Commentary: Geno Smith and the Black Quarterback Syndrome

Former West Virginia star goes ignored in first round, but even his critics know that Smith will get a chance to show teams he’s star material.

Posted: 04/26/2013 11:56 AM EDT

The unforgivable burden of Blackness … it is something that a draft-eligible QB like Geno Smith will never be able to escape. Smith’s Blackness haunts him; it’s also wrecked his dreams a bit, and it’s definitely cost him millions.

Smith, who played for West Virginia, is the latest Black quarterback to see his talents weighed on a different scale, which is all too typical of what happens to Black athletes like him, despite having all the skills NFL teams claim they crave. They say they want big, strong-armed quarterbacks from big-time college programs. They say they want those quarterbacks to be mobile.

That’s the message that resonates from the NFL Combine each February; it’s the message talking heads like draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. spew over the ESPN and Fox airwaves for weeks heading into the NFL Draft.

But come time to draft, teams always find Black quarterbacks a suspect. Sure, you’ll see teams do draft-day gymnastics for somebody like Robert Griffin III, but had RGIII come from anyplace else other than Baylor — it’s a Baptist college — would he have been everybody’s darling?

The Black Quarterback Syndrome is what it all has become. Those of us of color know how it goes: a Black quarterback ain’t smart enough; a Black quarterback lacks the undefined intangibles NFL teams like to speak of; a Black quarterback can’t hold up under pressure.

So, on draft day, the Black quarterback’s value drops like Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s reputation in Cleveland. NFL teams seem leery of what going Black might mean to their franchise.

How else do you explain the curious way Black quarterbacks — rookies or veterans — are treated in the draft? How else do you make sense of why Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, Derek Anderson get one opportunity after another, and quarterbacks like Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell get one real shot?

How do you explain the Browns, the sad-sack franchise Haslam now has in his investment portfolio, wasting a No. 1 pick last April on a 28-year-old rookie named Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, a rifle-armed QB with lead feet and an empty head, and passing on Russell Wilson, who lasted until the third round?

In the NFL today, the game is about quarterbacks, period. You might never see another NFL team win the Super Bowl the way the 1985 Chicago Bears did — with defense and nothing else. The Baltimore Ravens duplicated that feat the first time they won the title in 2001, but in winning the Super Bowl earlier this year, the Ravens scored points. They had to. The NFL is an offensive game these days, which suggests to us that men with skills like Smith’s ought to be valued.

They are, if the man’s skills belong to a white QB. Most analysts predicted Smith would go in the first round. They were wrong. He’s now hoping Friday night for a second- or third-round selection, which will mean the big signing bonuses that went to no-account talent like Weeden, Tebow, Quinn, Ryan Tannehill, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Leinart has eluded him.

But what can Geno Smith do about it? Nothing … absolutely nothing. Then again, maybe he can do something: He can do what Russell Wilson did last year: sign quickly with whatever NFL team drafts him, go to camp and prove, as Black quarterbacks have been forced to do so often, he can be a star.

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(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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