack comments, calling Owens' criticism of his play "black-on-black crime."

Whooo. (taking a breath)


Donovan McNabb was, and despite all this, remains a hero of mine, even though he's acting like a jerk just now. Rabid Philly fans, who once pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, organized a protest when he was first drafted. (The guy they wanted instead turned out to be a terminal pothead.) McNabb put up with all the criticism while he took the team through the growing pains of going from sucky to perennial Super Bowl contenders. He played through a score of injuries that would have sent any lesser man to the bench with no questions asked. He put up with everything, with good cheer, even temper and generosity of spirit. Now his head has exploded. Every man has his limit.

Dammit, Rush, why did you have to go and tell Donovan he's black? Before that, he was just an NFL quarterback, a pretty good one at that, and a helluva guy besides.

14 comments:

Jay D. Homnick said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Uncle Tom.

And I understand that you were really sending me a coded message on the very day that a letter to the editor of the American Spectator labeled me a "Jewish writer". Had you not spoken up, I would never again have felt comfortable making a joke about circumcision, fur coats or Chinese food.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're Jewish?

Matt Huisman said...

...just like to be authentically white you have to be able to play "Stairway to Heaven" on guitar.

You know, I've never really felt like I fit in, but could never place why...until today.

Maybe I can reclaim my authenticity by taunting a few buddies during next Thanksgiving's annual flag football game. As far as I can see, getting smeared in the pocket is the only answer - I don't think there's much hope of me learning how to play that Eagles song...wait, that's not right...dammit, who am I!

Hunter Baker said...

Tom, I'm with you in spirit, but disagree with some of the content. I think Rush was objectively wrong and that Donovan has been a strong passer throughout his NFL career. Terrell Owens put him into the passing elite, a group he was just outside of previously.

I wrote two TAS articles about the treatment of Rush after the remark. He was treated extremely poorly for expressing an opinion that was half-wrong. Donovan was better than Rush gave him credit, but Rush was right that the media fawns over the black QB. It's just that Donovan deserved some fawning.

I think the real reason Donovan stopped running is the same one that slows down every running QB in the NFL. They get older, they get expensive and management hopes to protect them, and they accumulate injuries. Look at Mark Brunell in the early years. The guy was extremely elusive. He won lots of games for the young Jaguar franchise on his legs, but he doesn't do that anymore. I suspect you'd find that after about five years in the league the runners stop running or run much, much less than they did before.

Michael Vick (best running QB ever) hasn't played nearly as many games as you'd suspect for a guy with his years of NFL experience. That's due to injuries (from his extreme running style) and he'll either have more of them or will stop running as much. Just like Donovan.

Matt Huisman said...

But I really agreed with the part about the press, and found it uncontroversial: all things being equal, like in a game I didn't care who won, I always cheered for the black quarterback, if there was one.

I've never been a big Rush fan, but boy was that a pathetic situation. You're quite right Tom when you say that Limbaugh's remarks were unremarkable.

What did he say?
1) People are favorably predisposed to like Donovan McNabb due to social concern issues - the desire for a black QB to do well.
2) Donovan McNabb was overrated, not lousy, just overrated.
3) People shouldn’t let their favoritism cloud their judgment.

Now certainly none of that is controversial. But I haven't seen the footage in a while, so there may have been a fourth item:
4) It is wrong to commit item #1.

This is where things get awkward. On the one hand, I find it perfectly legitimate to 'root' for people or to have favorites. However, when asked why you like a Donovan McNabb - everyone understands that it is somewhat insulting to him to say that it is only because he's black. So they get defensive and light torches and burn El Rushbo for challenging them on that notion.

Now I think most people like Donovan for a lot more reasons than his melanin content, and so I think they should have had enough confidence in themselves to take Rush’s comments in stride. We all need to be careful not to fall victim to excessive favoritism, no matter how noble the reason, but no one needs to apologize for having a soft spot for one person or another.

connie deady said...

Now why did you have to go and write that Tom?

The reason Donovan runs less is because the life expectancy of a quarterback who runs is very low and he is getting older and injured. Look at the career patterns of any good quarterback who ran and it goes down, in part because he learns to pass better and in part because of the safety hazards to running.

