President Barack Obama and former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb sure do have a lot in common. I first noticed this a few years ago, but recent events have made the similarities even clearer between the president of the United States, and the longtime Eagles quarterback, who officially announced this retirement from football this week.
They’re both African-American men who spent many formative years on the South Side of Chicago. They both rose very highly in their chosen professions at an uncommonly young age. Both are married with children and enjoy family lives which, chaos in other parts of their lives notwithstanding, appear to be happy and uncontroversial.
Both have (or had) a job that’s important to a lot of people and puts them constantly in the public eye, and open to near-constant scrutiny. And as a result, the reaction to both from the general public has been radically polarizing — both men are revered by many and despised with the fire of a thousand suns by many others.
Also, both Obama and McNabb have been accused of using improper body language, of saying the wrong thing in press conferences, and of behaving in a way that’s “distant” and “aloof.” Rush Limbaugh isn’t a big fan of either.
Indeed, the one thing McNabb and Obama have the most in common in this: Those who are most vocally opposed to them, whatever merits their arguments may have, tend to exaggerate the men’s awfulness to absurd, laughable degrees.
The way some of his enemies tell it, Obama hasn’t just presided over lackluster economic growth; he’s actually actively sabotaging the nation because he’s a Muslim socialist who hates America. McNabb didn’t only lose a Super Bowl, his detractors say, but he choked in every big game of his career and his historically successful time as Eagles quarterback is treated, as the great football writer and South Jersey native Michael Tanier wrote in 2010, as “an era of failure and scandal.”
Sure, what will be said in the future about Obama’s legacy remains an open question — but he did bring America back from the brink of the 2008 financial crisis, while notching a legitimate record of legislative accomplishment. McNabb may have lost that Super Bowl, but he owns every significant Eagles passing record, and won nine playoff games in green, which is nine more than the team has won since he departed. To treat either man as an unreconstructed failure is simply to deny reality.
Two days after the 2008 election, McNabb told the New York Times‘ Judy Battista that he could relate to Obama, having met him at a dinner in 2005. In fact, in that campaign he had cast the first presidential vote of his life for Obama:
McNabb watched the campaign closely and thought he saw similarities between the scrutiny Obama faced and the attention McNabb had drawn since being ushered into the N.F.L. in 1999 with a wave of booing on draft day. Since then, McNabb has occasionally found himself at the center of controversy, none greater than in 2003, when Rush Limbaugh suggested he would be treated differently if he were not a black quarterback, a relative rarity in the N.F.L.
Race, in fact, has played a big role in the reactions to both men, both on and off talk radio. Obama is of course the first black president; McNabb, while not the first, was one of the first superstar black quarterbacks. Obama has been subject of both subtle and not-so-subtle race-baiting from whites, as well as black commentators proclaiming him “not black enough”; McNabb has as well.
And in the case of both men, there’s absolutely nothing their opponents hate more than Obama or McNabb bringing up anything racial. See the reaction to McNabb’s interview in this magazine last week, or the president’s relatively innocuous comments after the George Zimmerman verdict.
Being quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, in terms of importance to world events, isn’t anywhere close to being president of the United States. But it can draw every bit the passion and vitriol when things don’t go right. What do you think the average Philadelphian, today, is more upset about — the NSA surveillance, or the 2002 NFC championship game loss to Carolina?
I don’t believe either presidents or quarterbacks are deserving of blind, unquestioning loyalty by the public. But they do deserve to be treated with a certain degree of fairness, and honesty.