America’s long, sad history of marginalizing black quarterbacks

Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle columnist, gets it perfectly.

Regrettably and most telling the San Francisco 49ers radio broadcast station has deleted the racially offensive clip by announcer Tim Ryan regarding Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson from its website. Figures. Out of Earshot, out of mind.

San Francisco Chronicle 12.5.2019

Tim Ryan has been around the NFL for a long time. As an aspiring future player in the league, he almost certainly was paying attention to the 1987 Super Bowl while he was a sophomore at USC.

That was the year that Doug Williams was famously asked at Super Bowl media day “How long have you been a black quarterback?” It was a glaring example of a shameful issue that plagued the NFL then and has plagued the NFL since. It existed during the time that Ryan played for the Chicago Bears, during the time he launched a NFL broadcasting career and – apparently – even now in 2019.

The issue of African American quarterbacks has been a source of ongoing tension, controversy and stupid comments throughout NFL history: How they’ve been treated, how their talent has been marginalized and how league decision-makers have failed to accept them at football’s most important position. Quarterbacks of color have historically been drafted lower than their ability would suggest, have been moved to different positions. And, in one case, been blackballed from ever working again.

In other words, Ryan can’t claim ignorance. Or that he “misspoke” when he made a startling, deprecating comment about the undisputed leader for the league’s MVP award, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Speaking Monday morning on KNBR’s “Murph and Mac” morning show, Ryan said, “He’s really good at that fake, Lamar Jackson, but when you consider his dark skin color with a dark football with a dark uniform, you could not see that thing. I mean, you literally could not see when he was in and out of the mesh point…”

There was no follow up question on the strange remark. The interview has since been deleted from the KNBR website. After inquiries from The Chronicle, the 49ers announced on Wednesday afternoon that Ryan has been suspended for Sunday’s game. Ryan also issued an apology.

You can shrug it off. Or you can interpret it that Ryan basically said that Jackson is really good, but he has an unfair advantage because he has dark skin. Which should make you do a spit-take if you’ve paid attention to the league and its history.

And that’s the problem. Ryan is a color commentator. An analyst. He is not a 14-year old who just wandered into the booth with no context or historical knowledge. He is supposed to provide perspective, not just on the play in the moment, or the particular game he’s at, but the big picture on what we are watching.

Who are some of the best play-action quarterbacks in the history of the league? Hmmm, let’s think. Peyton Manning. The guy the 49ers face on Sunday, Drew Brees. Aaron Rodgers. Decidedly not guys with dark skin.

Now let’s look at some of Jackson’s most effective games. At Seattle, when he was wearing a white jersey. Against the Texans when he was wearing a purple jersey and white pants.

Jackson is a great player. He is quick, aware of what’s happening all over the field, deceptive and dazzling. And it has nothing to do with his skin color. Or what he’s wearing.

San Francisco 49ers v Baltimore Ravens

Jackson doesn’t deserve this. He went to Louisville because he was promised to be a starting quarterback. His mother was his fiercest defender in that regard. All he did there was win a Heisman Trophy.

Yet at the 2018 combine, there was talk that he would be a wide receiver at the professional level. He was the fifth quarterback taken, after Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. Every other team in the league had a chance to select him, before he was taken at No. 32 by the Ravens.

Dr. Harry Edwards, the esteemed sociologist and sports historian, addressed the issue of league history in his statement to The Chronicle. Edwards also has been a long-time consultant to the 49ers, dating back to his relationship with Bill Walsh.

“Assigning ANY dimension of Lamar’s undeniable brilliance at QB to his skin color – a raw and sensitive assessment and assertion not only because it is profoundly obtuse and ignorant on its face and carries implications that I’m certain were not intended, but because skin color has been such a factor in rationalizing denial of Black athletes’ opportunities to play the QB position over most of the NFL’s 100 years of existence,” Edwards wrote in an email. “For anyone in a position of official association with the NFL (much less a person mandated to announce or do color commentary for the games) to be so clueless and unperceptive as to make an apparently shameless gaff of the magnitude that Tim made…is as revealing as it is regrettable.”

Edwards also expressed concern that the interviewer did not call Ryan on his comment and he wondered if Ryan had worked with an African American partner in the booth he might have a different perspective.

As the story unspooled Wednesday night and Thursday, others weighed in.

Greg Papa, Ryan’s booth partner on 49ers radio broadcasts, addressed the issue on his midday show on KNBR.

“All I will say is that the comments were offensive because they offended people,” Papa said, adding that Ryan was a “quality, quality person.” “And they offended a great many people. In what we do for a living, word choice is critically important and his word choice was not on point.”

Being “on point” with word choice has been an issue with 49ers broadcasters before. Ted Robinson, Papa’s predecessor, was suspended in 2014 for victim-blaming in the Ray Rice assault incident. Former linebacker Gary Plummer, a former color commentator for the 49ers, was fired for sexually inappropriate comments.

Others pointed out that Ryan was a constant critic of Colin Kaepernick when he was in a 49ers uniform, insisting that Blaine Gabbert was a better option. Was he carrying water for the team? Perhaps, but he certainly helped turn public opinion against Kaepernick.

The word out of Baltimore?

Running back Mark Ingram tweeted out The Chronicle story on the issue with a clown emoji.

As the NFL celebrates its 100-year anniversary, you’d think we’d be past the ignorant comments and the insensitive perspectives. Guess not.