Some NFL fans out there believe that there is underlying racism against black Quarterbacks in the game of football. Broadcasters and coaches alike are accused of using a specific ‘coded language’ when referring to black QBs’ football abilities. Former NFL coach, Tony Dungy, and current Baltimore Ravens coach, John Harbaugh claim this ‘coded language’ still exists today.
Tony Dungy spoke with ESPN’s ‘Undefeated’ where he recalled times when people would openly question black quarterbacks’ knowledge, throwing power and ability to read defenses from the pocket. Dungy believes the current ‘coded language’ regarding black QBs resides with the NFL broadcasters, expressing the same concerns but phrasing it differently.
“Now it’s, ‘He can’t throw from the pocket.’ That’s the new way of saying it,” Dungy told legendary writer William C. Rhoden, now working for “The Undefeated.”
During the current stretch of the NFL playoffs, we have seen Baltimore Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh, accuse people of coded language against his starting QB, Lamar Jackson. Jackson is an athletic nightmare for defenses, relying on his speed and scrambling ability to do most of his damage. Although his game is unconventional compared to the typical QB, Jackson led the Ravens to a 6-1 record after earning the starting QB job. Harbaugh believes his young QB is being victimized for his athletic style of play.
“‘Is his style of play sustainable? Can you win with this style of play?’” Harbaugh said after the Ravens beat Cleveland to secure a playoff spot. “I’m tired of the coded language.”
While some believe this ‘coded language’ is pure prejudice, others point to simple facts, and the actual statistics. In his seven regular season starts, Jackson rushed 147 times and threw 170 passes. This is considered an extremely high run-to-pass ratio for a QB in the NFL. His completion percentage was nearing league lows at 58%, only averaging 75 pass yards a game. Although Jackson’s skill set is effective at times, he takes a tremendous beating on his body compared to other NFL QBs, leaving experts to wonder how long a person can sustain this style of play.
Most NFL experts and knowledgeable fans understand the best way to be successful in the league is having a dominant pocket passer at the helm. Hall-of-Fame QB John Elway still believes the best way to win an NFL championship these days is with a pocket passer.
“The bottom line is I still believe the one thing you’ve got to be able to [do is] win it from the pocket,” Elway said on April 20, 2018, before Jackson was in the league. “No matter what you do, the one thing that I’ve learned is, as a quarterback: You’ve got to be able to win it from the pocket. You can win games, but you can’t win championships unless you have the ability to win it from the pocket. But then if you can get out and move around and create and those type of things, that’s an added bonus.”
So when we hear people complain about ‘coded language’ regarding black QB’s, it’s not focused on the color of their skin, it is focused on the QB and his abilities. Many believe athletic, scrambling QB’s bring two huge risks, injury and turnovers. These two areas are where John Harbaugh’s young QB, Lamar Jackson, struggled during the year.
Jackson suffered a concussion and an ankle injury this past season, and fumbled 12 times, losing a league high four, while only playing in seven games.
The latest broadcaster to be accused of using ‘coded language’ is Fox Sports announcer, Joe Buck. Specifically, Buck was accused of the ‘underlying racism’ when talking about Tom Brady and his abilities.
“It just looks different: He stands back there, he stands tall, he’s looking downfield and it’s just a different way to play the position than the guys who are coming in now” said Buck.