ESPN’s “The Undefeated” Ignores Facts to Play Race Card

Recent comments made by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield regarding former head coach Hue Jackson have made some headlines. Jackson had recently been fired as Mayfield’s head coach and almost immediately took a job with the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. Following the Brown’s win over the Bengals that came in the aftermath of Jackson’s firing and hiring, Mayfield was asked about the situation. He responded by saying:

“He left Cleveland and goes down to Cincinnati? I don’t know. It’s just somebody that was in our locker room asking for us to play for him, and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it, but that’s how I feel.”

One writer who certainly had a problem with this was William C. Rhoden, who writes for the ESPN owned site theundefeated.com. Rhoden’s article criticizing Mayfield is entitled “Who does Baker Mayfield think he is?” The first part of his criticism focuses on the young quarterback not being in the league long enough to call out a veteran coach like Jackson. If Rhoden simply believes that Mayfield’s comments toward Jackson were in bad taste, that would be one thing. But since Mayfield is white and Jackson is black, a racial spin had to be injected to satisfy the criteria for The Undefeated. Thus, Rhoden proceeds with the following bizarre and unfounded quotes.

“Mayfield, the latest Heisman Trophy winner, was touted as a hero and matinee idol since his college days. This follows a pattern for just about every major white college quarterback who has talent.”

As if this isn’t the case for major black quarterbacks coming out of college who have talent. Somehow Rhoden was oblivious to the hero and idol status of recently great black college quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Vince Young, Deshaun Watson, Robert Griffin III and Jameis Winston. Some of these quarterbacks have been successful at the NFL level, some were not, and others are a little too young to make an official judgement on. But Rhoden is either completely ignorant of the hype surrounding these black quarterbacks coming out of college or he’s dismissing it out of convenience.

“Black quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, on the other hand, play under the ever-present cloud of being told they should switch to wide receiver. Even today, if you listen closely to the language around black quarterbacks, they are praised for exceptional athletic ability but not their throwing accuracy…When is the last time an elite white college quarterback was advised to switch to wide receiver?”

It now appears that Rhoden is oblivious to the brief professional football career of Tim Tebow. Numerous journalists and analysts expresses the belief that Tebow had to change positions from quarterback if he wanted to stay in the NFL. It seems rather impossible that anyone with even a basic knowledge of football would be capable of not remembering Tebow’s collegiate and professional quarterbacking. It appears that Rhoden is most likely hoping his audience has erased the quarterback’s career from their memories.

As far as Lamar Jackson goes, perhaps the reason that the Ravens’ rookie starter has been praised for his athletic ability rather than his throwing accuracy has to do with what has transpired on the field. As of Rhoden’s writing, Jackson had run for 188 yards in just two games. However, he had also passed for one touchdown and three interceptions during the same time. Is an assessment of ability still racially coded if it proves to be accurate?

“Earlier this season, after the Houston Texans suffered a loss to Tennessee, Onalaska (Texas) Independent School District superintendent Lynn Redden posted this comment about Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson:

‘That may have been the most inept quarterback decision I have seen in the NFL. When you need precision decision-making, you can’t count on a black quarterback.’

Clearly not everyone feels this way, but enough people still do to raise concerns.”

Unsurprisingly, Rhoden doesn’t mention that this superintendent resigned over these comments. He also apologized directly to Watson in his resignation letter. So why doesn’t Rhoden mention this? Probably because it shows that the country is far less tolerant of racism that his main thesis implies that it is. Racist comments making someone an unemployable pariah don’t exactly mesh with an author and a website that attempts to drive home the idea that race and racism is still an overwhelming presence in our society.

Perhaps what’s even more unfortunate than this article from Rhoden is what it reveals about the agenda of his website. Sports journalists who live and breathe statistics, information and sports history are conveniently omitting actual facts to push certain ideas. It’s a sad state of affairs when these types of issues take precedence over reality. An informed public and critical thinking remain the best antidotes to this kind of selective truth.