Jason Whitlock on Russell Wilson: "I could see how these issues would come up"

Ryan Glasspiegel

Jason Whitlock was a guest on The Herd today, and they discussed Wednesday’s story from Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman that some of Russell’s teammates think that the quarterback “isn’t black enough.” Cowherd asked Whitlock about his first reaction. Whitlock responded:

Writing on race this past July for MMQB, Wilson self-identified as African-American; he concluded the piece: “Today, I don’t look at myself as a black guy, or a black quarterback. I look at myself as a person, and a quarterback. My attitude is if I want to be the best, I’ve got to beat the best. And it has nothing to do with color.”

Cowherd confessed to not really understanding what the issue with Wilson is — “I think he’s smart, he’s a great kid, he’s got great instincts” — and asked Whitlock if this is a regular thing in the black community.

Yeah, I think it is, and there’s some solidarity among African-Americans, [who] feel that other African-Americans are proud of being African-American. Particularly when you’re the leader of the football team, you’re one of the highest paid players on the team, and you have a lot of influence with management — and, again, I’m not agreeing with Percy Harvin or any of the players that potentially have a problem with Wilson — but I could see how these issues would come up.

If you’re the quarterback, you have influence with management, [your teammates] perceive you as, “Okay, he’s going to be in there making sure our voice is heard.” And then they go, “Oh, well maybe he’s not ensuring that our voices are heard.” I could see where they’d have a question with that.

And I’m also someone that’s sympathetic because this happened to Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens. This is a standard or burden that white quarterbacks don’t carry. No one’s wondering or debating today whether Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning are black enough — or even white enough — to be leaders. People just accept that they’re leaders. No one questions who their friends are, or how they identify themselves racially. It’s a burden that Russell Wilson carries, and it’s interesting how he’s carrying it.

Cowherd asked if this had to do with Wilson’s being well-groomed or well-spoken. Whitlock didn’t really think so, but spoke about various other issues that could arise from players’ different backgrounds:

Whitlock went through his personal history, and said he can go home and be comfortable with the friends that he grew up with, before tying it back to Wilson:

For me individually, I feel an obligation to open doors and make sure that other people that come from my background — Dad who didn’t graduate high school, Mom who worked in a factory, parents who divorced, and started out in the hood — I want to make sure other kids like me have an opportunity and path to get to where I’m at. Russell Wilson does a lot of charity work. I’m sure in his mind that’s what he’s trying to do.

If he can’t connect with the Marshawn Lynch’s and Percy Harvin’s in his locker room in some kind of way — maybe he says, “Hey man, these guys are into things that I’m not into. I’m not trying to force my lifestyle on them. They shouldn’t be trying to force theirs on me.”

But when you sign up to be quarterback, and you accept the huge contract, there’s a big responsibility that goes along with that. I guarantee you Peyton Manning — there’s less of a pressure and burden on him — but I guarantee he finds a way to connect with guys in his locker room, particularly on that offense, who are from different backgrounds and walks of life than him. He finds a way to connect with them and make them feel like he respects them.

And so perhaps — and again I’m way speculating on the outside — Percy Harvin and some of the other guys in the locker room may not feel that Russell Wilson respects them, where they come from, and the way that they operate. And that’s probably inappropriate for the quarterback.

Wilson hasn’t yet signed his big money contract — Lynch and Harvin are making far more money this season — but it’s more or less a formality for the future, barring catastrophic injury. Also, Wilson has earned gobs of endorsement money and is the leader of the team regardless of what he’s getting paid. Nevertheless, this overall discussion is by far the most adversity he’s faced thus far in his short NFL career, and it will be fascinating to see how he responds to it the rest of this season and beyond.

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