Whitlock: Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson must face the music for his inconsistent play

Last week, a dear friend texted me about the consistent criticism her co-workers direct at her. The criticism is tinged with sexism and jealousy. My friend is in real estate. Her results are quantifiable and impressive. Her success isn’t subjective or debatable.

I advised her that “criticism is the background music of success.” She should let the music play.

So should fans of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

If Lamar is ever going to return to his MVP level of play, he’ll need to face the music, the harsh criticism that goes along with being a franchise quarterback.

On Sunday, CBS broadcaster Tony Romo politely insinuated that Jackson overthrew tight end Mark Andrews on a two-point conversion play that would have won the game for the Ravens. The pass fell incomplete, and Baltimore lost 20-19 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Across social media, people pretended Romo unfairly ripped Jackson. Jackson’s defenders pointed to the pressure T.J. Watt applied on Jackson. They blamed Andrews for dropping a pass that hit his one outstretched hand.

It was a bad pass. It needed to arch and drop in over Andrews’ shoulder as he faded toward the pylon and goal line. Romo played quarterback in the NFL for a long time. He knows exactly how that pass needed to be thrown. There was nothing unfair about his critique of Jackson.

After a 5-1 start to the season and talk of Jackson winning his second MVP trophy, the Ravens have lost three of their last six games. Worse, in his last six starts, Jackson has thrown eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Even worse, in his 11 starts this season, Jackson has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in just five games.

For the first time in his four-year career, Jackson is raising serious questions about whether the Ravens should view him as their long-term solution at quarterback. There’s an idiom in sports that applies to Jackson. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

This season, as a passer, Jackson isn’t getting better.

The timing of his decline couldn’t be more problematic. This coming off-season, the Ravens should be offering Jackson a mammoth contract extension. Two months ago, after Jackson threw for 442 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, it was easy to envision Jackson getting a contract that exceeded Patrick Mahomes’ $500 million deal with the Chiefs.

What is Jackson worth today? How good will he be two years from now?

The best thing for Jackson at this moment is criticism. It fueled his shocking rise from late first-round draft pick to most valuable player. Criticism and skepticism are raw vegetables for competitors. They don’t taste great going down, but nothing is better fuel for your body, mind, spirit, and attitude.

Michael Jordan invented critics. Tom Brady hunts for critics and skeptics on a daily basis. Muhammad Ali’s critics drove him to become the greatest. Social media, social justice warriors, and the pundits at ESPN and Fox Sports spend their days trying to protect black athletes from criticism.

They think worship builds black men. Worship is an act that should be reserved for Jesus and Jesus alone. It cripples everyone else. Men can’t handle worship. Why do you think so many celebrities lack self-awareness and surrender to drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, and mental instability?

The way prominent black athletes are coddled in modern culture reminds me of one of the most powerful scenes from the movie “Remember the Titans,” the story of legendary high school football coach Herman Boone, as played by Denzel Washington. Boone scolded one of his white assistant coaches for protecting the black players from criticism.

“The world don’t give a damn about how sensitive these kids are, especially the young black kids,” Washington said. “You ain’t doing these kids a favor by patronizing them.”

Criticism is a sign of respect, a byproduct of high expectations. I criticize Jackson because I respect him and have high expectations for him. I was skeptical of his NFL prospects initially. He earned my respect with his approach to the game, his no-excuses attitude, and his exceptional play.

The people making excuses for Jackson don’t respect him and have low expectations for him. The people trying to stop the criticism music from playing don’t want Jackson to succeed or don’t know what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

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