G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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In his latest column, sportswriter Jason Whitlock argues that the NFL’s black quarterbacks suffer from an “information bubble” which he deems the biggest hindrance to black QB success. What Whitlock describes is a poorly-functioning feedback loop.
This bubble creates delusion, erodes self-awareness and unwittingly undermines a black QB’s chance of sustaining success.
Let me explain. We’re in our political season. Democrats and Republicans both have their respective information bubbles, MSNBC and FOX News, respectively. They can lock their televisions on a single channel and avoid hearing their perspectives challenged in a credible way and hear their critics’ lambasted. It’s comforting. It’s polarizing. It’s unhealthy for intellectual growth and our democracy.
Black sports fans and black pop-culture media (not sports media) have created a loosely-formed-but-influential social-media and talk-radio information bubble for black QBs. This network of groupthink roars on sports-talk radio, black-owned radio stations, Facebook and Twitter, pumping out the message that Newton, Griffin and others can do no wrong and any criticism of them is rooted in racism. Fear of backlash from this network of well-intentioned enablers causes many mainstream sports analysts (media and fans of all colors) to avoid being totally honest about black QBs.
That’s how a career-killing, information bubble is formed.
White QBs don’t have to deal with this. In Kansas City, a group of fans paid for a banner to be flown over Arrowhead Stadium that called for owner Clark Hunt to bench Matt Cassel. Kansas City’s backup quarterback is Brady Quinn, the Cleveland bust. He’s not a solution. But he was named the starter on Monday.
Information bubbles are destructive, whether in politics or sports.
Since Whitlock compares sports to politics, I’d be interested to hear his thoughts on the bubble which insulated President Obama during his formative years.
Whitlock points to Cam Newton’s postgame interview after Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Besides sounding like a childish loser, Newton also sounded nonsensical telling reporters that they should leave a suggestion box behind because he didn’t know how to fix the problems facing his team. It doesn’t help that Newton is not smart – something that certainly explains why his bubble is deflating so quickly (the Rush Limbaugh argument which Jason Whitlock here doesn’t agree with). For example, in his news conference where he’s trying to look insightful and intelligent, Newton says that he just wants to win “even if we kick the ball from the 70 [yard line]“. The rest of the news conference is painful to watch as well as Newton tries to come off as deep and searching. It’s clear that he is neither but he seems to believe his own schtick.
I think this is where something like raw intelligence benefits NFL quarterbacks. When physical prowess isn’t enough to get them by as they did in high school and college, they must be able to grapple with mental demons. Self-doubt and adversity. They must be able to identify their own shortcomings and properly allocate blame and praise to their teammates and coaches. If the de facto captain of the team cannot do this the rest of the team falls out of balance and this feeds back to the quarterback helping to speed up his own failure. Higher levels of intelligence help navigate these treacherous waters.
But part of being in the bubble means never being told that these aspects of the game are important. That feedback, communicating, sharing blame and praise, and all of these things are essential to high-level success.
Besides politicians and football players, blacks seem to also face this in their transition from high school age to adulthood. School and adolescence is its own information bubble, and our culture incubates the self-esteem of young blacks. Even when they are painted negatively, their behaviors are still given a sympathetic if not positive spin. Teenage blacks have the highest self-esteem of any racial cohort. This despite the fact that they perform so poorly in school. If we agree that being a teenager is about learning how to become a well-functioning and productive adult citizen, black kids’ esteem is completely out of whack with their future performance. This inevitably leads to a rude awakening, and it should be no surprise that blacks issue many grievances against society and the system. Even if a lot of those grievances are justified, there are still many more grievances which are issued by individuals who were never honestly told what time it was.
Whitlock has been a huge critic of ESPN, and he doesn’t hold back in his column:
What does RG3 have to do with any of this?
Well, informational bubbles are often uninformed. Along with being insecure and defensive, they can also be overly enthusiastic out of ignorance.
It’s way too early to anoint RG3. The information bubble has already decided the Colts made a mistake taking Andrew Luck ahead of Griffin. That’s ridiculous. We don’t know yet. There’s not nearly enough information. RG3 has the benefit of playing for a highly experienced head coach. Luck is playing for a new coaching staff that is dealing with the loss of its brand-new head coach.
Furthermore, in reaction to fear of the black information bubble, the mainstream media seem intent on pitting RG3 vs. Newton. On Monday, rather than individually deal with Cam’s immature postgame news conference, ESPN spent the day comparing RG3’s postgame comments to Cam’s.
It wasn’t a conversation about their playing styles and ability to scramble and throw. It wasn’t a conversation about Cam and RG3 both winning the Heisman Trophy. It was a conversation about Cam’s lack of leadership as a second-year starting quarterback. RG3 has nothing to do with that. ESPN is afraid the information bubble will call ESPN racist for pointing out Cam is a poor leader so the Worldwide Leader protected itself by portraying RG3 as the ultimate leader. We don’t know if Griffin is a great leader. We won’t know until he deals with some real NFL adversity. I suspect he’ll handle adversity quite well. He might be the Ray Lewis of adversity (Ray might be the best leader in sports history). But we just don’t know yet.
I too saw this on ESPN and thought it was strange. By praising RG3 they could then afford to rag on Newton. If there’s at least some praise aimed at a black quarterback then that keeps everyone happy. If anyone were to call them racist they could just point to their positive depiction of RG3. It’s the sports media version of “but I have a black friend.”
And just for fun, to give another example of how lacking in self-awareness and how over-confident he is in his own ability, here is a video of Cam Newton responding to a question about what Martin Luther King means to him. His answer is a parody of platitudes.