Was Colts QB Jacoby Brissett replaced because he is black? Depends on who you ask

Barring injury, Philip Rivers will replace Jacoby Brissett as the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.

When I watched a video of four black NFL pundits, including ESPN’s Domonique Foxworth, agree that Philip Rivers is replacing Jacoby Brissett as the Colts starting quarterback because of racism, I winced.

The four experts were not in perfect alignment about the role racism plays in the evaluation of NFL quarterbacks, but all agreed it exists.

I got mad for a few minutes.  “Why does it always have to be about race to blacks?” I asked myself.  Then I looked in the mirror and realized the answer to that question is not mine to offer.

I don’t understand the signing, as Rivers best days are almost certainly behind him and Brissett’s best days are likely coming in the near future.  Rivers is going to earn $25-million in 2020 as the Colts starter because of who he was – not who he is likely to become.  It’s hard for me to ascribe the signing as racially motivated though.  I hate racism, and cannot fathom the Colts do business with an eye toward the color of a QB’s skin – especially a year after signing Brissett to a two-year deal worth $30-million.

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Within 24 hours of watching the video where Brissett’s single year as the starter was discussed, I read a piece in the Indianapolis Monthly by Dan Wakefield.  In it he discussed his recent understanding of the discrimination against blacks that has existed silently under his nose in his hometown of Indianapolis for his entire life.

Wakefield wrote of the tragic and sad end to his friendship with African-American writer James Baldwin as the result of a racially dismissive comment made by Wakefield at a dinner.  He lamented that he didn’t fully understand that a concept like racism is defined by our individual experiences rather than as a universally agreed upon concept.

Every reasonable human being decries lynchings as horrifying.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 attempted to end an overt act of racism.  Recent protests against the murders of unarmed blacks by police point to another chapter of racism.  Whites and blacks together understand murder and denying the right to vote is wrong.

Whites, including myself, fail to acknowledge unique challenges faced each day by blacks.  We can’t understand how subtle racism works because we don’t live it.  Whites see their lives as challenging and express pride in their ability to overcome adversity.  Success is hard to find for everyone, we believe.  It’s tough out there, and those who use race as an excuse for not finding it are not fighting hard enough.  That was basically the message from Wakefield to Baldwin that caused their friendship to immediately immolate.

This is not about whether the Colts are an organization that embraced racism by signing Rivers as the starter over the top of Brissett.  It’s about four smart black men with NFL expertise  believing racism plays a role as whites in front offices evaluate black quarterbacks.  These guys have experiences different from mine.

That doesn’t make them right and me wrong.  it also doesn’t make me right and them wrong.  Racism is assessed through each of our own experiences and the lessons of our families through generations of unique experiences.  No matter how evolved our ability to empathize, we can’t fully understand the black experience and their response to societal norms we accept as fair and equitable.  Similarly, they cannot understand how we interpret their appraisal of the Colts actions – or those of organizations run by whites.

I have no doubt Colts general manager Chris Ballard and his staff did everything they could to view Brissett’s work in 2019 through a colorblind prism, but that doesn’t count for much among the four guys who applied race as a factor in his demotion.

You see it one way.  I see it a differently.  Those four each see it in their own individual way.  Racial differences divide us, as do those of gender and religion.  And they always will.

The best we can hope is that each of us grasp that because all our experiences have been unique, we each have an equally unique understanding of the effects of race upon each of our lives.  And so we need to accommodate the tremendous disparity in beliefs driven by those experiences.

Was Brissett passed over because of his race?  There are many answers – none globally correct, but each accurate through our own unique prism.


17 thoughts on “Was Colts QB Jacoby Brissett replaced because he is black? Depends on who you ask

  1. Robert Ashworth

    Excellent article!!! I am certainly the beneficiary of white privilege in my lifetime, but I have also fought through much adversity. Attempting to analyze racism lies within the eyes of the beholder.

  2. Terrell L Whitener

    Well done Kent. What we struggle greatly now is the attention given to extreme on both sides. The growth in understanding and increased emotional bandwidth resides in the middle. We make a few feeble attempts to meet in the middle these days.