There's a lot of interesting anti-black athlete commentary to make, but quoting the idiot NAACP for Philadelphia who was roundly criticized by the National NAACP.

Charles Barkley had some interesting commentary on the subject, which I think you'd agree with. He was on the Dan Patrick show. Sir Charles said that there is a black subculture that picks on blacks who act professionally and responsibly. They lack "street creds".

Anyone it's just a ridiculous argument.

James Elliott said...

There was a really neat study that did the math on running backs. They have something like 3,000 career plays to make on average before something blows out. This includes college and pro-ball. It's one of the reasons why more and more young college athletes are foregoing their degrees in favor of lucrative pro careers.

Connie is dead-on here. Quarterbacks get pummeled in general. The new meme, with the popularity of running quarterbacks, is that it is okay to smack them around like a wet fish. A great QB like Montana or Namath would get utterly creamed within a season or two. Now you have to be the size of a McNabb or a Roethlisberger just to get into the game as QB, and you need to run because the defense is more determined than ever to get you.

So, quarterbacks now face getting tackled more (it's why they now have the hook-slide rule), and now face the same injuries as running backs in addition to traditional quarterback injuries to arms and shoulders. There are, at face value, more ways for a running QB to end their career.

McNabb has spent the last three seasons soldiering through some pretty intense injuries. You mention it, but don't consider how that becomes a factor to his playing.

As Connie pointed out, McNabb personifies the "professional black athlete." He shows up for team events and games in custom-tailored suits, for crying out loud. I agree with your overall sentiment - why can't we all just be "people;" why can't a black athlete just be an "athlete?" - but I have to disagree with the way you presented it here, and the reasoning you used to get there.

Limbaugh was lambasted because he'd set himself up long ago as someone who presents the appearance of being bigoted and prejudiced. He has only himself to blame if his demeanor and hyperbole get in the way of anything substantive he wants to say.

Jay D. Homnick said...

James, those last two sentences were very well-written.

The only thing an editor would have done is take out either "bigoted" or prejudiced"; using both subtracted from the punch. But that's just a quibble. Figure out what you did in those sentences and keep doing it; before long you'll be cashing checks from The Nation.

tbmbuzz said...

Limbaugh was lambasted because he'd set himself up long ago as someone who presents the appearance of being bigoted and prejudiced. He has only himself to blame if his demeanor and hyperbole get in the way of anything substantive he wants to say.

Exactly. Although what Rush said was stupid anyway because IMO it wasn't true, or at least hadn't been true for at least 10 years. NO ONE thinks in terms of the race of a quarterback anymore. I remember watching that ESPN show with Rush and at the time immediately couldn't believe he'd brought the topic up. He should have left his politics at home.

Matt Huisman said...

James>> He has only himself to blame if his demeanor and hyperbole get in the way of anything substantive he wants to say.

I would say that this is true in general. His shtick is really geared to a smaller audience than what he actually gets. He just gets the benefit of being the best among the first in that genre.

Anyway, what really did him in on ESPN was that his co-anchors were completely unprepared to deal with him. ESPN brought him in - I'm not sure what they thought he was going to add if not something along those lines - and the guys on the set were not able to confront his argument in such a way as to satisfy the general public.

Stronger personalities and minds would have cleared up the issues he raised, and picked them apart both athletically and culturally. The trouble starts when one group of viewers feels like their side is underrepresented in an argument - the conservatives that listen to Rush know something about this - and are unable to contain their frustration.

Kathy Hutchins said...

what Rush said was stupid anyway

True, but if saying something stupid was enough to get you booted from ESPN, then Around the Horn and Sportscenter would have to be hosted by robots.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The criticism of McNabb quitting on the run was vitiated by his apparent statement that "everybody expects black quarterbacks to scramble."

I apologize for merely linking to that rather than putting it prominently in my essay, as it would have avoided a lot of confusion.

Hunter Baker said...

Oh, baby. Kathy you are right on. Around the Horn has got to be one of THE DUMBEST programs ever, ever conceived.

James Elliott said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jay. I appreciate the advice from someone who's been routinely published.