NBA Draft 2011: Would Jimmer Fredette Face the Same Criticism If He Was Black?

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NBA Draft 2011: Would Jimmer Fredette Face the Same Criticism If He Was Black?
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Jimmer Fredette of BYU and Cam Newton of Auburn are two of the highest profile prospective pros in the upcoming NBA and NFL Drafts.

Both have their fair share of fans, and both have their fair share of doubters.  One faces questions concerning his abilities; the other faces questions concerning his character.

Newton and his family have already been subjects of an NCAA investigation, and he's been accused of cheating when he was at Florida.

Some scouts have also painted Newton as a phony with a fake smile and a disingenuous attitude.

NFL experts and executives are wondering if the Heisman winning quarterback will bring any of these issues with him to the next level.

Recently, Newton's advisor Warren Moon (a former Pro-Bowl and African American quarterback) has suggested the criticism of Newton is unfair, saying:

"A lot of the criticism he's receiving is unfortunate and racially based. I thought we were all past this. I don't see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony. He's being held to different standards from white quarterbacks. I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we're not."

If Moon is right, and the criticism is racially based, I'd be very hesitant to say that it's intentional.  

There are unfair stigmas in professional sports that permeate the thinking and fester in the minds of fans, experts and executives.

One such stigma is the idea that black quarterbacks will always be running quarterbacks who are incapable of the cerebral end of the game that players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning seem to have mastered.

While no one will come right out and admit that they deliberately think that way, there are many who prescribe to the notion in a more subconscious way.

It's been proven wrong as recently as this past season, when Michael Vick put together a legitimate MVP campaign that was built around his throws and his decisions (not his feet).

The unfair stigma surrounding black quarterbacks isn't the only one in sports.

Preconceived notions swirl around black golfers, white running backs and defensive backs, black hockey players and white (particularly white American) basketball players.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, almost every time a young white player starts to generate buzz in the NCAA, he's instantly tagged with the scout's kiss of death: "He's not athletic enough."

That's the only criticism people have on Jimmer Fredette right now, even though it's completely unmeasurable at this point.

We've heard that he won't be able to create his own shot against NBA defenders and that he won't be quick or athletic enough to stay in front of NBA point guards.

I'll agree that Jimmer's defense could be an issue at the next level, but it's not because of a lack of athleticism.

He was in a system at BYU that ran zone and had a coach that inexcusably allowed him to stand around the top of the key.  His shortcomings on defense are due to coaching and lack of effort.

If you're athletic enough to score 29 points a game as a 6'2", 195 lb. point guard, you're athletic enough to at least be a passable defender.

He looked very athletic when he dropped 43 points on a San Diego State team that was supposed to feature far superior athletes.

He looked very athletic when he blew by Florida's Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton whenever he wanted to (BYU may have won that game if some coach could have compelled Jimmer to keep going to the rim).

Even after those performances, all we heard about his future is why he won't be successful.

Boston Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers had this to say about the criticism:

I love him. He's terrific. I've seen the ESPN clips, and going by the clips, he's a superstar. The kid's going to be a good NBA player. We get lost in what kids can't do and we should focus more on the things they can do and try to accent that. He can get his own shot.

Russell Westbrook said this:

I've seen Jimmer play. He's a great, great, great, great guard. He's taken over college basketball right now, just in the way he has run his team, he's leading his team. I know he's going to do well at the next level. I know just from watching him that he's going to be a great NBA player.

So, if people within the game think he can make the transition, why do so many fans and experts still doubt him?

Chalk it up to the stigmas we discussed earlier.

White guys (especially guards) have no lateral quickness, can't create their own shot, can't defend and definitely can't jump.

If you believe that last one (and we all know plenty do), let me remind you of Jacob Tucker.  This 5'10" white kid plays for a Division-III school and recently used his 50-inch vertical leap to win the NCAA dunk contest.

Kirk Hinrich is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and no one can create his own shot as easily as Steve Nash.

And yet, plenty of prospects like Jimmer Fredette and Ben Hansbrough are still branded with criticism that hurts and often kills their draft stock.

Jimmer will still be selected in the first round of this year's draft, because he's simply done too much to be ignored.

But this stigma has kept other players out of the league altogether.

Jaycee Carroll graduated from Utah State in 2008.  

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

He was a 6'2" combo guard from Evanston, Wyoming who averaged 19 points and five rebounds a game and shot 51 percent from the field, 47 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line over four seasons.

During his senior year, he averaged 22 points and six rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 92 percent from the free-throw line.

He led his team to a 24-11 record and a WAC championship.

Carroll went undrafted in 2008.  

You may say it was because he came from a small school. That didn't keep teams from drafting JaVale McGee from Nevada, Courtney Lee from Western Kentucky, George Hill from IUPUI or J.R. Giddens from New Mexico (all were selected in the first round that year).

You may say it was because he was too small.  Both Lee and Hill were considered undersized for their position, and neither one of them were as good as Jaycee was statistically.

You may say it's because he was too old.  But NBA teams are constantly signing Euroleague stars who are in their late 20s or early 30s.

Whatever the reason was, Carroll's teams and teammates in Europe should be thanking their lucky stars that NBA GMs decided to ignore his great talent.

He's currently playing in Spain's top league and averaging 19 points a game while shooting his typically high percentages.

All the criticism leveled at Jimmer Fredette is not new, and I tend to think it's more based on the stigma than reality.

Let's talk about the question posed in the title of this article. Would Jimmer Fredette face the same criticism if he was black?

Would Cam Newton face the same criticism if he was white?

Certainly, at least a little bit of the negative things we hear about these two athletes might be true.  

However, it's interesting to ponder whether or not their possible weaknesses would be so overexposed if they weren't such perfect candidates for the stigmas we've discussed.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, race is still an issue in sports.  And even if I'm way off base, the prospect of a discussion should be seen as a good thing.

There won't be any more equality for white guards in basketball or black quarterbacks in football if we just sit back and refuse to question things.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.

 

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