The NFL feels like it is at a crossroads, much like the rest of the country, with its ratings as low as they’ve been over the last decade and the product on the field suffering from a lack of quality talent at its most important position. There have been more eyes on what goes on outside the boundaries of an NFL game. Commissioner Roger Goodell is being scrutinized for focusing on player celebrations and not doing enough to combat dirty hits from repeat offenders like Vontaze Burfict.
The NFL is also under more scrutiny due to the pending CTE lawsuit and the, at times, inconsistent and hypocritical nature that the game is refereed and policed. As our society continues to evolve and becomes more tolerant at times, the NFL punishes a player more games for smoking marijuana than it does for a player that allegedly abused his partner. It is a weird dynamic and one that is on full display in New York this week.
On Monday night, Jets QB Geno Smith was shown throwing his baseball cap and a cup after Ryan Fitzpatrick threw yet another interception. Since the conclusion of that game, there have been articles written about Smith’s behavior on the sideline with some New York media members blasting Smith for “his antics and tantrum.”
Nevermind that Fitzpatrick essentially robbed the Jets of $12 million dollars and has been the worst QB in the league from week 17 of last year through every game this year after week 2. No, instead the media chose to focus on the backup now starter. No one has even remotely mentioned that Fitzpatrick played so poorly that the Jets were now forced to turn to a QB they probably didn’t want to keep in the first place. This isn’t the first time the New York media has taken aim at Smith, with numerous beat writers referring to Smith’s immaturity despite him keeping his head down and trying to get better this offseason. Some seem to have made it their mission to tear down an imperfect 26 year old who has made his fair share of mistakes but hasn’t done anything nowhere near what some of his peers have done that has been excused.
Some in the fan base, when the idea was floated in the offseason about signing Brian Hoyer or trading for Josh McCown, said that they’d prefer either of those two QBs with McCown being called a “real man.” To this day, I’m still not sure how that is measured on a football field but with the amount of jokes made at the expense of Smith over him getting punched I’m almost positive there aren’t racial undertones there. Insert hashtag sarcasm, in case that wasn’t clear. None of the criticism of Smith ever begins with his play on the field.
Compare the coverage of Smith with the coverage of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick as he’s taken a stance against the structural oppression occurring in this country towards African American men and women. This past Sunday, Bills fans had shirts of Kaepernick’s face lined up with a scope. He’s received reported death threats, and no one ever brings up the multiple surgeries he’s had that have seemingly robbed him of his arm strength or that the 49ers have essentially purged the roster of any veteran leaders that helped Jim Harbaugh teach these young guys how to win.
It’s always about him kneeling, and everyone seems to be focused so much on the act as oppose to why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s easier that way, I guess, than to really analyze what he is protesting. At its core, focus on the player and what he does on the field or be consistent about how you judge these players. That’s a message to the media around these parts as very few voiced outrage about the Giants blindly supporting their kicker.
When the report first came out, and Josh Brown’s ex-wife reported that she was allegedly abused over 20 times no one batted an eye. Ben McAdoo came out in full fledged support of his player and said he backed him as a man, father, and a football player. Compare his reaction to Brown with him saying he would disappointed if anyone kneeled before the anthem. Compare his reaction to Brown with his reaction to superstar WR Odell Beckham, Jr and the “distraction” he’s become. McAdoo’s reaction to Beckham was stronger than his reaction to Brown or Kaepernick, and it is pretty sad that a woman’s safety at the hands of one his players didn’t draw as much ire as the safety of a kicking net. Kaepernick and Smith seem to just be guilty of one crime, and it’s something magnified by the media market Smith plays in.
Quarterbacking While Black, and by extension Playing While Black, is something I’ve thought a lot about recently and it’s something that is evident in the treatment of players of color. While not everyone subscribes to these theories and covers players fairly, to dismiss the fact that race plays a part in how these players are covered would be naive.
A player like Josh Brown, an average player by any measure, gets unwavering support from his head coach and the local media that goes above and beyond the support shown to a more talented player at the most important position. Look at how Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are covered when they have public displays of anger or frustration; these antics are chalked up to their competitive natures and dismissed as minor infractions. I’ve seen Peyton Manning lose his cool against Jeff Saturday on the sideline, and no one has ever called Manning immature. If the argument is that these players are winners, how do you explain a QB like Ryan Tannehill getting a pass for disrespecting Dolphins practice squad players and being the leader on a team with an active bullying scandal a few years ago?
Compare the coverage of those players with the coverage of a player like Cam Newton who seemingly cannot win against the media regardless of what he says or does. If he dances, he’s wrong. If he sulks, he’s wrong too. I’ve seen Jay Cutler sulk, and very few people go out of their way to crucify him. It seems that the backlash and lack of support is mainly reserved for players of color, and it is disheartening to say the least. While the discussion is more nuanced than this article may highlight, it is hard to ignore when it’s been 3 days since the Jets lost to the Cardinals and all we have been reading is how bad Geno Smith looked on the sideline. For the media that largely ignored Josh Brown’s crimes, maybe it’s time to stop charging Smith with one.