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NFL Forum: 'The Coded Language of Figuring Out Lamar Jackson'

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Dec 6th

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Found this article to be well written, thought provoking. The first 7 paragraphs in particular...

"Before the start of the 2021 NFL season, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that “a lot of people around the league” believed that, after Lamar Jackson amassed more than 8,000 total yards and 76 touchdowns over the last two seasons, this was the year teams “figure out” the Baltimore Ravens quarterback.

On the surface, it’s absurd that league personnel believe that teams can suddenly flip a switch and stop one of the fastest and most agile players the league has ever seen, particularly one who accounted for 43 touchdowns just two seasons ago, 36 coming from the air.

But when you take that anonymous comment about Jackson and apply it to how other mobile quarterbacks who look like him have been discussed and critiqued over the years, figuring out Jackson is another instance of Black quarterbacks’ talents, and intelligence, being devalued solely based on the color of their skin.

“Figure out” connotes the quarterback’s skill set as sophomoric gimmickry that is easy to adapt to once a head coach or coordinator — likely white — studies it enough. It assumes the quarterback (and his coaches) is incapable of figuring out what the defense has figured out. It posits that mobile quarterbacks are one-trick ponies who, when forced to throw the ball, suddenly turn into running backs who happen to throw a tight spiral.

It’s long been established that Black quarterbacks are treated differently — whether by fans, the media or the league itself. Their intelligence and character are constantly questioned, down to the fact that only within the last 10 years are we regularly seeing more than a handful of African Americans being allowed to start at the position in the NFL. But in those rare instances in which a Black quarterback is handed the reins to the offense, his style of play — which, save for a few examples, is normally predicated on mobility — is considered bastardized and amateurish compared with more “traditional” (read: white) quarterbacks.

There’s a reason a video of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson explaining coverages two seasons ago went viral on the internet: Watson, who is Black and mobile, wasn’t expected to understand what he was seeing on the field. If it were Peyton Manning giving that same explanation, it would have just been another day.

It’s been known for nearly 20 years that Tom Brady struggles against a disruptive pass rush, and yet defenses figured him out to the tune of seven Super Bowl trophies. Traditional dropback quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have .500 and losing records in the playoffs, respectively, but you wouldn’t say defenses figured them out. They just lost."