“There’s this tradition of white athletic excellence at a time when the quarterback position is changing, becoming blacker,” said de Oca, founding director of the Center for the Critical Study of Sport at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “Joe Burrow’s coolness is tied to a black aesthetic, unlike Tom Brady, who is such a white quarterback. When you have a white quarterback like Burrow who can code-switch, that makes him a particularly effective face of the NFL »
Brady morphed into a sophisticated brand, with a female supermodel and a growing wellness empire, but he started his career as a naive, goofy – albeit hyper-driven – Everyman. Even though Burrow came to the NFL far more accomplished than Brady, having won the Heisman Trophy and a national title at Louisiana State and being selected No. 1 overall in the draft, his longtime teammates and friends say it is eminently relatable.
For years, Burrow has demonstrated an intuitive understanding of his environment and an ability to connect with it. Before his final home game at LSU in 2019, he expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the state embracing him after he was transferred from Ohio State while wearing a “Bureaus” jersey, waving head to the Cajunified spelling of his surname. When he won the Heisman a few weeks later, in his speech, he acknowledged that people in rural Ohio faced food insecurity — not because he was looking for support, but because , according to friends, he was proud of where he grew up.
“He can walk between so many different groups,” said Zacciah Saltzman, Micah’s older brother. “He’s a clean guy, so old white people are like, ‘We like this guy.’ Then he stops with his chains and sunglasses, and the younger ones – black, white, whatever – can get behind that. He’s a pretty adaptable guy without having to adapt. Who he is attracts the masses.
Asked last week to quantify this magnetism, Bengals teammates and coaches offered different explanations. Calling him “definitely a baller,” center Trey Hopkins mentioned both Burrow’s competitiveness and his willingness to get back up after being hit.
“It’s a non-verbal way of communicating – ‘Hey, I’m in this fight with you,'” Hopkins said.
Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher cited Burrow’s shameless comfort in who he is. Left tackle Jonah Williams said Burrow seems unaffected by outside opinions and conveys a certain authenticity in his leadership.
Looking at him from afar, Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. — a son of the Big Red Machine who played nearly a decade in Cincinnati with his hometown team — said he had gleaned a similar impression. Few athletes were cooler than Griffey, who, with his superb left-handed swing and ubiquitous retro hat, electrified a generation of baseball fans.