Before we fully address the absurd and remarkably dangerous comments from ESPN football analyst Booger McFarland, where he said the reason quarterback Dwayne Haskins failed in Washington was because like other young Black men in the NFL he cared more about his brand than working hard, let's go back in time to a name many will remember: Johnny Manziel.
Manziel was one of the true wastes of talent in recent NFL history because he cared more about partying and branding and tomfoolery than he did actual football. This is not opinion, this is fact. Manziel was taken in the first round by Cleveland in 2014 and lasted just two seasons in the NFL. He then played for three different CFL teams in two years before flaming out and becoming one of the greatest cautionary tales in sports history.
And Manziel never, not once, became a symbol of failure for young white players. He was just a singular, total bum.
Let's not stop with Manziel; let's time travel one last instance and go to one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever lived, Ben Roethlisberger.
ESPN analyst Booger McFarland discussed Dwayne Haskins on Monday night. (Photo: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)
People may forget that early in Roethlisberger's career, he was considered one of the great knuckleheads in the sport, known for not working or studying hard and some other highly disturbing issues. He was suspended in 2010 by Commissioner Roger Goodell after several accusations of sexual assault.
"There is nothing about your conduct that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans," Goodell said in a letter to Roethlisberger.
When Roethlisberger was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident made worse by the indefensible decision to not wear a helmet, he never became a larger symbol of white quarterbacks doing stupid things. In fact Roethlisberger never, not once, became a symbol of failure for young white players. He was viewed as a troubled guy, emphasis on guy. Not white guy.
So back to McFarland and Haskins. McFarland used the massive platform of ESPN to do what wasn't done by anyone on the planet in the examples of Manziel and Roethlisberger. His remarks were sort of a reverse Rush Limbaugh. Where Limbaugh (on ESPN in 2003) stated the media wanted former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to succeed only because he was Black, McFarland is saying that Haskins failed because young Black players are somehow more predisposed to be brand elevators than their white counterparts.
"They come into this league and they ask themselves the wrong things," McFarland said. "They come into the league saying not, 'How can I become a better player?' They don't say, 'How can I become a better teammate?' They don't say, 'How can I be a better person. How can I get my organization over the hump?' Here is what they come in saying: 'How can I build my brand better? How can I build my social media following better? How can I work out on Instagram and show everybody that I'm ready to go, but when I get to the game, I don't perform?'"
If you're honest, and logical, you must make the same argument about Manziel that you did about Haskins. Of course, it would sound remarkably dumb to say that Manziel represents all young white NFL players.
The problem with Haskins isn't that he was trying to build a brand; if he was, he was wildly unsuccessful, since I don't think anyone even knows what brand he repped or was trying to construct. The larger issue is that Haskins is like many young players, of all ethnicities and across all professions, who don't understand the work it takes to break into the game or their chosen jobs.
There's no racial component to that phenomenon. No class one. No religious one. It's a young human thing. Not a Black human thing.
Full disclosure: I know McFarland and like him. He's not a bad guy. He's just wildly, and I believe dangerously, wrong. That's because there will be some extremists and racists who will see a Black man trashing other Black men and say: "Yeah, Booger, you're right about those lazy, Instagram-worshipping Black dudes." Except they won't use the word dudes.
"Every athlete in the world is trying to build their brand," tweeted former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett, who won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. "These old heads get on TV and speak from a time machine. What the kid did was immature. He wasn't drinking and driving, he didn't kill anyone. He made an immature decision. White and Black players have done immature (expletive).
"To get on TV and say that it's a Black player thing is stupid. Tom Brady builds his brand on social media. LeBron James. Russell Wilson. (Expletive) everybody building a brand on social media these days.
"Hey African-American athletes, build the (expletive) outta your brand while you can because the league can dump you whenever they feel like it. Build your business while you play. Build everything outside of the game while you have that stage."
McFarland is ignoring what is a generational shift regarding attitudes about social media. There's no racial component to this, either. A lot of players live on Facebook and Twitter, but so what? It's not the way it was done in the 1950s or 1980s, but that doesn't automatically equate to weakness or laziness.
Players are monetizing their skills. They're making every dollar they can, while they can. It's what NFL owners and head coaches and even presidents of the United States do.
That's not a Black or white thing.
That's the American way.
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