Josh Rosen gets a taste of what outspoken black athletes experience all the time
The UCLA quarterback makes some people in the NFL uncomfortable because he appears to be perfectly comfortable being himself
One of the more dramatic turns at the NFL scouting combine was the consternation over UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. Some NFL evaluators believe he isn’t franchise player material, mostly because he committed the grave sin of thinking for himself.
In his latest Monday Morning Quarterback column, NFL insider Peter King wrote that there are concerns that Rosen doesn’t love football enough because he’s rich, wasn’t liked by his teammates, is too into politics and too anti-Donald Trump, and doesn’t bow down to authority.
Just shut up and throw, please.
“I think that you have to be yourself, you have to be authentic and you have to show that you’ve learned and grown over the years,” Rosen said during a media session with reporters at the combine. “I’m trying to show who I really am, not who I’m trying to be. I want them to draft me. I don’t want them to draft someone they think they’re getting and then not get that guy. I think that’s also what your teammates want. Your teammates don’t want a fake shell of yourself.”
Rosen’s teammates may value realness, but the NFL has long encouraged players to be fake and inauthentic for the sake of the bottom line. This league is quite comfortable discouraging personality, shunning critical thinkers and distancing itself from players who engage in social activism that’s a little too in your face.
Now while the scrutiny and questioning of Rosen hasn’t quite reached Lamar Jackson levels of absurdity, Rosen is unfortunately getting a taste of what outspoken, unapologetic black athletes experience all the time.
As I alluded to earlier, there is a “shut up and dribble” vibe happening with Rosen. Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, currently an analyst for The Ringer, was at the center of a firestorm for comments he made about Rosen on his podcast based on what he’d heard from NFL folks at the combine.
“I’ve talked to some people,” Lombardi said. “He might like humanitarian work more than he likes football, I don’t know. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t where his values really lie.”
It doesn’t end there. An Arizona sports radio host questioned whether teams will shy away from Rosen because it has been suggested that he’s an atheist. Rosen’s upbringing has raised eyebrows because his father was considered for U.S. surgeon general and his mother is a former magazine editor.
So according to these criticisms of Rosen, the perfect NFL player is a poor, Bible-thumping, non-thinking robot who never questions anything he’s told to do.
One of the biggest reasons Rosen makes some people in the NFL uncomfortable is he appears to be perfectly comfortable being himself. He also doesn’t seem interested in changing and he’s going to speak his mind, even if that means criticizing a team for which he plays.
When Rosen was at UCLA, he dared to point out the hypocrisy of his school signing a $280 million shoe deal with Under Armour despite the fact that college athletes are considered amateurs and the NCAA is labeled a nonprofit organization.
Show me the lie.
Rosen eventually deleted that Instagram post about UCLA, but he did not delete the picture he posted of himself wearing a “F— Trump” hat while golfing at one of the president’s golf courses. Rosen later told Sports Illustrated: “I don’t regret posting the photo at all because personally I thought it was hilarious.”
This is considered dangerous behavior to some NFL teams. Meanwhile, some of those same teams won’t think twice about drafting players who have run afoul of the law. In the league’s bizarre world, players with criminal histories are a safer bet than a free thinker like Rosen. You can convince NFL fans that a player has changed his rotten behavior. It’s not so easy to convince them that a player has changed the way he thinks.
You don’t have to agree with Rosen’s beliefs, but he deserves a certain amount of respect for having the courage to still be himself. Maybe one day the NFL will figure out a way to appreciate players like that.