Donovan McNabb finds Backbone … a Little Too Late

Donovan McNabb finds Backbone … a Little Too Late


I have been waiting to write a long detailed and emotional piece about Quarterback Donovan McNabb when he finally retires. However it appears he’s got a few more things to say before he moves into that big broadcast booth in the sky.

This week McNabb got on ESPN’s First Take and took a chunk out of Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan (and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan) for their anticipated draft of Baylor Quarterback Robert Griffin III, a Heisman trophy winning superstar in the college game last year. While some will interpret McNabb’s move as sour grapes given his one lousy year of post-Eagles quarterbacking in Washington (he had no business moving to one of the most hated rival teams in the NFC East in the first place), as a longtime fan I saw something different. For the first time in his public career McNabb showed some spine, something I wish he would’ve done more during his time in Philly.

Donovan McNabb has been, throughout his career one of the most successful yet criticized quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He got it from both sides: racist Philly fans who hated having a Black quarterback who was more Carlton Banks than Carl Weathers and dimwitted African Americans who fell into the good Black vs. bad Black argument successfully put forth by NFL Super Agent Drew Rosenhaus through his willing stooge Terrell Owens.

But, McNabb’s winning percentages and playoff success were matched or exceeded only by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning – yet he was still seldom mentioned in that automatic Hall of Famer club that embraced the other two. The bigger issue with McNabb, however, even amongst his supporters (like myself) was that he seemed way too passive in the face of criticism.

Those Eagles NFC Championship losses weren’t all on him: there was his coach’s lousy play-calling, the all to permeable “Bend don’t break” defense of the Eagles and the lack of talent on offense. Yet, McNabb never directly complained about this team or the various knuckleheads that came after him, ranging from Rush Limbaugh to Terrell Owens to Philadelphia NAACP president Whyatt D. Moondeshire. When it was obvious that he was being scapegoated by the incompetent coaching of re-treat Mike Shanahan on the Redskins, McNabb let his agent do the talking then backed away from his own agent’s statements. It was a wince inducing deconstruction of a Black man who clearly just wanted to be loved and couldn’t or wouldn’t fight out in the open.

It has always been clear that McNabb planned on having a career in NFL media after his playing days were over, and starting off by slamming Shanahan as an egomaniac who will blow the #2 draft pick and get fired once the season is over is a pretty good start. Let’s also hope that this is the beginning of a new era for the quarterback. He would be the first African American QB to move into the broadcast booth on a regular basis, and maybe that’ll give him the confidence to express the real opinions he denied having throughout his time in the league.

DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson


  1. McNabb's comments made him look petty and vindictive. There was nothing dignified about his making them, and he sullied an otherwise sterling reputation as an athlete who exemplified poise and integrity.

    Kabuki theater histronics shouldn't be confused for "backbone".

    • It was fans like yourself that essentially guaranteed that Philly would never win anything in football. You made the playoffs 8 times in 11 years when outside of McNabb you only had 2 players on offense reach the pro-bowl in that time-span. Philly fans got competitive playoff football for 11 years, that certainly is a better run than most teams. As an analyst it's McNabb's job now to critique issues and decisions around the league. He's not the only one calling Shanny's decisions into question, he just knows what he's talking about more because he played for the guy.

  2. Since when does passivity equal dignified? He is transitioning into being a sports analyst and commentator, Mike Shanahan and his son did a terrible coaching job during McNabb's one year in DC and did worse their second year without him. Pointing that out seems perfectly reasonable to me. It is amazing to me how often these descriptions of 'integrity' and 'sterling reputation' or the infamous euphamism 'classy' are so cavalierly given then taken away from athletes of color the moment they speak their minds about any issue. Bravo to Donovan for taking his new career seriously.

    • Since when did refusing to bicker in public with idiot pundits and cancerous teammates become a sign of passivity? AAMOF, it's the absolute worst thing an athlete (or celebrity) can do, because it further distracts from the tasks at hand. Perhaps Mike and Kyle Shanahan's first mistake was thinking they could plug in a McNabb and make a playoff run. Maybe it's simpler than that; McNabb — no longer an serviceable NFL QB — was pawned off on an unsuspecting team.

      Regardless of the reasons for his wash out, for McNabb to take cheap shots at Shanahan now makes him look like a weakling. Besides, how many Hall of Fame quarterbacks has Shanahan developed? And the 'athletes of color can't speak their mind' cop out doesn't apply here. He, like many other 'athletes of color', has access to mainstream forum like ESPN to say pretty much whatever he wants. He better learn very quickly that it's often judicious to refrain from commentary when you don't have anything positive to say.

      • Everything McNabb said has been said by local sports press at the Washington Post as well. His assessment, that Shanahan's ego may be preventing him from making the most of his players, and that he really hasn't had any success since John Elway (who was a Hall of Fame QB BEFORE Shanahan got there) are pretty spot on. Why should McNabb shy away from analyses that OTHERS have made before him? Just because he used to play for the guy? That makes no sense. Kyle Shanahan never took the Texans to the playoffs as O Coordinator, Shanahan never fared better than 8-8 with Jay Cutler (who got to the NFC Championship game in his 2nd season with Chicago and Lovie Smith) so the problems with this father-son due are very clear. McNabb has just as much a right to point it out as anyone else.

        • No, not *everything*.

          Washington's sports media has been critical of Mike Shanahan's handling of quarterbacks — since coming to the Redskins. But they acknowledge his track record in developing quarterbacks is impressive, and that coaching quarterbacks can be viewed separately from being a head coach. There's no disputing his pedigree as an offensive coordinator or a head coach with multiple Super Bowl appearances and quarterbacks with Pro Bowl appearances. Even Kyle Shananan developed a league-leading offense as Texans' OC and Pro Bowlers in Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson.

          The same Washington sports media has unanimously ripped McNabb's "opinion" Shanahan won't know how to develop Robert Griffin III for being unsupportable by many of the aforementioned facts. FYI, Mike Shanahan was John Elway's OC from the latter's 2nd season in Denver forward; he was San Francisco's OC when Steve Young became the starter and went on to win a Super Bowl there. He coached Jake Plummer and Brian Griese to Pro Bowls. He drafter Cutler. It's quite evident Mike Shanahan is very adept at spotting and grooming talent for the quarterback position. For giving such a baseless analysis, McNabb came off like an ex-boyfriend of supermodel who can't accept he was dumped because he was impotent.

          No one has an issue with McNabb's giving his opinion. it's that the substance of his remarks lack merit… just like yours.