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CultureNFLOpinion

Post-Racial NFL: The ‘Black Quarterback’ Is Dead ?

It's finally normal to see an African-American athlete playing quarterback in the NFL.

Image Credit: Getty Images

 Lamar Jackson (starter), Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson were named to the AFC Pro Bowl team and Russell Wilson will be starting for the NFC.

Wilson is one of two Black quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl.

Mahomes can do it all and threw for 5,097 yards with 50 TDs last season.

Watson became the first player in league history to compile back-to-back seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes and five touchdowns rushing on Sunday. The only other quarterback to accomplish that feat in two seasons was San Francisco’s Steve Young in 1994 and 1998.

Never before in NFL history has there been so much elite Black talent at the quarterback postition.

The fact that future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are backups is direct evidence of the culture shift at the quarterback position. The position has become…Im almost afraid to say it…post-racial.

When the Pro Bowl kicks off, you will get a glimpse into the future of the NFL. A league where African-American quarterbacks are finally being lauded for the very skills that used to draw criticism and an athleticsm that was unmanageable and foreign to many offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches.

 

Show Me How To Dougie

There was a long held legend that, leading up to Super Bowl XXII, Doug Williams – the first quarterback with brown skin to start under center in Super Bowl – was asked “How long have you been a black quarterback” during the numb-skulled Media Day.

Williams’ mythical response was supposedly something like, “I’ve been a quarterback since high school and I’ve been black all my life.”  The supposed exchange highlighted that, back then, black quarterback – due to its rarity and otherness – was, in essence, a wholly different position.

This is about the journey of the “Black Quarterback” and what it now means to be one. It used to be equivalent to  “a white NBA player,” in novelty.  Not through inability to succeed, but because of systemic racism excercised by white men and women in positions of power.

Throughout NFL history the Black quarterback’s journey is one filled with peaks, valleys, roadblocks, stop signs and endearing success. It sounds silly when you think about it; that a sport that requires a team of 24 men, plus special teams to win a game would ever limit the amount of special talent it put on the field. But the NFL had been doing it for years.

As passing offenses began to trump running offenses in appeal and effectiveness, the quarterback quickly became the glamour position. The most marketbale face in a sport where everyone wears helmets on TV.

The prestige, power and perception of the position was enough for the entire structure to reinforce a universally complicit effort to steer talented Black QBs away from the position. This created a falsely perpetutated perception that Black athletes lacked the intellect, leadership abilities and overall savvy to lead a team.

It took many years and many squandered talents for someone to prove that systemic bigotry wrong. Despite isolated triumphs, doubts remained, until this season when all skeptisim has been crushed.

Evolution of Black QB

In 1968, the Bills made their draftee, James Harris (one of Eddie Robinson’s boys at Grambling), the first black man to start a season at quarterback in professional football. Harris did his thing. He was the first black quarterback to start a conference championship game in 1974. That same year, he was the Pro Bowl MVP.  Still, he was always a novelty, a deviant version of the position he played.

In a 1998 ESPN The Magazine piece on the evolution of the quarterback position (one that shadowed Donovan McNabb in the lead up to the Draft and contained a section on “White QBs With Flavor” – among them Cade McNown), Harris explained: “The position I played was black quarterback. I never played quarterback, only black quarterback.”

You feel him? Harris was saying that a “black quarterback” was an actual “thing.” It was its own position, like cornerback or tight end. “Black” was not a modifier. It didn’t matter if you were an “athlete” scat-backing all over the field, like Kordell Stewart and RG3 or stationary and chilling in the pocket, like Warren Moon – you played black quarterback.

It was a tough racket. The doubt was incessant. Coming in as a black quarterback performing away the ethnic tag was a constant chore. After five years and two division titles, Doug Williams was only the 43rd-highest-paid quarterback in the league. People were sending him rotten watermelons in the mail, with letters that read “Throw this, nigger. They might be able to catch it.”

Those instances let Williams know he was playing a position that, in the 80s, was different than what Joe Montana and Phil Simms were playing. His position was sociocultural. Others followed, like Randall Cunningham, which made it sociocultural and athletic. It was never pure quarterback. We wouldn’t let it be.

As the millenium rolled in and NFL players started getting faster and stronger and a more diverse talent pool of quarterbacks and coaches started emerging, more Black quarterbacks started rising to the top of the Draft pool.

By 2012, Cam Newton was gracing the Cover of GQ  issue along with Tim Tebow with no mention of race. It was supposed to be a symbol of the NFL leading a post-racial America, but the bottom fell out when the NFL reacted to Kapernick’s kneeling and it divided the country. Then some sickos suggested that Lamar Jackson become a wide receiver and the entire league (31 teams other than the Ravens) shitted on him on Draft night.

The Future of The QB Position

These current Pro Bowlers are waving the swag flag for all of the past read-option soldiers who never got their proper due. The proper offensive system. The proper coaching. The proper ownership.

No longer can the NFL keep the inevitable from happening. Promoting and marketing Tom Brady and Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins and Andrew Luck — these pure pocket passers  –and labeling dual-threats as gimmicky or unsustainable is the old wave.

These four Pro Bowlers are doing quite well and there’s a long list of others who quarterbacks who are impacting the NFL and leading franchises. Guys like Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brisett,Teddy Bridgewater and Dwayne Haskins.

The Black quarterback is becoming “the” quarterback. NFL owners can’t possibly love it, but they can’t get left behind either, so they gonna roll with it.

 

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