Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is just 5 feet 10 and 5/8 but he has all the other qualities of a quarterback who can succeed in the NFL.
Apparently his college career wasn’t sufficient to answer all the questions about his capability of playing quarterback in the NFL.
He had succeeded at two colleges, led his team to the Rose Bowl, and yet for all his attributes, there was one physical trait that some people just couldn’t seem to see beyond: the color of Warren Moon’s skin.
Oh, you thought we were talking about Russell Wilson’s height? Well, we’ll get to that in a second.
But first, let’s pause to remember that once upon a time, not all that long ago, there were insinuations and unstated assumptions that race might actually mean something in terms of the ability to play quarterback professionally.
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It feels both galling and stupid in retrospect, but it should also serve as a reminder that when a player looks different from those who have preceded him, there can be some knee-jerk resistance because there’s no precedent to point to. And sometimes, that resistance turns out to be unfounded.
That brings us to Russell Wilson, all 5 feet 10 and five-eighths inches of him, and let me be very, very clear: I am not saying the criticism and scrutiny of Wilson’s height — or lack thereof — is akin to racism. It’s not.
To believe that race would affect someone’s ability to play quarterback is rooted only in prejudice and undermines the premise that all men were created equal.
Size is different. Size matters in football, and wondering if someone is tall enough to play quarterback in the NFL is completely justified given the fact this is game populated with 6-foot-5, 330-pound brontosauruses, and the question of whether Wilson can stand up in that environment is not new.
“It has been an issue all along for him,” coach Pete Carroll said the night Seattle chose Wilson in the third round. “Since he was a little kid, he’s always been the smaller guy playing.”
But Wilson’s height is just one part of his makeup, and not necessarily the most important part. He is a short quarterback, but he’s also a fast quarterback. He’s a smart quarterback. He’s a strong-armed quarterback. He also has really big hands (for whatever that’s worth).
Four inches are about all that separates him from being the ideal NFL quarterback prospect. Those four inches are significant, but they might not turn out be the kind of dealbreaker that some have assumed.
There was a time 30 years ago, when one physical trait — and the perceived implications — influenced the evaluation of Moon’s potential as a pro quarterback. The issue of race was never stated bluntly, and there are still people who contend that race played no factor in his career. Yet, what is undisputed is that the player who passed for more yards professionally than anyone before him went unchosen out of the University of Washington over the 12 rounds of the 1978 draft.
Moon became the first African-American quarterback to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame six years ago, and he was 12 minutes into his induction speech before he mentioned race. That trait was never how Moon defined himself as a quarterback, no matter how much others might have focused upon it over the course of his career.
The fact that Wilson’s race is not being scrutinized or discussed speaks to progress in the social attitudes for football specifically, and hopefully, society in general.
The scrutiny of Wilson’s height is certainly different from talking about a player’s race. It is both understandable and logical given the lack of precedent in terms of sub-6-foot quarterbacks succeeding in the NFL.
But history should also show that there are times when focusing too much on a single physical characteristic can get in the way of taking an objective look at all the talents and assets a quarterback brings to the position.
Not to mention the fact that sometimes the assumptions about that trait turn out to be dead wrong.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil.