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Why are we parroting racist talking points about Black quarterbacks?

The commentary around Justin Fields is just another example in a long line of racist takes on Black quarterbacks.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Only two days ago, former NFL quarterback and current analyst Dan Orlovsky hopped on The Pat McAfee Show to talk about the NFL Draft. When it came to discussing Justin Fields, Orlovsky went on to say the stupidest things I have heard in this entire draft cycle.

“One, I have heard that he is a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback. Like, not the maniacal work ethic… The second thing is … Where is his desire to go be a great quarterback? I think that there’s a desire to be a big-time athlete, from what is expressed to me, but where is his desire to be a great quarterback? And to be great, you gotta be willing to find the things that you are not good at and just freaking grind on them.”

It’s not just stupid, of course. It is blatantly racist to come out of nowhere to accuse a Black quarterback of shoddy work ethic and lack of fire in his belly. As soon as the clip went viral, nearly everyone hopped on the train to call Orlovsky out for this baseless, offensive stereotyping.

Orlovsky rebutted a day later:

That forced me to do even more digging over the last 24 hours, and I’ve had two conversations that I want to put out there to kind of clarify the situation or put more out there about the situation. One conversation I had is with an offensive coach at Ohio State and he said, ‘Tell them that’s absolutely not true. That Justin Fields’ work ethic is spectacular. That he is a guy who has great football IQ and he’s always studying tape.’

And then the second conversation I had is with John Beck, who has kind of trained Justin as he’s headed into his pro day. John’s had a really positive experience, saying like, this guy is always working incredibly hard on the field, and even after we’re done doing on-field drills, he’s the guy who wants to stay after and work on different footwork or different throws, and he’s had a very good experience. So the reality is that is that I have heard those things from teams and they might feel that way, and this is also a season where teams are tying to say things to potentially get a guy to drop to them, and so I just wanted to clarify and put it out there that, listen, over the last 24 hours and more digging that it seems and sounds like Justin Fields’ work ethic is fantastic, and that’s coming from two people who have worked directly, close with him”

So, as it turns out, according to people who have actually worked with Justin Fields, he has a phenomenal work ethic. That’s interesting!

Orlovsky got bad info from an NFL source and immediately parroted it on a massive platform with little scrutiny. He admits to having sources close to Justin Fields that he didn’t even tap to find any basis for this claim. It’s embarrassing from purely a journalistic standpoint, but the greater implication is still so much worse.

The NFL has a problem with racism. It always has. That racism impacts how the league treats former players, to how the league views Black quarterbacks. This isn’t a secret, and any time reporters are fed information by the league, they need to take this very real history into account.

The thing is, Dan Orlovsky is just the latest in a long line of the NFL commentariat acting as a mouthpiece for the league’s bigoted talking points. Whether it’s Patrick Mahomes not being pro-ready, or the supposed pressure on Lamar Jackson to change positions, or worries that Cam Newton was untrustworthy; Black quarterbacks have always been under unique scrutiny by the NFL when they came out of college. All three of those guys have won MVP, by the way.

Like I’ve said, none of this is new. The problem is that we keep doing this. Every year. Every year it’s a new quarterback and some version of “they don’t work hard” or “they can’t read a defense” or “they’re not a leader” or sometimes a combination of the three. If the NFL chooses to believe that, then it’s worthwhile to report on the fact the NFL has the same terrible beliefs about Black quarterbacks for the 60th year in a row. What’s not worthwhile is just reporting those talking points uncritically and then hiding behind objectivity to obscure the harm being done.

It’s not like anyone has to stop reporting what the NFL is saying, it’s realizing that the NFL is operating with various agendas when they “leak” this information, and the impact of these specific tropes are very harmful.

This is not a difficult thing, yet it’s something we as NFL draft commentators (and sports journalists at large) need to take up the mantle of when engaging these topics. Otherwise, we’re going to keep parroting the same racist talking points year in and year out.

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