A month before the disgruntled Carson Wentz was traded by the Philadelphia Eagles to the Indianapolis Colts, there was a poll conducted by Philly sports radio outlet, 97.5 The Fanatic.
Somehow 41 percent of Eagles fans would have preferred the Birds kept the underachieving and overpaid North Dakota State product over Jalen Hurts, who replaced Wentz as the starting quarterback with four games remaining in the 2020 season.
Hurts impressed with his poise, running ability and leadership. The rookie needs to improve his accuracy but clearly has potential. Wentz, however, fell apart and regressed in an historic manner and left the franchise in flames.
The Eagles paid an incomprehensible price for a quarterback who departed with more issues than playoff wins, zero, and a hefty bank account. The Eagles dealt five picks for Wentz, including two first-rounders, to the Cleveland Browns back in 2018. The Birds spent $80 million total on Wentz, half of that in 2020. Yes, he was great in 2017 and helped the team get to a Super Bowl, but it was Nick Foles who brought home the trophy. Wentz left the Eagles with an historic dead cap hit of $33 million. On top of all of that, Wentz destroyed his trade value with horrible play, 10 interceptions with a clean pocket, his trade demand and a reputation for being difficult to work with, that includes working with his teammates, coaches and the front office.
Hurts on the other hand appears to be a team player and a leader with escapability, which makes him the anti-Wentz.
However, many Birds fans hoped to keep the enigmatic and unproductive Wentz over the promising and energizing Hurts. Is the reason for that inexplicable choice simply racism?
Ken Shropshire, the CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University and author of the book “In Black and White: Race and Sports in America” thinks it just might be.
“It’s a very valid question to ask if it’s racism,” Ken Shropshire said from his Scottsdale office. “There are questions of racism in the NFL with the owners. Look at how African-American coaches were passed over for head coaching jobs again the last couple of weeks. Regarding Wentz and Hurts and racism, I think there is some of that [racism with fans]. Look at the difference between the two players, you have the traditional look versus Hurts, who is the new model of quarterback.”
Racism has long and deep roots in Philadelphia sports. Phillies manager Ben Chapman was arguably the most vicious individual the iconic Jackie Robinson dealt with after breaking the color line in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Dick Allen endured racial harassment. When the legendary figure, who deserves to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, had his number retired last summer by the Phillies, Mike Schmidt spoke of the unrelenting racism directed at Allen.
“Dick was a sensitive Black man who refused to be treated as a second-class citizen,” Schmidt said. “He played in front of home fans that were products of that racist era (with) racist teammates and different rules for whites and Blacks. Fans threw stuff at him and thus Dick wore a batting helmet throughout the whole game. They yelled degrading racial slurs. They dumped trash in his front yard at his home. In general, he was tormented and it came from all directions.”
If Allen’s salad days were in another city, perhaps the long misunderstood power hitter would already be in the Hall.
Much changed by the time Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard became Phillies stars during the first decade of this centurys. However, J-Roll and Howard were never embraced like Chase Utley, who played between them at second base.
Rollins was labeled by the vocal minority as lazy for not running hard to first. However, after covering most of the dynamic shortstop’s career with the Phillies, that simply wasn’t true. Rollins rarely dogged it and never took a play off in the field.
After an historic six-season run from 2006-11 where he averaged 44 HRs and 133 RBI, Howard suffered a career altering Achilles tear after signing a massive contract.
Utley was a model ballplayer, who played with the intensity of Pete Rose and is arguably the most popular player in Phillies history for good reason. However, Rollins, who has the most hits in Phillies history, had the more impressive career. FiveThirtyEight.com has Rollins’ Hall of Fame possibility at 44 percent compared to Utley’s 22.
Rollins failed to receive all of the love he deserved. “I didn’t notice that with Rollins but it was clear what was going on with Allen,” Shropshire said. “That racism was clear.”
Eagles fans didn’t fully embrace Randall Cunningham even though it was evident that his talent was incandescent. Eagles aficionados openly questioned his decision-making but it was difficult to debate the pros and cons of Cunningham after “The Ultimate Weapon” was injured and replaced by bumbling Bubby Brister a generation ago.
Donovan McNabb and Cunningham are arguably the two greatest quarterbacks in Eagles history, but neither were fully embraced. Cunningham, who wore gold aglets, was derided for his “Let Randall Be Randall” kookiness. McNabb, called overrated by the late racist windbag Rush Limbaugh, was slammed for being a goofball and for vomiting during the Birds’ Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2005.
Both quarterbacks could have achieved more with the Eagles, particularly Cunningham. “Randall didn’t take the game seriously until he went to the Minnesota Vikings and worked with (then Vikings offensive coordinator) Brian Billick. [Randall took his game to another level and was great with the Vikings since he became a student of the game and made no excuses.”
That’s the opposite of Wentz, who is a petulant player, who lit a torch to Lincoln Financial Field by forcing a trade after a historically bad season.
“I don’t get it with Carson,” NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger said. “He really doesn’t know how to throw a football. He tries to muscle everything when he’s under duress. He needs to make changes. I don’t know a game last season in which Carson can tell me to watch and that he was good. He was very much like this last year (2019). The last four games (the Eagles won) were against horrible opponents. With Carson, [former Eagles head coach] Doug [Pederson] was at his wits end.”
Considering all of the trouble Wentz caused, it’s bewildering how many Eagle fans hoped that the one-time MVP candidate would stay. There are even some of the Philly faithful who say they will be rooting for the Colts.
How could any member of the Eagles fervent fanbase ever have wanted a player, who thumbed his nose at the city after failing on the field while being paid like Aaron Rodgers?
Was it racism or false hope provided by a few sparks generated in 2017? Face it, Philly, Wentz never lived up to expectations as a franchise player. Instead, the player who should go down as the most divisive player in Philadelphia sports history, was a big bust for the Birds.