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Opinion: Mike Pesca On The Quarterback As A Hero

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. NFL training camps are open. And one of the most interesting players to watch has been San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He's got a great record. But for commentator Mike Pesca, the biggest news he made in the offseason had to do with a date that he went on.

MIKE PESCA: The names stitched on the back of the 49ers away uniform isn't the only place the scarlet letter reared its head in San Francisco this summer. Jimmy Garoppolo - the undefeated, the unsullied - went on a dinner date with adult film actress Kiara Mia two weeks ago, and polite society was scandalized. Sporting News headline - "Jimmy Garoppolo's Dinner Date Puts Brands Of Himself, 49ers, NFL At Risk." Here's Jason Whitlock on Fox Sports 1.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPEAK FOR YOURSELF")

JASON WHITLOCK: He's got a freaky side - a real freaky side. And that - again, it's going to be like, is he distracted? Is he - does he have some kind of addiction issue? Is he Tiger Woods? If he doesn't play well, all these questions are going to be asked.

PESCA: Well, he's only won every game he's ever started, and those questions were still asked - as we just heard. Is this an atavistic attitude? Does sports media gin up controversy? Does the position of quarterback hold some sort of mystic hold on sports fans? Those questions are going to be answered by me right here in the affirmative.

And on that last point, there is a desire among some sports fans to hold on to an idea of football as they imagined it was 20 or 30 years ago, to elevate the quarterback to more than just the most important position on the field. He has to be a hero - and a certain kind of hero, the one who wears the white hat, the unambiguous good guy. And there's room for all sorts of personality types as characters in the NFL - the braggart, the clown, the villain, the antihero - but not so with quarterback. If you're not a fan of Tom Brady, you might think of him as villainous, but his self-perception is Gary Cooper. Dozens of players knelt during the national anthem this past season - no quarterbacks. The one quarterback who's ever taken a knee during the anthem was Colin Kaepernick. You know what happened to him.

So a date with a porn star, which, to be fair, many in the media properly shrugged off as irrelevant, was still a question in Garoppolo's first press availability. He described it as a learning experience, which seemed to satisfy the tut-tutters. The 49ers clearly hope that this bit of obfuscation will allow them to avoid being targeted as something unpatriotic or unpure, a criticism that has been repeatedly leveled at the NFL to its detriment by a president who knows how to use pro athletes as a cultural wedge and who also seems to have some knowledge of keeping company with a porn star.

KING: That was commentator Mike Pesca. He's the host of Slate's daily podcast The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.