This is a story about a word. The word is a weird one: quarterbacky. It was used by a radio host to describe Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. The aftermath of using that word has lasted days and perhaps may be talked about for months or even years to come. Why? Because of what that word represents. Let me explain.
Recently Fox Sports Radio’s Monse Bolaños was discussing the NFL’s MVP race with Dan Beyer, her co-host. Bolaños began talking about Jackson’s chances versus those of San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. She didn’t think Jackson belonged in the conversation.
“I want my quarterbacks to be ‘quarterbacky,’” Bolaños said. “And, to me, Lamar Jackson’s just a great athlete, and he’s done a really good job and he had a great game against the 49ers. Prisoners of the moment, he is not the MVP. Christian McCaffrey is the MVP, and he has been. I’ve been saying this for weeks.”
In effect, Bolaños was saying that Jackson isn’t a real quarterback. She would later say on X, formerly Twitter, that her comments had nothing to do with race. But the word was such a dog whistle, puppers from North America to Asia all twisted their heads after she used it.
Her comments caused a massive reaction among Black fans and also a number of Black journalists. And I mean massive. I haven’t seen an angrier social media reaction from Black Twitter in months. Even LeBron James chimed in because, like everyone who lives on Earth One, it was clear what Bolaños was saying. And this story was only getting started.
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This past Sunday “quarterbacky” was trending on X because Jackson was playing so well against the Miami Dolphins. People were watching a talented quarterback, one of the best of his generation, play at an elite level, while mocking the notion that he wasn’t quarterbacky enough.
By Monday, the Ravens had joined in on the act. They released a social card on X which led with the phrase “quarterbacky”, and below it was Jackson’s stats for the day against the Dolphins: 321 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
The story is still talked about and likely will be for some time. The reason is simple. To many Black football fans, and also to many Black sports media members, the treatment of Jackson by some white fans and media members is a symbol of something much larger than football.
If you’re Black, and you followed this story, you may not be able to throw a football like Jackson, but you can relate to him in another way. You can understand what it’s like to be judged unfairly, as Jackson has been for much of his NFL career. Many Black Americans are in workplaces that don’t treat us respectfully. Where there are double standards for us. Where our accomplishments are minimized, and our errors blown into something bigger than they should be.
Many of us look at Jackson, see the racism and double standards he faces, and say: Hey, that’s us, too!
Black accountant … not accounty enough. Black journalist … not journalisty enough. Black pilot … not piloty. Barack Obama … hell, he wasn’t even born here, definitely not Presidenty enough.
Black fans also understand, either directly or innately, the history of Black players at the quarterback position, and how that history is pockmarked with decades of racism. Being asked to change positions, or not being drafted, or having to play quarterback in Canada because Black athletes weren’t allowed to play professional quarterback in America.
Saying Jackson should be more quarterbacky is the 21st century version of this type of history and belief system. Some people, remarkably, even now, look at Black quarterbacks and don’t see them on the same plane as their white quarterback counterparts. There’s something different, or lesser, about Black quarterbacks. This, in some ways, is the ultimate definition of quarterbacky, and it extends beyond sports.
To his critics, no matter how dominant Jackson is, he’s still not good enough. No amount of data, or even what they see with their own eyes, will change that. It’s the same in office spaces all across the country.
The bottom line with Jackson is he’s plenty quarterbacky enough. He’s MVP-y.