With the calendar finally turning the page into April, NFL fans everywhere know that the draft is fast approaching, and if there is an overabundance of one thing on the Internet, it is certainly prognosticators telling us which player will go where and why they will succeed or flop in the pros.
Many so-called “scouting reports” use the same lazy comparisons for players, as if picking a piece of magnetic poetry off a refrigerator and using that term until it no longer has meaning. But when do these reports go from simply being lazy, to becoming unquestionably racist?
Anyone who read Nolan Nawrocki’s scouting report on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in Pro Football Weekly this week surely saw where that line was crossed.
Nawrocki said Smith is, “Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence — does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor — no urgency. Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic. Interviewed poorly at the Combine and did not show an understanding of concepts on the white board.”
These criticisms seem to contradict what several other scouts and college football writers have said about Smith in the past. CBS Sports writer Bruce Feldman—one of the most respected men in sports journalism—wrote a tweet in response to Nawrocki, which completely contradicted him.
“Not guaranteeing Geno Smith will be a great NFL QB but was around him a lot in college to know he very much IS a student of the game.”
What is more troubling is Nawrocki’s comparisons he makes to previous quarterbacks. While he calls Smith a “cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks”—two black quarterbacks—he compares USC quarterback Matt Barkley (who is white) to Drew Brees and Colt McCoy—two white quarterbacks.
Are quarterbacks of one race or another more likely to have similar qualities to other quarterbacks of the same race? Sure. But it has become a disturbing trend to compare all young black quarterbacks to Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb.
This is also not Nawrocki’s first go-around with a scouting report that has had a twang of racism. In 2011, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton—who had a tumultuous college career to say the least—received an equally inappropriate report.
Nawrocki spent much of the report deriding Newton’s past—writing in detail about felony charges that were levied against him (even though the charges were dropped) and an alleged “six-figure payment” he received to play at Auburn—before making erroneous claims about his character.
“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law.”
Nawrocki came under fire after this report was published, and rightfully so. I can understand if he did not like Newton personally, but to go so far as call his personality “fake” and say that he regularly invites trouble on himself is ludicrous.
By the way, since he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers, Newton has excelled in the league, winning rookie of the year honors and becoming a team leader, while avoiding any off-the-field issues.
I cannot say for certain whether or not Nawrocki’s words were intentionally racist or if he was actually calling it as he saw it, but there has been a clear pattern in recent years to lump prospects into racial stereotypes that are only skin deep.
Why can’t Geno Smith be compared to a white quarterback? He is a traditional pocket passer who, while possessing good speed, relies mostly on his arm and pocket presence to make plays. Doesn’t that sound like Drew Brees or Andrew Luck or almost every other white quarterback?
Why is every black pocket passer the next Warren Moon or Randall Cunningham while a white quarterback with an identical skill set is compared to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?
It’s about time writers and scouts stop making these lazy comparisons and actually look further than a person’s skin color.