by Taylor McClain
Just when I thought it was safe to consider college football as insulated from the creeping insidiousness of political correctness and leftist trolling, there appears an article by a staff writer for ESPN’s website titled It’s time for Alabama freshman QB Jalen Hurts to be a Heisman candidate.
I tried to ignore the obvious bias by a Black sports writer for a Black football player, a freshman, after only 8 games into a 14 game season. But then at the end of the season, in an e-zine called The Undefeated, came A BRIEF HISTORY OF ALABAMA PHENOM JALEN HURTS — AND THE BLACK QBS WHO CAME BEFORE HIM. Not content with establishing Hurts as a “phenom” the writer, Aaron Dodson, another Black sports reporter, subtitles his screed with, “The freshman may just be the best Crimson Tide quarterback—regardless of age or race—in 125 years.” This sports, culture, etc. site is devoted to everything Blackness and has ESPN on its masthead. Assuming that the title was so outrageous that no one would accord a scintilla of credibility to its content, which was self-touted as a “brief history of Jalen Hurts,” again I sought to look askance. I was wrong, and since then the legend of Jalen Hurts dominates the Southeastern Conference sports news in college football’s offseason.
Hurts is a freshman and appears to be a fine young man from a quality family. He is also Black, which is nothing new in college football or on the Tide football team. Michael Landrum was the first Black quarterback recruited at Alabama in 1979. But he only participated in two plays in the waning minutes of the Tide’s final winning game against Vanderbilt—a 66-3 smack down. Dodson, however, seems to credit Landrum with some of the success of the Tide’s national championship season by writing, “But before he left, Alabama ended the 1979 season by winning the national championship.” Thus begins a subtle shift in the bulk of the writer’s narrative from straightforward football team analysis to one of the racial profiling of Blacks as unworthy to helm the starting quarterback spot at the Tide.
Dodson then writes, “One year later, midway through (Walter) Lewis’ freshman season, longtime legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant did what he’d never done before — he started a black quarterback.” This is misleading since Don Jacobs, who is White, was the primary starting quarterback in 1980, accounting for four passing touchdowns. Lewis had none. Nevertheless, Lewis did start as quarterback in 1981.
Dodson vaguely hypothesizes that Hurts, “represents the school’s five African-American starting quarterbacks before him.” This asserted number of “starting” QBs is correct. He is incorrect in his statement that Philip Sims was a member of the 2012 team that won a national championship. He played in 2011 but only ran five plays from scrimmage and left the team as a redshirt freshman in May 2012 to play QB for Virginia in the ACC in all 12 of their games during the 2012 season.
Dodson is also incorrect when he writes that Blake Sims was the, “first black starter to win Alabama a national championship.” In fact, Blake Sims was the main starting QB in 2014 when the Tide won the SEC championship, but not the national championship. A.J. McCarron was the starting QB in 2011 and 2012 when the Tide did win back-to-back national championships.
Dodson writes that Blake Sims would join, “Landrum, Star Jackson and Philip Sims” as quarterbacks (incorrect as to Philip Sims) who would wear championship rings. It is difficult to fact-check much less discern the real meaning of this statistic as Alabama has had so many quarterbacks, Black quarterbacks included, who may have played sporadically or who sat on the bench during a non-championship season. For example, during the 1981 season, Alabama played three other quarterbacks in addition to Lewis who combined threw for as many touchdowns as Lewis.
Instead of taking pride in Blake Sims’ team participation in winning a national title, Dodson plays the race card and reaches back to 1963 to link George Wallace’s University of Alabama registration door stand (with state troopers he adds) to the asserted but unverified impediment of Blake Sims becoming the starting quarterback in 2014. Dodson’s racial take on this is that Alabama has had, “Just six black starting quarterbacks in the 125-year history of what some consider to be the greatest college football program of all time — one which has churned out more national titles (16) than any other school.”
Okay, fair enough; but using Dodson’s own stats, in the thirty-four years since Walter Lewis began playing, Alabama has started an African-American quarterback in seven of those years. This tells us that 20% of the time an African-American has been the Tide’s starting quarterback. How many African-American quarterbacks have sat on the bench or seen limited playing time is difficult to ascertain, but we can assume there have been many, and certainly the number is well above the percentage of African-Americans in the national population. One has to wonder if Dodson will only be satisfied that there is no institutional racism at the University of Alabama when an African-American is the starting quarterback 100% of the time.
The followers of Crimson Tide football can mark the exact moment when Hurts was crowned. It was during the first game against USC when Hurts went into the game to relieve the starting QB, Blake Barnett. The ESPN sideline reporter, Samantha Ponder, excitedly told us that a change could be sensed among the Tide players (most of whom were black) and they seemed to rally around the freshman QB. Apparently, their enthusiasm did not diminish when Hurts on his first play fumbled the football turning the ball over to USC. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit in the booth gushed about the “improvement” this young man would make, and how much better he would become as the season progressed. Yes, improvement in Hurts’ performance could be expected, and according to the Tide coaching staff, he was already the best QB on the team.
