Who does Baker Mayfield think he is?
His remarks about Hue Jackson were disrespectful and hypocritical
There were two significant headlines coming out of Week 12 in the NFL: Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson is saving the Baltimore Ravens’ season and Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is giving hope to Cleveland.
In Baltimore, Jackson, stepping in for the injured Joe Flacco, led the Ravens to a 34-17 victory over Oakland. In Cleveland, Mayfield led the Browns to a 35-20 victory over Cincinnati for their second straight victory.
The noise surrounding Mayfield is louder for a number of reasons, but primarily because he disrespected an NFL lifer.
After the Browns’ victory, Mayfield met his former head coach, Hue Jackson, at midfield and offered a frosty handshake instead of a hug. Jackson was Cleveland’s head coach until Oct. 29, when the Browns fired him.
My problem with Mayfield came during the postgame news conference, when the 23-year-old rookie called out the 53-year-old Hue Jackson, a two-time NFL head coach.
Why the frosty midfield reception, Mayfield was asked.
“He left Cleveland and goes down to Cincinnati?” Mayfield told reporters. “I don’t know. It’s just somebody that was in our locker room asking for us to play for him, and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it, but that’s how I feel.”
My immediate reaction was: Who does Baker Mayfield think he is? Tom Brady? Drew Brees? Russell Wilson? Cam Newton?
Nine games into his NFL career, Cleveland’s rookie is making pronouncements about loyalty.
Downtrodden Browns fans might call this giving their team an edge; I call it entitled disrespect and hypocrisy.
Mayfield played at Texas Tech, where he had an outstanding first season, but afterward he decided he needed a larger stage, so he left for Oklahoma. He was not kicked off the team. He was not run off. Mayfield left Texas Tech citing a “miscommunication” with the coaching staff.
No problem. Nothing personal, Mayfield made a business decision.
When ESPN analyst and former NFL player Damien Woody called out Mayfield on First Take and pointed out Mayfield’s wanderings, Mayfield responded that the comparison was “not even comparable.” He then took a shot at Hue Jackson’s record in Cleveland: “I didn’t lose 30-plus games, be fake and then do that.” Mayfield added that he didn’t have the prospect of a scholarship when he left for Oklahoma.
Hue Jackson didn’t have to take the Bengals job. His contract with the Browns most likely is guaranteed. Maybe he wanted to stick it to the Browns. Maybe he just wanted to work and was fortunate enough to have a close friend in the business, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, willing to give him the opportunity. Why did Mayfield leave a school in his home state of Texas for rival Oklahoma? Business decisions. We all make them.
Mayfield was 16 years old in 2011 when Hue Jackson began his climb up the NFL coaching ladder. The climb took him to Washington, Atlanta and Oakland, and that doesn’t include numerous stops as a college coach at Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State, Cal and Southern Cal. Hue Jackson received his first head-coaching NFL opportunity at age 45. Mayfield might not fully appreciate how steep the climb is for African-Americans off the playing field.
As I watched Mayfield speak Monday, I wondered how often he had come into contact with black men in positions of authority. Mayfield’s high school coach was white; his head coaches at Texas Tech and Oklahoma were white.
Yes, Mayfield was a 13-year-old growing up in Texas when Barack Obama was elected president, so the concept of black leadership was not foreign. Having a black president is one thing, having a black boss is something else. I don’t know how Mayfield responded to Hue Jackson’s leadership, but clearly something rubbed him the wrong way.
There was a poignant scene in HBO’s Hard Knocks when Jackson spoke with Mayfield during training camp about improving his work ethic. Jackson told Mayfield he should take a cue from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, whose work ethic included reporting to the practice facility at 5 a.m. to study film. What a twist — a black NFL head coach telling his high-profile, white rookie quarterback that he needs to emulate a veteran black quarterback in order to improve his work ethic.
On top of all that, Jackson named Taylor the Week 1 starter despite cries from many Cleveland fans to make Mayfield the starter.
These were incredibly nuanced interactions, especially at a position that continues to reflect racist attitudes about intelligence, leadership, courage and grace under pressure.
Mayfield, the latest Heisman Trophy winner, was touted as a hero and matinee idol since his college days. This follows a pattern for just about every major white college quarterback who has talent.
Black quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, on the other hand, play under the ever-present cloud of being told they should switch to wide receiver. Even today, if you listen closely to the language around black quarterbacks, they are praised for exceptional athletic ability but not their throwing accuracy.
Before the most recent NFL draft, Bill Polian, the former Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts general manager who is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said during a radio interview that Lamar Jackson should consider switching to wide receiver. Polian praised Jackson’s open-field running skills and athletic ability but raised doubts about his accuracy.
When is the last time an elite white college quarterback was advised to switch to wide receiver?
Earlier this season, after the Houston Texans suffered a loss to Tennessee, Onalaska (Texas) Independent School District superintendent Lynn Redden posted this comment about Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson:
“That may have been the most inept quarterback decision I have seen in the NFL. When you need precision decision-making, you can’t count on a black quarterback.”
Clearly not everyone feels this way, but enough people still do to raise concerns. It’s not just about football but about those 50-50 opportunities in real life when African-Americans lose out because of perceptions and preconceived notions.
Mayfield is young and hopefully will wise up or, at the very least, learn some respect. Fame is fleeting, and players come and go. Football, like life, can be humbling.
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers talked about losing and careers and said, “I know that football mortality catches up to everybody.”
Someday, Mayfield might thank Hue Jackson for introducing him to the concept of humility.
Brady began his NFL career as a lower-round draft pick; Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre before he got his opportunity; Brees left San Diego for New Orleans. Andrew Luck, like Mayfield, was touted as the conquering hero coming out of college, but he was humbled by a shoulder injury that some feared would dramatically alter his career.
For now, Mayfield is running around, making plays, basking in the glow of a city that feels it might have found a new sports hero.
Maybe he will become a Brees, a Brady, a Wilson or a Newton.
But for now: Who does Baker Mayfield think he is?