As the college football season nears, the stars of the NCAA are beginning to come back into public consciousness ahead of their campaigns for glory. DeShaun Watson could be the biggest star of them all, coming off a season in which he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and led his Clemson Tigers to the national championship game. He’s got his eyes firmly set on both of those goals this time around, with a potential top pick in next year’s NFL Draft waiting as a final reward if he can put it all together again.
And yet, Watson still has to deal with much of the same implicit biases that have dogged black quarterbacks going back to the days of Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. In an interview with Bleacher Report’s Matt Hayes, Watson detailed his frustrations at being stereotyped at length:
Hayes: Late last year, before the national championship game at Alabama, you took exception to a reporter claiming NFL scouts are questioning your ability to throw the ball and that you’re more of a runner. You were very animated in your response. Why is that so important to you?
Watson: People say, well he’s a dual-threat quarterback. You look at that word…that’s a code word.
Hayes: How is it possible, after so many black quarterbacks have had successful careers in both college football and the NFL, that we’re still dealing with those black-quarterback stereotypes?
Watson: I have no idea, but it’s there. People think, ‘Oh, he’s a black quarterback, he must be dual-threat.’ People throw around that word all the time. It’s lazy. The one thing I learned early on as a football player is people have their opinions, and I can’t change them. But I can show them what they’re missing.
People have assumed that I have to run the ball before I can throw it most all of my career, all the way back before high school. It’s a stereotype put on me for a long time because I’m African-American and I’m a dual-threat quarterback. I don’t know why that stereotype is still around. It’s about talent and the ability to throw the ball, not the color of your skin or your ability to also be a dangerous runner.
It bothered me when I was young until I finally realized the only way to change it is to make your mark on the field and force them to see. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
It’s anecdotally true that a black quarterback who can run will be labeled as a runner more quickly than a white quarterback, who would be more likely to gain the label of scrambler. The fact that DeShaun can use his legs effectively shouldn’t do anything to diminish his abilities as a passer — Marcus Mariota was selected right after relatively immobile (and black) Jameis Winston, after all — but in the often regressive world of NFL scouting, Watson has to fight against the weight of a lot of stereotypes.
(Via Bleacher Report)