Update (December 6, 2019): Football fans were appalled on Monday when they heard San Francisco 49ers radio analyst Tim Ryan say MVP candidate Lamar Jackson was able to hide the football during plays because it matched the “dark” color of his skin.
Now, players from the 49ers and even ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith have jumped to Ryan’s defense, with many telling the media on Thursday and Friday that the commenter shouldn't be punished for the comments.
“The apology, to me, is because he got suspended. If he didn't get suspended the likelihood is that he would not have apologized. So it really doesn’t mean anything to me. But I don't believe that he should be fired because of it,” Smith said on his show First Take.
Many of the Black players on the 49ers vouched for Ryan and said his words had been taken out of context. The commentator has a close relationship with the team and its players because he attends most practices and sometimes travels with them. Ryan is also a former NFL player himself.
"I know Tim personally and I have listened to the dialogue and saw it written and honestly I wasn't as outraged as everybody else. I understand how it can be taken under a certain context and be offensive to some, but if you're saying 'Hey, this is a brown ball, they're wearing dark colors and he has a brown arm, honestly sometimes we were having trouble seeing it on film. He's making a play fake and sometimes he's swinging his arm really fast and you're like 'OK, does he have the ball on that play?' And then you look up and [Mark] Ingram is running it,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said.
"So, it was technically a valid point, but you can always phrase things better. You can always phrase things and not say his Black skin," Sherman told ESPN.
Sherman went even further, claiming that Ryan’s comments weren’t “that offensive” because he was correct about Jackson’s skin color being an issue.
"It 100% is an issue. That's why it wasn't that offensive because what he was saying was a great point. It's been that way in any zone-read scheme, the mesh point is always a tough point of contention so if you add a dark jersey to it, it's gonna make it even harder. Obviously, you can always phrase it better, but I think it's one of those things where he could have used better words but it may have been made bigger than what it really was," Sherman told the media.
Defensive end Dee Ford and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Ryan was not a racist and has spent years as a friend to dozens of Black players.
The team suspended Ryan for the next game once his comments were widely shared online. He made the offensive comments in a phone interview with the hosts of the Murph and Mac show on KNBR radio in San Francisco.
"I guess he went to extreme measures to justify why our ball-handling is great," said Jackson’s teammate, Mark Ingram, on Friday. "He went to extreme measures that really didn't make sense."
Original (December 5, 2019): The San Fransisco 49ers suspended analyst Tim Ryan for one game following offhand comments regarding a player's skin tone.
The 49ers suffered a tough loss against the Ravens last Sunday in a 10-17 conclusion. The following day, during his commentary on the Bay Area KNBR radio show Murph and Mac, Ryan claimed Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had an advantage running plays because of his darker skin tone.
"He's really good at the fake, Lamar Jackson, but when you consider his dark skin color with a dark football with a dark uniform, you could not see that thing," Ryan stated.
Instead of owning up to what could have been shortcomings in the 49ers defense, Ryan continued to disregard the raw talent and skill from Jackson displayed during the match up.
"I mean you literally could not see when he was in and out of the mesh point," he concluded.
After the comments hit the airwaves, the 49ers said in a statement on Wednesday that they were "disappointed" in the analyst's comments and that in response he would be suspended for one game, excluding him from commentating the 49ers next game against the New Orleans Saints.
"We are disappointed in Tim Ryan's comments earlier this week, and have suspended him for the upcoming game. We hold Tim to a high standard as a representative of our organization and he must be more thoughtful with his words. Tim has expressed remorse in a public statement and has also done so with us privately. We know Tim as a man of high integrity and are confident he will grow and learn from this experience."
Ryan also expressed his regret and remorse following the backlash in a statement that he issued to the team.
"I regret my choice of words in trying to describe the conditions of the game," said Ryan on his comments. "Lamar Jackson is an MVP-caliber player and I respect him greatly. I want to sincerely apologize to him and anyone else I offended."
Ryan, a former defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, has been an analyst for the 49ers since 2014.
Despite the regretful and irresponsible commentary made by Ryan, Jackson's athletic ability was undeniable during Sunday's match-up against the 49ers, making his feats much more than a bout of good luck on the basis of his skin tone.
The Ravens quarterback set a new record after he rushed for 101 yards, officially beating out both the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson as well as former NFL player Michael Vick for most games with at least 100 rushing yards during a single season.
The Baltimore Ravens have yet to comment on the incident, and the 49ers have not released information about who will replace Ryan for Sunday's broadcast from New Orleans.