Earlier this summer I sat in a hotel bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan talking shop with a colleague/advisor. This was the day we all saw video of Riley Cooper drop an insidious N-bomb. Naturally, race and sports dominated the conversation.
At some point, my advisor mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing loosely, here), “I always wanted to do some kind of weekly feature. Call it ‘Brown Men Throwin’ or something. It’d be like a weekly state of the union on black quarterbacks in the NFL.”
He suggested that The Shadow League would be a perfect home for this feature since, at the most concentrated level, TSL is an entity dedicated to covering sports with a voice, through the eyes and for the consumption of black and brown men.
That’s when I had to pump the brakes.
“Well, you know this BMT idea is completely contrary to one of our signature pieces,” I said (again, paraphrasing).
Last October, I wrote a piece entitled “ The ‘Black Quarterback’ Is Dead.” There was an emphasis on the quote-marks around the phrase “black quarterback.” The sub-headline of the piece stated “The NFL quarterback position is post-racial.” In the months and weeks leading up to the season we read a cover story on Cam Newton that didn’t mention race. We saw Russell Wilson come into the league as an unheralded 2 nd round pick and win the starting gig over a white QB. We watched the Robert Griffin III-mania slowly build. It was our estimation that the “otherness” of black men playing quarterback (Brown Men Throwin’) was vanishing. The ghettoizing of the “type” of quarterback that a black man could play was rendered silly.
As we wrote:
The “black-quarterback” no longer exists.
Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick – they’re all simply quarterbacks. A post-racial America often seems like a sickeningly unattainable dream. Who’d have thought the NFL – an institution that can sometimes lag behind modernity – would be one of its vehicles?
So, I explained to my advisor, we could never commit to a feature like “Brown Men Throwin’,” since we don’t believe it’s necessary. Hence this passage from the piece…
We’ve arrived at what looks to be a meritocracy. If you can ball, you can ball. Antiquated ideas about black men’s lack of intelligence or ability to lead seem to have shrunk to the size of a non-issue. Wilson’s story is an indication. It’s not a civil rights victory per se, but it is a victory for all of the people and players that worked to debunk all of the myths associated with black quarterback cognitive skills.
Were we trying to be ahead of the curve and slightly jumping the gun just a tad? Maybe. But the TSL crew felt strongly about this issue.
“Yeah, but really think about it,” he responded. “When Cam Newton can’t hide his disgust in a press conference or Mike Vick has a string of bad games, a little piece of you dies, right?”
I couldn’t totally disagree. That’s protectionism. And I know there’s a small legion of black men out there that couldn’t care less about the Buffalo Bills, but root for E.J. Manuel. That’s tribalism. The point being that as we all try to coax each other to post-racialism, we can’t deny certain lingering realities.
We took a look at the top 25 teams in college at the office and noticed that more than 1/3 featured young black men as the starting QB. These weren’t the Tommie Frazier, (air quote) black quarterbacks. These are dudes that will be picked on the first day of the NFL Draft over the next few years. We also took a look at Week 1 in the NFL and saw two black men face-off in Charlotte (future All-Pros Cam Newton and Russell Wilson); two black men face-off at QB in the NY metro area (Josh Freeman and Jets rookie Geno Smith); another rookie (E.J. Manuel forced Tom Brady into a last possession drive for the Pats’ one-point win); two black QBs playing on Monday Night in Week 1’s most anticipated game (Vick and RG3); a black man, whose young career once hung in the balance, nearly winning a game on his own (Terrelle Pryor); and another, leading a Super Bowl favorite, throw for 400 yards in a win (Colin Kaepernick).
The skin color of the men above no longer tacitly prohibits them from leading a team at quarterback, nor does it box them into a restricted version of the position. But their skin color does, however, make them a topic of conversation for men that look like them or have brothers, sons, cousins, nephews and friends that look like them. When I went home to visit family, me, my Pops, uncles, brothers and friends spent a lot of time talking about these young black men changing the color-numbers of the country’s most popular, scrutinized and lionized position. Similar conversations were happening all around the country and they aren’t stopping anytime soon. The nature of these conversations are changing – gone is the “We shall overcome” tone – but the interest is not waning.
So, every Tuesday, you can expect to come to The Shadow League and join a discussion. Sometimes it’ll be all about race, other times (and probably more often) it won’t be about race, at all. Sometimes we’ll start the conversations, other times we’ll try to change it. This is an evolving feature, as unpredictable as Vick escaping a blitz, rolling left, with his eyes upfield.