The Jayson Blair Problem

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Bomani Jones offers a corrective to Cam Newton's comments on racism. It's worth also checking out the round-up of scouting reports on Newton and weighing them against his actual production. That aside, I think Jones hits on something I missed:


Newton was often compared to Russell and Young, even Akili Smith. The only thread linking all three was race. Newton's ability to absorb a pro-style offense after years in the spread was questioned, even though Sam Bradford, the previous No. 1 pick made the same adjustment to positive reviews. His work ethic was questioned, as if a man could simply roll out of bed and have the best season ever for a college quarterback. 

For those keeping score at home, that's a trifecta: dumb, lazy and just like the others. For more, there's Nolan Nawrocki's absurd takedown, centered around Cam's purported inability to lead, and the belief much of the league agreed with him. This was transparent, textbook racism, the same rap guys from Marlin Briscoe to Joe Gilliam to Doug Williams fought.


"It's just this gut feeling I have that I don't know how great he wants to be. " "What it really comes down to .. is football IQ and work ethic. And if he wants to be the best quarterback in the game, I'm all in. I love it. "But something tells me that he'll be content to be a multi-millionaire who's pretty good. And that doesn't get it done for me."

I don't think I'm revealing much when I say that it's generally a bad idea to assess IQ and work ethic on "something" in your gut. Video here.  

Anyway, I think the fact that Russell was widely tagged as lazy" plays into Newton's reaction. I go back to the point about representing. I think about how I felt embarrassed by Herman Cain, not because he was conservative, but because he was marketing ignorance for the White House.

Now the reality is that Rick Santorum has the right to be ignorant, why not Herman Cain? Likewise, there is no collective pressure on Todd Marinovich to represent for white quarterbacks and not put drugs before his job. (Did people consider Marinovich "lazy?" I don't actually remember.)

But a lot of us don't see it that way. If you're like me, you were mad that any journalist at the New York Times would turn plagiarist, but you were doubly mad that Jayson Blair would "embarrass us in front of white folks." My first reaction to reading about Tom Williams being escorted out of Yale for lying about being a Rhodes scholar was not "Wow, that's crazy,"; but  "What was this Negro thinking?"

That actually isn't fair and I'm not disagreeing with Jones. "Twice as good" is something you say to black children, not public policy. But this is not how you always see it in the moment. I was really pissed off at Jayson Blair, in a way that I wasn't at Stephen Glass or Jack Kelley. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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