It seems, sadly, that every time American society has seemingly crossed a barrier of intolerance from the past, some living anachronism manages to yoke themselves to discredited ideas and yank us back into the bad old days. We only gain hope from seeing how the chorus of voices shouting down such drivel is now winning the day.
A recent example: The NFL’s Houston Texans, led by former Gainesville High and Clemson star quarterback Deshaun Watson, suffered a tight 20-17 loss on Sept. 16 to the Tennessee Titans. On the final play, Watson was trying to lead his team down for a tying field goal but he spent too much time scrambling to find a receiver and his final completed pass came as time expired.
In a comment posted on the Houston Chronicle’s story of the game, superintendent Lynn Redden of the nearby Onalaska Independent School District was critical of Watson’s decision-making on the final play, and concluded “you can’t count on a black quarterback.”
Redden later apologized and resigned his position under withering criticism. That so many people came to Watson’s defense is the silver lining in what could have been a much uglier discussion, though it’s likely a few — too many — agree with Redden’s initial idiotic comment.
Let’s approach that bogus claim with facts. When bigotry and prejudice were the default notions in decades past, African-American quarterbacks were indeed a rarity in pro football until the last few decades. Since then, several have established themselves among the game’s brightest stars, including 1988 Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, frequent All-Pros Warren Moon and Donovan McNabb and current stars Cam Newton, himself an MVP, and second-year sensation Pat Mahomes.
Watson is headed that way, too. We all became used to his heroics at Gainesville High, where he led the Red Elephants to a state championship while setting many Georgia high school career passing records. He then led Clemson to two Atlantic Coast Conference titles and national championship games and was brilliant in both, carving up the vaunted Alabama defense twice. His last collegiate pass went for the touchdown that won the national championship. He finished second and third in Heisman Trophy voting and twice won the Davey O’Brien award as the nation’s top quarterback.
Gainesville is proud enough of Deshaun to have named a street for him. From high school to the pros, Watson has been celebrated by coaches, teammates and opponents as a savvy, gutsy competitor, a natural leader and a pleasure to have on your side. His presence in the Gainesville community and support for his mother, family and local causes attest to his character off the field. Last year, he donated a week’s paycheck to Houston hurricane victims. He is the total of package of what any team should want in a star athlete and role model.
And true to his character, Watson didn’t strike back at the bigoted criticism from Redden, saying only “may peace be with him.” In doing so, he showed himself to be the man with infinitely more class.
His coach, Bill O’Brien, was happy to take up the case for him.
“I really don’t want to waste a lot of time responding to outdated, inaccurate, ignorant, idiotic statements,” O’Brien said. “I’ll just let Deshaun’s proven success on the field, his character off the field, speak for itself. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever coached. He represents everything that’s right about football, about life.
“His teammates respect him, his coaching staff respects him, and in this day and age, it’s just amazing that this B.S. exists. But it does. But we’re moving forward.”
Yes, that sums it up pretty well. It’s fitting that a man in charge of a school district who somehow believes people of color to be inferior in the ways of football will no longer have the responsibility of guiding young minds. That he ever did to begin with is unsettling.
We are, thankfully, now in an era when most of us from all backgrounds are equally offended by such comments and find them to be reprehensible, prehistoric thinking. The belief that anyone’s race or any other individual characteristic makes them less capable of performing in their chosen fields has long since been debunked. All such views need to be tossed for good into the trash dumpster of bad ideas.
Yes, it’s a shame some keep pulling them out, dusting them off and propping them back up again. But we’re confident high achievers like Deshaun Watson will put them back in their place, not with vengeful comebacks but by continuing to succeed, proving those brain-dead ideas to be pure garbage and nothing more.
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