Nawrocki isn’t racist, he’s gutless

Two years ago, when infamous Pro Football Weekly draft expert Nolan Nawrocki questioned the smile, character and attitude of quarterback Cam Newton, Nawrocki was professional enough to answer reporters’ questions about his controversial analysis.

This year, Nawrocki penned a scathing review of Geno Smith’s prospects, touching off another round of controversy and cries of racial bias. Intrigued by his work, three weeks ago I asked Nawrocki to appear on my podcast and discuss his polarizing work. Here is his email response:

Jason,

Really appreciate the interest. You do a great job covering complex subjects.

The scouting report was based on extensive evaluation and research, and I stand by it in its entirety. I prefer to let it speak for itself. Anyone that examines Smith’s character closely will learn that everything written in the report can be thoroughly substantiated.

Best,
Nolan

Here is the response I wrote back to Nawrocki:

Come on, Nolan. I tend to think your info is accurate. The report does speak for itself. But why can’t you speak for Nolan. People want to know who you are, where you came from, what your playing, coaching, scouting experience are. The interview would be very respectful.

I’ve written tough things about a lot of athletes. I trashed Vince Young before his draft. But I’m never afraid to come out and defend myself, my work and my information. Hiding is the only thing that could undermine your credibility.

It doesn’t have to be with me, but you should consent to an interview with somebody.

Thanks for the consideration,

Jason

I never heard back from Nolan Nawrocki.

The NFL Draft kicks off tonight. Geno Smith, the West Virginia quarterback, is the most intriguing player in the draft thanks to his position and Nawrocki’s scouting reporting.

We’ve reached the 30-year anniversary of the Elway-Kelly-Marino draft, the six-first-round-QB draft that transformed the NFL into a QB-driven television dynasty. A year ago, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson stormed the NFL like no trio of rookie quarterbacks ever has, leading their teams into the playoffs.

NFL teams hunt franchise quarterbacks the way fat people hunt fast food. Just because we hit McDonald’s an hour ago doesn’t mean we have to pass up Burger King now.

Is Geno Smith the Big Mac or the McRib? Is he the next Russell Wilson or is he the gimmicky, low-work-ethic, Akili Smith reincarnation Nawrocki described?

I’m leaning toward Wilson because Nawrocki doesn’t have the courage to defend his work. I don’t find Nawrocki’s analysis racially insensitive. I thought his assessment of Cam Newton was accurate and a motivational/wakeup-call blessing for the Auburn QB. Perhaps had Jimmy Clausen, who is white, had read and reacted to Nawrocki’s equally harsh critique of his character and attitude, Carolina wouldn’t have needed a QB one year after taking Clausen.

In the case of Smith, I suspect Nawrocki listened to the wrong, uninformed or agenda-driven sources. Geno Smith’s coaches and teammates have come out and passionately rejected Nawrocki’s scouting report.

But again what is most enlightening to me is Nawrocki’s refusal to passionately defend himself and his work. I would never ambush or disrespect Nawrocki. I know what it’s like to criticize a black QB prospect and have black people think you’re the worst person in the world. I was called every name in the book when I wrote this pre-draft column about Vince Young.

But I wasn’t afraid to defend my opinion and information. When the truth is on your side, there is nothing to fear. I’ll never forget how angry I was in 1990 when Mel Kiper was critical of Jeff George before the draft. Mel Kiper didn’t hide. He’s always been one of the most accessible high-profile media personalities I’ve known.

You can’t dish it and hide, no matter how loud, vicious and personal your critics become. I realize Nawrocki’s critics are calling him racist, and it’s difficult for a white man to defend himself against those allegations. But silence isn’t the answer. Smith’s defenders and sports fans in general have a right to probe Nawrocki’s motivation and qualifications.

I wanted to learn Nawrocki’s background from Nawrocki. What I found online was interesting. He was a below average football player at the University of Illinois in the late 1990s. He rode the bench for four years and then in his fifth year converted from safety to undersized linebacker and made one tackle. He’s from Chicago. Walter Payton was his idol. He studied journalism, worked for the student newspaper and wrote on his football bio that he planned to win the Pulitzer Prize one day.

Nawrocki sounds like me!

The key difference being I’m always willing to defend my work or admit an error in judgment or reporting. Nawrocki isn’t racist. He’s gutless.