Wyoming quarterback and No. 7 overall NFL draft pick Josh Allen got into some hot water this week over racially insensitive tweets he made when he was 15 and 16 years old.
But when the Buffalo Bills traded up to draft him, one of the first to leap to the defense of Allen’s character was Bills legend Bruce Smith, who is black.
Smith called Allen’s tweets “ignorant behavior,” but nonetheless spoke in glowing terms of the team’s decision to draft the embattled signal caller.
Speaking to USA Today, Smith said, “If this young man apologized and he is sincere and there has been no evidence of this behavior moving forward, than this man deserves to have a second chance. He needs to be mindful of that in making sure that he treats everyone with respect, and he has to understand that you’re in this game and everyone is treated equally, no matter race, religion or whatever kind of background you have. …
“Having said that, I’m ready to give this young man a chance.”
Yahoo Sports reported the offensive tweets sent in 2012 and 2013 in a report Thursday, including repeated use of the word “nigga” and a phrase from the show “Modern Family” — “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right!”
Allen spoke to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, pointing out that he was in high school at the time and that he was, in his own words, “young and dumb.”
Smith, on ESPN’s “First Take” show, said of Allen that he was “incredibly contrite” and “apologetic,” taking care to point out that Allen said that “he was wrong.”
On draft day itself, Allen told reporters, “That’s not the way I want to be remembered. I’m not going to let this define me. Whatever team I go to, I’m going to give them everything, show them the type of character that I am because like I said, my teammates know exactly who I am, they can vouch for me.”
Allen’s coach at Wyoming, Craig Bohl, spoke to how a young man can grow up and outgrow views developed in childhood when put into an environment where he must face those views and the effects they have on other people.
Said Bohl, “He has got a long-term pattern of accepting diversity and he’s really well liked in the locker room and the community. I think it’s a little bit of a lesson learned as far as social media. But I think how he handled it was great, and there is no doubt in my mind that he’s going to represent an NFL squad and he’s going to be a great leader in that locker room.”
Allen pointed out the dangers of social media; you may delete your posts (the racially insensitive posts were scrubbed in January) and think you’ve moved past them, but it always seems like someone somewhere has saved them, just waiting for the right moment to bring them back into the light.
“I went back and searched in key names and nothing really popped up so to my knowledge, some of those tweets were deleted and somebody had those waiting to kind of screenshot and post, but the fact is it happened,” Allen said. “They were on my feed. It’s not a good look.
“It’s time to turn the page. I’m looking forward. I just want to be used as an example, to the younger kids out there that are five, six years away, wanting to fulfill your dream, it can come back to haunt you. Be careful what you say. I’m deeply sorry and I’m just looking forward to tonight.”
Smith, for his part, spoke to how the NFL, by virtue of being a majority-black league in terms of its player pool, can sand the racially rough edges off white players who might not come from backgrounds where they had to embrace diversity.
“I think it has the potential to be an outstanding pick,” said Smith. “Hopefully all will go well and this young man will have this maturation process start to unfold.”
Perhaps the best sign for Allen is that he’s already being evaluated in football terms. Bills fans simply want to know if he’ll be able to get the team back to the Super Bowl and help give Buffalo the championship that has eluded the city since the AFL-NFL merger.
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