OP-ED | JASON WHITLOCK | September 21, 2022
I hope I’m wrong about Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback. I’m rooting for him. No different from how I rooted for Josh Rosen, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick. I root for pretty much every young quarterback. I want them all to be the next John Elway or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
Great quarterbacks make sports fun and interesting.
So Cincinnati Bengals fans, back off. We’re on the same team. My tweets analogizing Burrow to Rosen and Griffin were not written with malicious intent. They reflect my gut instincts at the moment.
They reflect the reality that sometimes young quarterbacks trip over their own egos and sabotage their careers. I pride myself on having a highly sensitive QB-ego radar that allows me to detect potential problems before others see them. It starts with a gut feeling and then grows.
Monday afternoon, during a discussion with T.J. Moe and Steve Kim on my podcast, I had a tingling in my gut when we started talking about Joe Burrow. Initially I attributed the tingling to the thought of eating Skyline chili while visiting Kings Island theme park last Saturday. The chili is considered a delicacy in Cincinnati. A humane person wouldn’t feed that garbage to a dog.
Upon review, it wasn’t the chili that set off my radar. It was the realization that Burrow has some of the same personality quirks and characteristics as Rosen, Griffin, Newton, and Kaepernick.
Burrow is off to a horrible start in the 2022 NFL season. Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, the Bengals are 0-2, having lost to the Mitchell Trubisky-quarterbacked Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cooper Rush-led Dallas Cowboys. Joe Burrow is supposed to be the next big thing in football. In his first complete, injury-free season, he led the Bengals on an improbable run to the Super Bowl. Prognosticators saw Burrow as the second coming of Dan Marino. But now Burrow can’t outscore Trubisky and Rush, two quarterbacks who will be holding clipboards around Halloween. What’s the problem?
Burrow has tossed four interceptions in two games. Despite a dynamic receiving corps, his yards per attempt hover around the bottom of the league. Cincy has scored a total of 37 points this season. Burrow has been sacked 13 times.
You can blame the sacks on Cincy’s rebuilt offensive line, but there’s more to the story. Burrow doesn’t look comfortable in the pocket. He’s leaving the pocket too soon, and he’s not climbing up in the pocket and helping his offensive tackles. The sacks are a combination of bad O-line play and a skittish quarterback who was sacked 70 times last season.
Does Burrow have the right attitude? Is Burrow too cocky for his own good? Has he prioritized social justice virtue-signaling above football greatness? Is Burrow suffering from Colin Kaepernick disease?
The disease killed Josh Rosen in the football womb. The UCLA quarterback entered the NFL with the stated goal of being a social justice champion and complaining about the nine teams that didn’t draft him in the first round. He lasted one season as a starter in Arizona.
Kaepernick disease is a deadly form of arrogance, shallowness, narcissism, and wokeness. The disease is triggered when agents, handlers, and media influencers convince young athletes that their mission is to be more than athletes.
The disease has been around for a little more than a decade. Scientists believe the virus leaked from a laboratory in Portland, Oregon, years ago when Nike executives, at the behest of China, developed a formula to make LeBron James the next Muhammad Ali. The leak sparked a pandemic across football and basketball. An early symptom of the disease was the desire to kneel during the national anthem. New variants of Kaepernick disease cause athletes to speak out on political issues they know very little about.
Burrow recently posted on Instagram about abortion and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In June, he urged politicians to “get those crazy guns.” Back in 2020, during the summer of George Floyd, Burrow and his Bengals teammates made a joint statement standing in front of the National Underground Railroad Museum.
There’s no doubt Burrow has at least a mild form of Kap disease. It’s not just the wokeness. The arrogance and flamboyance are other telltale signs of Kap. Arrogance and flamboyance destroyed Cam Newton and RG3. Like Newton and Griffin, Burrow had a singular, spectacular season in college football, won the Heisman Trophy, and entered the NFL draft amid high expectations.
Early in Newton’s and Griffin’s pro careers, my QB-ego radar started sending me signals that they would not sustain their success. Once Newton committed to dressing like the Queen of England, I jumped ship. When Griffin refused to come out of a playoff game against Seattle, even though it was obvious that his injured knee rendered him useless, I jumped off the Griffin bandwagon. I was ridiculed and reviled for arguing that their egos and off-field ambitions would undermine their success.
That’s what I see potentially happening with Joe Burrow. He wants to be more than an athlete. He wants to be a fashionista. He wants to engage in political discussions. He’s distracted and cocky. He’s headed down the same path as Rosen, Griffin, Newton, and Kaepernick. Those guys all ignored my warning and continued down the path of destruction. Joe Burrow should focus solely on football right now. He can be a runway model and uninformed political pundit in his 40s. Now’s the time to be a great quarterback.