My therapist keeps telling me that what you say out loud matters. I don’t think that’s ever been truer than in the age of the internet, when the amplifier of public opinion has been turned up to 11. Athletes in leadership positions, especially quarterbacks, nowadays do more than score points in the game. They also can score points on social media, playing a public mind game that can affect even the way their own teammates see them.
This has been where Joey Burrow has shined for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals need a face-lift even more than I do. The myriad stories alleging that Burrow wouldn’t even come to Cincinnati to play have to do with a vague sense out there that the team has not been great, which, for those of us watching these past few years, is not entirely true. The Bengals have had amazing moments of hope and achievement, but they can’t shake their public image. Marvin Lewis’s lack of transparency and Vontaze Burfict’s shenanigans have been a thing of the past for a while now. But the team still hasn’t convinced the skeptics crying in the town square, such as Stephen A. Smith and Colin Cowherd.
Burrow has done more than look good in practice. His cigar-chomping pictures and fierce attitude have gotten even his teammates riled up. Joe Mixon, a star in his own right, has predicted nothing but success for his QB and wants to ride out the rest of his footballing days with Burrow at the helm: “I hope I can finish my career here with him.”
Coaches, former teammates, and just about everyone is smitten by Burrow, or at least drawn to his charisma. Burrow exudes what we expect from a quarterback: confidence, grace, toughness, and courage. His Twitter timeline shows a man who does not back away from issues of social justice, even when silence would be so easy.
Perhaps most amazing, his cool and unshakable attitude seems to be winning over even the most ardent of critics. Colin Cowherd has repeatedly predicted mediocrity for Burrow, saying that the NFL should expect more of a “Tony Romo” than a “Peyton Manning.” Yet, despite Cowherd’s remarks, Burrow retweeted Cowherd’s impassioned plea that athletes should be encouraged to be vocal about the things they care about.
Burrow didn’t even need to comment. His retweet was heard very loudly. In fact, he seems to have won over Cowherd himself, who said, “I’ve been on Joe Burrow for six months. He follows me on social media. He retweets me. He never fires back. Because Joe Burrow’s self-esteem is not tied to what I think of him. Joe Burrow’s self-esteem is tied to what Joe Burrow thinks of himself.”
He compared his confidence to Baker Mayfield’s lack of it, and said, “I’m starting to see something with Joe Burrow that I really like.”
Mind you, he did also call the Bengals a “lousy NFL team.” Let’s see if Burrow and the Bengals can change his opinion on that too.