Deshaun Watson took the high road Wednesday, when asked about the headline-making comments by a Texas school district superintendent who disparaged the Houston quarterback on the basis of his being “a black quarterback.” Texans Coach Bill O’Brien, however, offered a more blunt assessment, describing the remarks as “outdated, inaccurate, ignorant, idiotic statements.”
The superintendent, Lynn Redden of the Onalaska (Tex.) Independent School District, which is located about 85 miles north of Houston, expressed regret Monday about the comment he made the day before in a post on a Houston Chronicle Facebook page. He was upset about the final play of the Texans’ 20-17 loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans, in which Watson let too much time slip off the clock and lost a chance to extend the game.
“That may have been the most inept quarterback decision I’ve seen in the NFL,” Redden wrote in his Facebook comment. “When you need precision decision making you can’t count on a black quarterback.”
“I really don’t want to waste a lot of time responding to outdated, inaccurate, ignorant, idiotic statements,” O’Brien said at a news conference. “I’ll just let Deshaun’s proven success on the field, his character off the field speak for itself.
“He’s one the greatest guys I’ve ever coached. He represents everything that’s right about football, about life. His teammates respect him, his coaching staff respects him.”
“That’s on him. May peace be with him,” Watson, in his second season with the Texans, told reporters about Redden’s remarks. “I worry about me.”
Asked if he had experienced racism as a quarterback, Watson replied, “Of course.” He added, “That’s just everyday life, I guess. But I’m all about love, so I don’t have none of that. I don’t focus on none of that. I love all people, and that’s what I focus on.”
To a question about whether Redden should be fired, the 23-year-old said, “That’s not my job. I don’t make that decision.”
The Onalaska school board is set to hold a special meeting Saturday to discuss possible measures that could be taken regarding Redden and his contractual status.
The school district said in a Facebook post Tuesday that it “regrets that an inappropriate comment has been attributed” to the superintendent. “The OISD does not condone negative comments or actions against any race,” it said, adding that it “values every individual” and “will take the appropriate measures to address the situation expeditiously and completely.”
“I wish it had never been posted,” Redden told the Chronicle on Monday. The official said he thought he was responding instead to a private Facebook message from a friend, and he claimed that while he understands how his comment could be viewed as racist, that was not his intention.
According to the Chronicle, Redden quickly deleted his comment, but a Houston-area resident captured an image of it and alerted the newspaper. “It’s important to make sure horrible words are met with consequences, especially for those in powerful positions with influence,” the resident, Matt Ericksen, said.
Ericksen added that while he didn’t have children in the Onalaska district, he was concerned about what he saw as an overtly racist remark made by someone in Redden’s position. A 2016-17 Texas Academic Performance Report listed nine students out of a total of 1,026 in the district, or 0.9 percent, as African American.
Redden said that he was talking about how black quarterbacks have fared in the league, telling the Chronicle, “Over the history of the NFL, they have had limited success.”
Historically, black athletes were given very limited opportunities to play quarterback in the NFL until the late 1980s, when the position began to become more integrated. Nevertheless, in a league in which approximately 70 percent of the players are black, only about 20 percent of quarterbacks currently listed on depth charts are nonwhite.
“I see it as part of the same historical package as bias — the view that minorities can’t be in ‘thinking positions’ — even after we’ve had Barack Obama as president,” said Cyrus Mehri, a Washington-based lawyer and counsel to the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for diversity in NFL coaching and executive ranks, in comments last year to The Washington Post.
One of the most decorated players in recent college football history, Watson twice led Clemson to the College Football Playoff championship game, winning once, and was twice a finalist for the Heisman Trophy before the Texans made him the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. As a rookie, he enjoyed a remarkably effective stretch of play before injuring his knee midway through the season, and through two Houston losses this season, he has completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions and an 84.5 rating, adding 71 yards on the ground.
In addition to O’Brien, some of Watson’s teammates addressed Redden’s comments Wednesday, with star defensive end J.J. Watt saying, “I don’t think it deserves any attention from any of us. It’s a very ignorant comment that doesn’t deserve any more play. It’s very unfortunate.”
Of his quarterback, Watt said, “I trust him a whole lot. We all trust him.”
“You’d think in this day and age, 2018, you probably wouldn’t be hearing any comments like that, but you know, for whatever reason, that’s the world that we live in,” Houston cornerback Jonathan Joseph said. “The apology wasn’t sincere. When you make a comment like you thought it was a private message, that makes you look even more silly than the whole statement itself.”
Asked about developing a thick skin in the face of such commentary, Watson said, “I can’t control, other people, what their beliefs are. I can control what I can control. I just focus on me, and that’s it.”
“In this day and age it’s just amazing that this B.S. exits — but it does,” O’Brien said. “But we’re moving forward, and our fans, they love Deshaun, and we’re really concentrating on the Giants. But I felt like I wasted about a minute and a half responding to that B.S.”
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