It is a topic that won’t go away in the NFL: The way Black quarterbacks are treated and talked about, whether as draft prospects or as established quarterbacks in the National Football League, is different from white quarterbacks. No one might enjoy discussing this topic, but it’s there because it has existed for a very long time. Caleb Williams might be entering this new world. Cam Newton and other Black quarterbacks were the subjects of intense scrutiny and might have a few words of advice for Caleb as he prepares for the 2024 NFL draft.
In an ideal world, Super Bowl XXII between the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos in 1988 should have ended the debate about whether a Black quarterback could lead a team to a Super Bowl title. Doug Williams, the center of an intense media firestorm in the days leading up to that game, helped the Redskins score 35 points in the second quarter en route to a 42-10 blowout win. Yet, here we are, over 35 years after that Super Bowl, still discussing Black quarterbacks and how they are evaluated compared to their white peers.
USA TODAY Sports columnist Mike Freeman addressed this topic. Let’s look at some of the things he said, and which other NFL analysts have said, as Caleb Williams prepares to go under the media microscope:
MERRIL HOGE OFFERED A WILD TAKE ON CALEB
Longtime ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge knows a lot about football, but one specific part of his critique of Caleb Williams does not ring true.
As noted by Freeman, Hoge said this:
Hoge added: “First of all, his ability to throw on the run is very disturbing. It is very inaccurate and it’s all over the place. There’s a ton of RPO (run pass option), which nobody is going to RPO themselves to a Super Bowl in our league. … You gotta push the ball down the field. There are times when he does that. He doesn’t play with a lot of anticipation because of all the clean pockets that exist for him.
Wait a minute. There is plenty from 2023 one can legitimately critique about Caleb Williams. We’re not upset with Hoge based on the fact that he criticized Caleb. However, when Hoge refers to “all of the clean pockets that exist for him,” was he watching 2023 USC football film? There weren’t many clean pockets for him as soon as the quality of opposition rose in the second half of the season. Caleb was running for his life a lot. USC’s offensive line fell well short of the high standard it attained in 2022, when Caleb did have clean pockets and won the Heisman Trophy.
That one part of Hoge’s analysis is empirically flawed. Other components of his analysis seem fair enough, but not that one.
HOGE ON CAM NEWTON: SWING AND A MISS
Freeman writes in his column that “Hoge gets lots right and plenty wrong. Cam Newton is a good example of what he got wildly wrong.
“The only word I can use after watching four games is atrocious,” Hoge said of Newton before the 2011 draft. “You never know where that ball will end up. In fact, he was more of a runner than he ever was a passer.”
Whoops! Newton became NFL MVP. He rose to great prominence and had a shorter career lifespan less because of any deficiencies as a quarterback, more because the Carolina Panthers used him a lot as a runner and subjected him to a lot more hits than other quarterbacks took. Hoge definitely whiffed in his Cam Newton assessment.
WHAT THE CAM NEWTON TREATMENT LOOKS LIKE
What does the Cam Newton treatment look like in real life?
Freeman noted that “Newton was shredded by some analysts with one saying the quarterback had a ‘fake smile.'”
Comments on appearance, mannerisms, and other non-football elements receive undue scrutiny and disapproval. For Caleb, painting his fingernails — while not something many of us would do — has still received far more attention than it should. Sitting on the USC bench has been perceived as being a bad teammate. Hyperanalysis and obsessive microanalysis represent the kind of scrutiny Black quarterbacks receive which is not on par with what white peers get.
Freeman points out that “Last year during the draft process quarterback C.J. Stroud had test scores leaked.”
One can only imagine what might happen with Caleb Williams’ test scores.
STUDY SAYS BLACK QBs AREN'T HELD TO THE SAME STANDARD
Freeman writes that “Black quarterbacks are exposed to extensive bias in the draft, according to a 2023 analysis by SFGate.com.”
One snippet from the study:
“Black quarterbacks probably aren’t getting in the (draft) pool unless they’re amazing,” David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University who has studied race in the NFL, told SFGATE. “White quarterbacks are getting in the pool when they’re not amazing. That’s why you see this.”