In 1994, 18-year-old Donovan McNabb headed to Syracuse University after a distinguished career as quarterback of Chicago's Mt. Carmel High School football team. McNabb led the Caravan to a state championship as a sophomore and a Chicago Prep Bowl championship two years later.
Since joining the NFL in 1999, McNabb has been known as much for his football skills as his unwitting ability to find himself at the center of controversies he had no hand in creating.
Chicago is notoriously tough on its athletes. Rex Grossman and Jay Cutler can confirm as much. In McNabb's case, though, the last 12 years of mostly unprovoked criticism has come from everyone but the hometown faithful.
It's a weird dynamic, and more than a decade later it's still difficult to explain.
Which brings us to last week, when boxer Bernard Hopkins, 46, on the PR offensive promoting his May 21 fight with Jean Pascal, veered off script to weigh in on just how black McNabb really is (or isn't, depending on your perspective). Hopkins suggested that because McNabb grew up in the suburb of Dolton, rather than the city of Chicago itself, that somehow makes McNabb less authentically black.
"Forget this," Hopkins said according to the Philadelphia Daily News, pointing to his own dark skin. "He's got a suntan. That's all." It's worth mentioning that Hopkins was born in Philadelphia and is a huge Eagles fan.
"Why do you think McNabb felt he was betrayed? Hopkins continued. "Because McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field. He's the one who got the extra coat. The extra servings. 'You're our boy,"' Hopkins said, patting a reporter on the back in illustration. "He thought he was one of them."
Last Friday, former Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley, presumably the only person on the planet yet to weigh in on McNabb, did just that saying Washington shouldn't have signed him. Miraculously, it had nothing to do with his skin color.
"When Donovan came here, I wasn’t so sure that was the right choice, because he was already 33 turning 34 and I looked at his turnover speed and how he moved," Manley told the Washington Post. "He didn’t have that fluid movement."
Whatever your thoughts on McNabb's blackness (and let's be honest, nobody's mistaking him for Carlton Banks or Wayne Brady), he must have been an absolutely horrible person in a previous life. Like serial-killer horrible. Because there's no other explanation for just how often he is the target of seemingly indiscriminate ridicule.
A brief history:
- Eagles fans booed McNabb him when he was drafted in 1999;
- Rush Limbaugh, during his brief stint on ESPN's "Game Day" said in 2003 that "…the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well";
- After the Eagles lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, rumors surfaced that McNabb was puking in the huddle and needed help calling plays with the game on the line;
- Former Eagles teammate Terrell Owens claimed in 2008 that "I think I got too big for Philly, too big for [Donovan]";
- After the 2009 season, Philly thought so much of McNabb that they traded him to division rival Washington;
- In October, 2010, his first season with the Redskins, McNabb was pulled late in a Week 8 game against the Lions and replaced by Rex Grossman (!) because, according to head coach Mike Shanahan, he didn't know the two-minute offense.
- A few days later, former Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell emerges from obscurity to proclaim that McNabb should have been benched in Super Bowl XXXIX;
For 12 years McNabb has taken it all in stride, never saying much publicly to defend himself. After originally having no comment on Hopkins' theories, Fletcher Smith, McNabb's agent, released a statement a few days later that read in part, "Ill-informed statements such as the perplexing one Mr. Hopkins muttered recently are dangerous and irresponsible. It perpetuates a maliciously inaccurate stereotype that insinuates those African-Americans who have access to a wider variety of resources are somehow culturally different than their brethren."
So why all the animosity from Hopkins? Turns out, it's not so much a socioeconomic ideology as it is a testimony to Hopkins' capacity to hold a grudge. The Daily News points out that "Hopkins has acknowledged he felt snubbed by McNabb when Hopkins visited the Eagles' practice facilities. Since the snub, McNabb squarely has been in Hopkins' sights."
Upside: Hopkins likes McNabb the person: "Nice guy," Hopkins said of McNabb. "I'd trust him around my kids."
This seems like an appropriate time to share Manley's thoughts on Hopkins.
"He’s punch drunk. He’s like 40 years old thinking he’s still 20 and wants to box. Sooner or later, you have to find something else to do."
Words to live by.