NFL quarterback Oklahoma Heisman winner Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield NFL Charley Casserly

It’s not a surprise when Big 12 quarterbacks make headlines in NFL discussions, but for Oklahoma quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, there’s an NFL trend that’s becoming quite alarming.

When former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield declared for the NFL Draft, he was met with heavy criticism. Some analysts were discussing the drama surrounding his time at Texas Tech. They tagged him as an immature, self-centered guy who disregarded a team-first culture; others were stuck on the narrative that Mayfield had character issues stemming from an arrest. That was exacerbated by how he “acted” while making the pre-draft rounds on television networks. Fast forward another year, and another Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Kyler Murray is facing his own criticism. This time, from unsubstantiated reports that he bombed his interview process, to whether his height was inflated.

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Perhaps confidence and character issues are measurables that are viewed differently depending on who you’re talking to. But, from a viewer’s perspective, it can be a distracting narrative that’s tough to navigate because questionable commentary often creates distrust between media, NFL front office personnel, and fans themselves. It’s a disparity few things can rival because of the constant news cycle; where clicks equate revenue. It doesn’t require a deep dive into data to decide how the news is written, or what topics are trending and worth a quick write up over.

When athletes are in high school, they’re expected to make the biggest decisions of their lives, and yet, no matter what standards they’re held to or how much they push themselves to realize their true potential, they’re going to have critics. It’s part of the business of recruiting, and that point, they’re businessmen making substantial decisions, and they learn very early on how to tune out criticism.

Standing Up to Critics

This is why Baker Mayfield was so quick to jump on Colin Cowherd’s show and go toe-to-toe before his rookie season began with the Browns. Even after being told to “humble himself” by Georgia linebacker Davin Bellamy in the Oklahoma Sooners’ Rose Bowl loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, Mayfield continued to drip confidence. He carried himself through the Draft process with the moxie and swagger people grew used to since his time as a walk-on at Texas Tech. It’s the energy Kyler Murray saw as Mayfield’s QB2. For a backup with a $5 million contract with the Oakland Athletics awaiting a critical post-season decision, Murray had $5 million more reasons to act like Mayfield on metaphoric steroids.

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Just as analysts are allowed by society to speak as critically as they do when discussing athletes based on their resumes, athletes ought to be allowed the same opportunities to have their resumes speak for themselves. If Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray–both former prolific Oklahoma quarterbacks and back-to-back Heisman winners–are being blitzed by media members with unfounded conspiracy theories that appear to be duplicitous, then fans shouldn’t be surprised when athletes stand up for themselves–regardless of how “immature” their actions might appear.

Kyler Murray’s Decision

Since the season ended, Kyler Murray became the center of discussion for a number of reasons. For starters, he was just crowned the Heisman winner. Secondly, he had that MLB contract to weigh. Everyone was waiting for a decision on which route he would take. To add to the discussion, his interview with Dan Patrick in February was painfully awkward. On the one hand, you wanted to believe he was satirical in his delivery. On the other hand, you questioned whether his football IQ surpassed the natural cerebral ability that professional quarterbacks are expected to project. Then the Combine happened. News outlets reported that his interviews with NFL teams were a collective disaster. That added fuel to the fire that would eventually result in discussion of whether he would slip past the first round.

He’s the projected number one overall pick.

It’s hard to make a case for hearsay in professional journalism, especially when millions of dollars are riding on honest and quality reporting. For clickbait and pageviews to matter more than substance is why the narrative of “fake news” continues to thrive.

With one season under his belt, Baker Mayfield earned the trust of an entire fanbase. For the first time in a very long time, the Browns have a quarterback heading into OTA’s; a guy who doesn’t make the news for behavioral issues that aren’t manufactured. In his rookie season, Mayfield threw for 3, 725 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He broke the rookie passing record and was at the helm with the Browns broke their 25-game road losing streak against the Cincinnati Bengals in November. But, arguably, the greatest accomplishment Baker Mayfield has earned in his NFL career occurred in September when the Browns defeated the Jets 21-17 to snap a 635-day losing streak. Bud Light was consumed in his honor, and nobody seemed to take any issue there.

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Must be Prepared for Media

Athletes are coached up on how to handle the media from very early on. Some players have a natural swagger or charisma around the media, while others view it as a distraction, or they’re just flat out uncomfortable with it. Regardless, it doesn’t reflect leadership, the desire to be there, or whether they’re coachable or not. Analysts viewed Mayfield as immature, but he’s been such a dynamic player for the Browns and the NFL, and to espouse that bad interviewing or awkward behavior will equate to a questionable pick is absurd.

Murray’s agent, Eric Burkhardt, took to the media to blast the likes of former failed Houston Texans’ GM Charley Casserly’s scathing rumors about Murray’s preparedness by saying, “So what do I think about an agenda-driven ‘analyst’ who’s never once even talked to Kyler or any of his coaches or teammates?” Burkhardt said. “I think it’s disgusting and embarrassing and Casserly should be ashamed of himself.”

Kyler Murray had 10 formal interviews throughout the NFL Combine last month. For Casserly to use his national platform as a football analyst to inject his hot takes into the discussion without the willingness to offer details with the same confidence means he probably should have sat the Murray storyline out. Time is an invaluable currency, and if fans are willing to give networks, blogs, websites, and analysts their time, they deserve transparency and quality reporting over controversy for revenue’s sake.

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