Published On: Sun, Mar 4th, 2018

Unconventionally outspoken Rosen exact type of QB the NFL should embrace

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The NFL draft is an arduous process for prospects, who are evaluated, interviewed, examined, and generally prodded and poked in every manner possible – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One of this year’s prominent victims of the overexposure and length of that process is Lamar Jackson, a Heisman-winning quarterback who’s spent his time at the combine plagued by chatter about a move to wide receiver.

Related: Lamar Jackson right to dismiss any team that asks him to work out as WR

But Jackson isn’t the only quarterback receiving unfair treatment from the league and the media as a result of the spotlight.

Josh Rosen‘s character has been called into question throughout his final season at UCLA. The 21-year-old’s often described as a jerk. Arrogant. Immature. Too opinionated, too selfish. Media and teams have questioned his love for football and nudged his fellow Bruins to give their true opinions on their quarterback.

But Rosen chipped away at that narrative during a hugely impressive 15-minute press conference Friday.

“I’m not going to present a fake image of myself,” Rosen said, according to Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “Some advice to someone who has maybe had issues in the past or have these pre-rehearsed (answers) on, ‘I’m sorry. I won’t ever do that again.’ I think that you have to be yourself, you have to be authentic and you have to show you’ve learned and grown over the years. You have to own your mistakes. That’s what I’m trying to show.

“I’m trying to show who I really am, not who I’m trying to be because I want them to draft me. I don’t want them to draft someone they think they’re getting and not to get that guy. I think that’s also what your teammates want. Your teammates don’t want a fake shell of yourself.”

Does that sound like a guy who doesn’t get it? Isn’t that the exact answer you want from a modern-day potential face of an NFL franchise? Rosen was charming, confident, and, most importantly, authentically himself at his presser.

“I don’t know where it comes from. It drives me insane,” UCLA center Scott Quessenberry said of the negative perception attached to Rosen as a teammate and leader, according to Nick Shook of “… For him to get the rap that he gets, I think it’s BS because of the type of guy he is and the type of stand-up human being that he is. The type of pro that he’s going to be.”

He added, “I don’t think he’s hard to get along with. I don’t know where that came from, I don’t know why that started. Is he opinionated? Yeah. Everyone’s got their own opinions. Does he believe in his opinions and will he waver on his opinions? No, but I don’t know when that’s ever been a bad thing.”

Unfortunately, it’s been a bad thing in the NFL forever. Football breeds anonymity. The team is held above all, and even though quarterbacks are revered, they are still a big part of a greater whole; perceived as another helmeted warrior who wants nothing but to play on the field and wouldn’t dream of inviting controversy off it.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Tom Brady only cares about winning and holds his cards close to his chest outside of his diet and stretching techniques (MAGA hat aside). Aaron Rodgers is the precursor to Rosen, but he’s a private, reserved person who’s been reluctant to speak out about his views. Drew Brees has been a dominant voice for the players during CBA negotiations, but rarely uses his standing outside of league issues.

Rosen is different. Last April, he expressed his unfavorable political opinions about President Donald Trump. A month later, he criticized the NCAA for not paying players after UCLA announced a 15-year, $280-million apparel deal with Under Armour.

The NFL might be scared about a potential big-name quarterback truly calling it as he sees it, regardless of the backlash from fans or the league, but Rosen’s strong, well-spoken, forward-thinking approach is the exact type of socially conscious voice the NFL needs if it’s going to keep up with the NBA – the clear leader in this area among the United States’ big four pro sports leagues.

While NFL players are beginning to realize the power they wield – with the likes of Malcolm Jenkins, Richard Sherman, and, of course, Colin Kaepernick leading the way – franchise quarterbacks are the ones who can truly move the needle.

The NBA has embraced and profited from allowing its biggest stars, like LeBron James, to be open and free with their opinions and social views off the court. Meanwhile, the NFL has fought to keep hold of the reins of power in a social media-dominated world where fans increasingly demand not only to know players’ stats but their life away from the game – their hobbies and struggles, their political stances, their thoughts on current culture.

It’s clear the NFL must alter this stagnant, outdated mentality if it’s to capture younger audiences and maintain its huge slice of the market. While football remains America’s sporting ruler and TV ratings king, basketball is positioning itself as the sport of the younger generations.

Football has dropped to third in terms of popularity among American youth, while basketball sits at the top of the list, according to ESPN, via The Guardian. And it isn’t just the kids, either; in an October poll by Gallup, 57 percent of people asked said they were professional football fans in 2017 compared to 67 percent five years earlier. Meanwhile, the self-identified audience for professional basketball grew by 3 percent over that period.

James hasn’t done anything as radical as Kaepernick’s national anthem demonstration, but the stark difference in the respective fan bases’ reaction to the two athletes expressing their political views can arguably be attributed in part to the NBA’s support of the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, compared to the perceived blackballing of the quarterback by the NFL.

Fans want to truly know the athletes they spend so much of their money and time on, and the NFL would be wise to stop fighting the inevitable. For a league that wants every fan to tune into every prime-time game, every single week, it’s illogical to hold its top personalities back from connecting more personally with fans, especially with the NFL in dire need of a face-lift after being slammed as too corporate and rigid in recent years.

The unconventional Rosen won’t be to every team’s liking, and, of course, he is far from a can’t-miss prospect. But his willingness to speak out about important topics should be welcomed and celebrated by the league and its fans – not feared, criticized, or rejected.

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