Criticism of Justin Fields is nothing new for Black quarterbacks

Justin Fields. Photo courtesy of

Criticism of Justin Fields is nothing new for Black quarterbacks
April 21
14:11 2021

Justin Fields, the former Ohio State quarterback, began the season as the unquestioned second-best quarterback in this draft class. As the season progressed, he did nothing that would warrant him being downgraded from his position. He led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff Championship game losing 49-28 to a loaded Alabama team and now three months later, his stock is dropping. This seems to be par for the course for a lot of Black quarterbacks.

There was no bad news about Fields during the season and the months following the end of the season. Now that the draft is quickly approaching, there have been a few reports about Fields that paint him in a negative light, and quarterbacks such as Trey Lance, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones have seemingly leapfrogged him in several mock drafts.

The most notable of the criticism came from former NFL quarterback and analyst Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky was appearing on “The Pat McAfee Show” and McAfee asked him why Fields’ stock has been dropping in mock drafts.

Orlovsky shared that he had heard that teams are concerned about Fields’ work ethic, although he doesn’t necessarily agree with the reports.

“One, I have heard that he is a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback, like not the maniacal work ethic. I’ve even heard it compared to Justin Herbert, where it was like, dude, when Justin Herbert showed up, he was like a psychopath when it came to working and getting ready for the draft. Or even at school, like, ‘Give me more, I want to work non-stop.’ And I’ve heard that there are issues with Justin Fields’ work ethic.  

“The second thing is … where is his desire to go be a great quarterback? I think that there’s a desire to be a big-time athlete, from what is expressed to me, but where is his desire to be a great quarterback? And to be great, you gotta be willing to find the things that you are not good at and just freaking grind on them,” Orlovsky said to McAfee.

Now these are not Orlovsky’s words, but they are things that were expressed to him. Either way, I find it highly irresponsible for Orlovsky to have said that about Fields to McAfee. For him to be so careless about what he said could negatively impact Fields’ status in the draft and potentially cost him millions of dollars.

What makes me happy was how quickly people came to the defense of Fields and blasted Orlovsky for his comments. ESPN college football analyst, Kirk Herbstreet, said, “Absolutely ridiculous. Even if you aren’t saying it … to pass that along from ‘people in the know’ is reckless and absurd!!  Embarrassing!!” said Herbstreet.

Fields’ former coach at Ohio State, Ryan Day, also jumped to the defense of Fields.  

“The whole idea that he doesn’t have a very good work ethic?” Day said to Peter King over the phone. “I mean, to me, that’s crazy. He got done with the Clemson game [the loss in the college football playoffs in the 2019 season] and he came back and all he did was work to get back to that game. And when those other guys are opting out, what’s he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don’t accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were they guys who were opting out then? You know, you don’t leave the game if you’re doing something like that. This kid loves the game.

“I heard something about the last one to come in, first one to leave.  First off, the scouts weren’t in our building all year. Last one in? Every morning, at least every morning we could be in the building early, he’s in with [football sports performance czar] Mickey Marotti. The guys who were self-motivated and could do things on their own, those were the ones who made it. He was unbelievable. He changed his diet, he got stronger. He did better than most.”

I was glad to see his former coach speak up on the issue so quickly. This kind of thing could have spiraled out of control if it was not dispelled quickly. To his credit, I will say that I was happy that Orlovsky did share publicly that he regrets not having more ‘clarity and specificity’ in his comments.

I just feel he should be more careful about the information he shares because around this time of year, it’s not uncommon for NFL executives and scouts to share false information about a player to throw other teams off and the player can fall to them in the draft. I am not saying this is what happened, but it definitely has happened.

My question is, why does this seem to happen to high profile Black quarterbacks more often than not? Fields was not the first one. Recently, quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott have all had some sort of criticism coming out of college.

Russell Wilson was too short and that caused him to fall all the way to the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Newton ran too much and was looked upon as not having a good enough arm for the league. Murray was also too short, and people thought his heart may not fully be in the game due to him also being a talented baseball player. Murray and Newton were still drafted No. 1 overall despite the critics.

Watson was the 12th overall selection in the 2017 draft and the third quarterback taken overall. He was taken two spots after Mahomes and 10 spots after Mitchell Trubisky, who was taken second overall. I don’t think anyone knew Mahomes was going to be this good, but I think anyone who watched Trubisky and Watson in college could see that Watson was the better player, yet Trubisky was taken 10 picks earlier.

Some of the things said about Watson were limited instincts, lacks consistent pocket poise, not as accurate as he should be. As Watson has shown over his short career, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and proved all the naysayers wrong. After what he proved in college, who could doubt him?

A similar narrative is being placed on Fields’ back as we inch closer to the draft. I get the love for Trevor Lawrence, as he has been the next “Golden Boy” since he stepped foot on the Clemson campus. What I don’t get is the sudden love for former Alabama quarterback, Mac Jones, and to an extent, Wilson.

What has Jones or Wilson done to eclipse what Fields has done this season? It somewhat irritates me that those same people questioning Fields are not concerned with the fact that Jones was basically a one-year starter in college, or the competition level Wilson played against.

I think one day these Black quarterbacks will get the same evaluation and benefit of the doubt that their white counterparts currently do. Until then, they just have to continue succeeding on the field and proving the doubters wrong.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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