Is coded language from broadcasters a problem for black quarterbacks? Some believe so, including former NFL head coach Tony Dungy.
Dungy told ESPN’s “The Undefeated” that in the past, people would openly question black quarterbacks ability to read defenses from the pocket. But now, announcers will express the same sentiment, they just phrase 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.”
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh believes that his quarterback, Lamar Jackson, a gifted scrambler who led the Ravens to a 6-1 record as a starter this past regular season, has been victimized by this sort of coded language.
“‘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.”
In his seven regular season starts, Jackson rushed 147 times and threw 170 passes. This is considered a high run-to-pass ratio in the NFL, a league featuring prolific passers like Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Tom Brady (Patriots), Jared Goff (Rams) and Drew Brees (Saints), the four quarterbacks who played in the recent AFC and NFC Championship games. Goff and Brady will square off in the Super Bowl.
Hall-of-Fame QB John Elway, who now runs the Denver Broncos, 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.”
Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who is white, also ran a lot this year (89 runs in 11 starts), and took a lot of big hits, concerning some with his playing style.
Former NFL and Navy QB Jim Kubiak, who runs the Western New York QB Academy, wrote a guest column recently for the Buffalo News, and expressed some concern with how often Allen runs.
In a late-season loss to the New York Jets, Allen scrambled and got the ball stripped by Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, and New York recovered.
“Pierre-Louis reacted to Allen’s attempt to leave the pocket and caused the fumble by hitting Allen’s arm,” Kubiak wrote December 10, 2018 in the Buffalo News. “This is the double-edged sword of a ‘running’ or ‘scrambling’ quarterback. Not only is he at additional risk of injury, but he is also not adequately trained or designed to carry the football regularly through tenacious linebackers. This turnover killed the Buffalo drive and resulted in a Jets field goal.”
So two big risks inherent to scrambling quarterbacks are injuries and turnovers. Jackson suffered a concussion and ankle injury this past season, and fumbled 12 times, losing four.
The article points out that during a recent Patriots game, Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck might have been guilty of coded language when he said about the Patriots’ Brady, “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.”
Rhoden feels this Buck quote is indicative of a problem that still needs to be fixed.
“For all the talk about an evolution of the black quarterback, the position that needs the most change might be the broadcast booth,” wrote Rhoden.