  3. Mike

    When you factor in the fact that Rivers threw 23 TD’s and 20 INT’s. You realize Rivers is a liability. He was never great and he is a shadow of his former self. The short answer is yes it was a racist move.

    1. Tyler Durden

      Rivers is a future HOF qb. He got frustrated with a horrible offense last year and made many desperate throws down field. Its not great decision making, but with a decent offense he should be fine. Brissett on the other hand was completely stagnant for the 2nd half of the season. You can say it was his leg injury or whatever else, but he just couldnt get anything done with a decent offense. Based on just that information, if I had to chose between the two I would choose Rivers even if his experience was the only real difference maker.

      1. Josh

        Do you give Jameis Winston that same pass I’m a Colts fan and that is who I wanted us to get but we grab Rivers

  4. Jeremy

    Was it because he is black that caused the Colts to trade for JB?

    Was it because he is black that caused the Colts to publicly call Brissett a top-20 QB?

    Was it because he is black that had Ballard say he wouldn’t trade Brissett unless he was overwhelmed by an offer?

    Was it because he is black that made Ballard say JB has ELITE leadership skills?

    Was it because he is black that had Ballard make Brissett the starter after Luck retired? We could have traded for someone.

    Was it because he is black that drove Ballard to give Brissett a two year contract worth $30 mill when JB was already signed to a contract? The Colts were under no obligation.

    Was it because he is black that now made Ballard keep JB as the highest paid backup in the NFL? The Colts could’ve cut him and saved good money!

    Probably has nothing to do with 4 TD passes, sub 55% pass completion %, and less than 1700 yards in his last 9 games. Or The fact the team finished nearly last in team passing stats.

  5. David


    This article has been shared quite a few times on the Indianapolis Colts subreddit, and was met with great backlash. I want to say that I think your article was an interesting read. The title might be slightly misleading, as I believe you discuss the difference in experiences of racism between Black and White Americans, rather than discussing why Brissett was actually replaced. However, I enjoy seeing that a White Man from the Midwest has the ability to step back from a situation and understand that not all people experience these situations the same, which is something that members of the Colts subreddit seem to understand. They seem to think that you are calling the Colts and their staff racist, which I did not even remotely gather from your writing. Interesting piece, and again, good job seeing things from a different perspective.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      Headlines are tough, especially for a post that talks about something as complex as racism. I don’t believe Chris Ballard’s evaluations have anything to do with race, but my perspective is not of much value in that realm.

  6. Dave

    Statistics don’t lie. The Colts were in the bottom of the league passing wise. If you think Brissett is good enough to lead a team to the playoffs that’s up to you. He’s had two full seasons of playing time and he’s shown that he’s an excellent backup. If you’re inclined to ascribe the Colts desire to kick the tires on another QB for a year to racism, that’s also up to you.
    It’s a free country and everyone is entitled to their own dumb ass opinions.

    1. Josh

      I get all that but my thing is Jameis Winston was out there and we grab Rivers then we be looking for a quarterback again in a year or two

  7. Sean Wright

    The Colts signed a 38 year old QB who threw 20 INTs to start over a 27 year old QB who threw 6. In fact JB’s TD to INT ratio is 3 (18 TD over 6 INTs), while River’s ratio is 1.15. I don’t care how bad you are at math, a 27 year old QB who throws 3 TDs on 1 INT is 3x better than a 38 year old QB who throws an INT just as often as he throws a TD.

    My mother always told me that you have to be twice as good to get half as far. JB is 3x as good and still got replaced as the starter.

    If that isn’t racism, what is it? Show me an example of a young white QB who trows 3x as many TD as INT getting replaced as the starter…

    JBs 2019 passer rating: 88.0
    Rivers 2019 passer rating: 88.5

    Here’s the list of young QB who JB bested this season in passer rating:
    Jones (87.7), Murray (87.4), Goff (86.5), Allen (85.3), Darnold (84.3), Mayfield (78.8)

    Which of them lost their jobs?

    1. Mike

      You have obviously never experienced racism. This is what it looks like in football. Cam no team Winston threw for over 5000 yards no team. River threw as many interceptions as touch downs. Trubisky can not play football. Baker Mayfield is Rex Grossman reincarnate. Dak Prescott no contract.


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