But was Hurts as good as the media, especially ESPN and the Black media said, and would he become even better? Let’s look at this.
Remarkably, Hurts’ first game (USC) was his second best according to his passing efficiency rating of 186. The only time he surpassed that rating was the October 8 game against Arkansas in which he earned a 229 rating. But in the semi-final game against Washington on December 21, 2016, he earned a paltry 84 rating and passed for only 57 yards. Against Clemson for the national championship on January 9, 2017, he did improve somewhat achieving a 95 rating, but still completed only 14 passes for 155 yards and only one touchdown. He completed only 44 percent of his passes. He ranked number 35 in the statistic for passing touchdowns for the 2016 season. In yards completed per passing attempt, Hurts did not even rank in the top 50; and there were four other freshmen QBs who did rank in the top 50.
According to NCAA statistics, Hurts did not lead the Tide into the season’s top 10 lists for team passing yards, rushing yards, passing offense, or rushing offense.
On the other hand, Hurts’ defenders argue that he is a “dual threat” QB who can run as well as pass. So, how important was Hurts’ rushing ability to the Tide’s regular season success? He did not even rank in the top 50 for rushing yards in the season or in rushing yards per game. He did tie with 10 other players for number 30 in rushing touchdowns in the 2016 season. And the top rated rushing QB for the season was Will Worth of Navy who was the number 2 ranked rusher in the country—ever heard of him? No, he’s a White guy.
A lot could be written in comparing Hurts with the Tide’s previous QBs. But let’s look at Hurts’ immediate predecessor, Jake Coker, the Tide’s QB ( a White guy) for the 2015 season. Coker will never be ranked by the media as one of the Tide’s “great” QBs. Perhaps he should be. He was not known for his throwing or running ability, but in some way, he always seemed to “get the job done” especially when the chips were on the table as in the Tide’s final game run to its national championship. His 3rd down conversion percentage (a vital part of any team’s success) for the full year was 59 percent. For the 2016 season, Hurts’ 3rd down completion rate was 35 percent. And in Hurts’ last game with Clemson, he completed only 2 out of 15 third down attempts—a catastrophic 13 percent. In the semi-final game against Michigan State, Coker’s efficiency rating was 179, which improved to 203 in his final game against Clemson for the national championship. Recall that in Hurts’ final two games (Washington and Clemson) he had a rating of 84 and 95 respectively.
How did the Tide get to the 2017 national championship game with a mediocre QB? The answer is by playing the type of game the Tide is traditionally known for—defense. In fact, as has been widely discussed, the Tide would have won at least six games if the offense had sat on the bench. That is how important the Tide’s defensive behemoth was to their success in their 2016 season.
How did the Tide’s other QBs feel about the offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin starting a freshman at QB over them—they left the team. First, the original starting QB Blake Barnett announced his transfer. One can hardly blame him. In his start, his only game, against USC before he was pulled from the game in favor of Hurts, he completed 11 out of 19 passing attempts for a pass completion rate of 58 percent. He was efficiency rated at 189. Then the backup Cooper Bateman (a five-star recruit) left, and finally David Cornwall. Has there ever been such a complete QB vacating of a major college football team in history—especially during the Tide’s 125-year history? Was this because the other QBs were White? Not really, since it can be shown that such large defections never occurred in the past when other Black QBs, more talented than their teammates, took the helm.
It should be obvious that Jalen Hurts is not the Tide’s greatest QB in 125 years and, as shown by the statistics, he did not improve over the course of the season—no kudos there for the ESPN announcers’ failed prognostication. Sadly, he may not have even been the best QB on the player roster beginning in 2016—history may provide that answer.
However, when it comes to tooting the black horn, there is no wrong note that can be played. The facts, in this case, the statistics, do not matter—it is all about the perception of racism. And that is why Jalen Hurts will struggle on as the Tide’s starting QB next season.
I almost forgot to mention an item that Mr. Dodson failed to report, a statistic that African-American sports reporters will never unveil, and that is the drastic increase in thuggery committed by African-American athletes. Perhaps this shameful behavior began at the University of Alabama with the Tide’s 1979 signing of Michael Landrum as the Tide’s first African-American QB. Landrum is now serving a life sentence for the murder for hire of his three-year-old daughter and her grandmother. Let us hope that Dodson is wrong and that in the future Hurts does not come to “represent” him.
Taylor McClain is a practicing attorney and an alumnus of the University of Alabama