A radio analyst for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers was suspended for saying during a Monday show that a black quarterback had an advantage in concealing the ball on fake handoffs because his skin is dark, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Analyst Tim Ryan was assessing the play of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson the day after the Ravens beat the 49ers. Jackson rushed for more than 100 yards in the game, heavily relying on a “zone-read” offense in which the quarterback often runs after faking a handoff to the running back.
“He’s really good at that fake, Lamar Jackson, but when you consider his dark skin color with a dark football with a dark uniform, you could not see that thing,” Ryan said. “I mean, you literally could not see when he was in and out of the mesh point, and if you’re a half step slow on him in terms of your vision, forget about it, he’s out of the gate.”
The team announced the one-game suspension Wednesday, saying they were disappointed in Ryan’s choice of words.
“We hold Tim to a high standard as a representative of our organization and he must be more thoughtful with his words,” the team said in a statement. “Tim has expressed remorse in a public statement and has also done so with us privately. We know Tim as a man of high integrity and are confident he will grow and learn from this experience.”
Ryan also apologized, saying he regretted his choice of words and crediting Jackson as an “MVP-caliber” player.
It is worth noting here that Ryan’s analysis was probably correct; darker skin very likely does make the football slightly harder to locate for defenders making a split-second decision from yards away. It’s less about race than it is about the reality of how vision and colors work. But sociologist Harry Edwards, a consultant for the 49ers (who said he doesn’t believe Ryan had any racist intent with the comment), said bringing race into the quarterback conversation can be damaging.
“In a game that is so competitive and where ‘winning edges and even slight advantages’ tend to be critically important if not determinant, are we really to believe that White QB’s are at a strategic disadvantage?” Edwards told the Chronicle. “Should the 2020 NFL player draft select for dark-skinned, athletic QB prospects in search of the next Lamar Jackson? Or maybe this puts a premium on QB’s — irrespective of race — who can play well wearing the right color gloves — gloves that will give them the right hand hue to camouflage the football on handoffs.”
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