After all the dust has settled on football Sunday, most NFL fans jump into their familiar routines. Some begin to mentally prepare for Monday morning work, some shower, or even eat a late dinner. Myself on the other hand, I carefully comb through the statistics of quarterbacks, black quarterbacks. The subject of African-American signal callers is one I’m very fond of, and as passionate about the topic as anyone I’ve ever met—if not more. One reason is because it’s the most important position in all of the four major American sports. Another reason is because militancy runs in my blood. For decades people of African diaspora weren’t allowed to play the position, and when we were, we were labeled “not smart enough”, or “unfit.” In 2016, otherwise known as the “acceptance era”, sports bigotry has been relegated into much more coded language, such as, does (Insert Black QB name) have the “mental capacity” to make quick decisions? Or the talking heads favorite separate but equal phrase, “Class act.” If you don’t have blinders on, then you can read between the lines. In our alleged “post-racial” society, certain groups of men are still vying to be seen in the whole category —and not the sepreate, he’s a great black… category
This isn’t a piece on racial justice, but more of a closer look at the evolution of footballs future.
“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup, always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room … Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.” -Nolan Nawrocki
Nolan Nawrocki, of Pro Football Weekly wrote the above statement about Cam Newton before the 2011 draft. Many pundits wrote the man off as a sure fire draft bust, and all but openly wished he’d fail. Cam went on to become the number one draft pick, went on to garner MVP honors in 2016—and a lead his team to a Super Bowl appearance. One would think after a such accomplishments, the critics would hush the hell up right? Wrong! The Coded-Language Alliance showed up with a different spin. This time from a former player, who wanted Cam to show more “class.” An angry mom pinned Cameron a letter, with racial undertones—and wanted Newton to “think of the children.”
Discount double standard
In 1978 Two men who took similar paths down two different roads, unknowingly blazed trails for future players of the same melanin. One being a former MVP and 9x Pro Bowler, and the other becoming the first black quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl—and be named MVP of the big game.
Like many high school stars, Warren Moon was recruited by a number of colleges, but some wanted to convert Moon to another position, as was the norm for many major colleges recruiting black high school quarterbacks. Warren ended up attending Western Los Angeles college, before going on to star at the University of Washington. Unfortunately Warren Moon went undrafted in the 1978. Moon wanting badly to play quarterback, turned to the Canadian Football League. To Say Warren found success North of the border is an understatement; winning 5 straight Grey Cups! He also won the offensive Grey Cup Most Valuable Player award in the 1980 and 1982 games. Moon became the first professional quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards in a season in 1982. After proving his worth year after year, in 1983 Moon threw for 5,648 yards and 31 touchdowns, then the NFL came calling. After a bidding war, Moon ended up with the Houston Oilers. Fast forward to 1987, a season shortened by a players’ strike that eliminated the third week of the regular season, the Oilers ended up with their first winning record in seven years. Then two years later Moon signed a contract extension making him the leagues highest paid player, which was for 5 years worth $10 million.
The name Doug Williams is as synonymous with the Superbowl victory in 1988, than the actual team. Why? Because he was the First black quarterback to ever Start, and win the big game. The former two time Black College Player of the Year, also tacted on MVP honors, and not only forever attached his name to NFL history, but gave Black People something to hang their hats on for years to come. Before the day that really opened the door for a generation of players, Williams turned around a talent deficient franchise in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs had won only two games in as many seasons, and after Williams arrival went to the playoffs three times in four years—and played in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately his tenure with the Buccaneers didn’t last long, as team owner Hugh Culver house refused to pay Doug Williams his worth in 1982. Williams was only paid $120,000 a year. Not only was this far and away the lowest salary for a starting quarterback in the league, but it was less than the salary of 12 backups. Williams wanted $600,000 but Culver relented countering with $400,000. Still back up money though. Ain’t that a bitch. Doug bolted for the USFL, and Tampa Bay went 2-14. Williams returned to the league ’86, and… the rest as we know is history.
The New Era
In 1985 while Warren Moon was carving up the league, and three years before Doug Williams won it all a a young man by the name of Randall Cunningham entered the NFL. He was mostly a backup to Ron Jaworski, but when he did play he showed flashes of what was to come in the future. In 1987 young Randall was given the keys,and in 1988 was selected to his first Pro Bowl (first black Quarterback to start), and won the MVP trophy. Cunningham went on to 3 more Pro Bowls, won the league MVP twice (’90 & ’98), and made the Philadelphia Eagles hall of fame.
Black Quarterbacks became novelty like in the historical copy-cat league that is the NFL. Teams were trying to capitalize finacially, but outside of Randall Cunningham there wasn’t someone to really come in and test the Myth of the so-called inferior players, until the late Steve Mcnair. Smart, Mobile, versatile, cannon for an arm, and shitted all over the “can’t throw from the pocket” argument.
In 1998 the Allen Iverson of football entered the NFL. Mike Vick not only changed the way the quarterback position is played, even today, but transformed how you judge African-Americans at that position—forever.
If you are old enough to remember when Vick was tearing up the league, then you know how simultaneously hilarious and mind blowing it was to watch him. Opposing defenses had no idea what to do. Not a clue. He may throw a 60 yard bomb with an effortless flick of the wrist. He may juke your whole team out their cleats, then use his world class speed to score. It was like watching a live video game.
At the time that Vick was commanding most of the nation’s attention, the league had a slew of young, black, talented arms around the league. Dante Culpepper, Donovan Mcnabb, the aforementioned Steve Mcnair, Aaron Brooks, veteran Rodney Peete and more. Despite the corner we all thought we turned, people such as Rush Limbaugh reminded us we hadn’t got that far.
In 2015 Russell Wilson became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 25 years. In 2014 some of Wilson’s teammates felt as though he wasn’t black enough; whatever that shit means, and alienated him. This one baffled me, not because it was said, but more so because grown-ass rich men had a tissy fit over who’s more relatable to a streotype. In these exhausting times of our people being more concerned with keeping it real (looking cool while fucking up), police brutality, and gaining our economic freedom, I feel like there’s no room for such rhetoric. Wilson ended up Signing an $86 million extention, a far cry from the $600,000 Doug Williams was pleading for in 1982.
In 2015 there were 9, count them 9 (if you count Colin Kaepernick), starting Quarterbacks for week 1. 30 teams, 9 quarterbacks, in a league that’s 78% black. Interesting right? Also just as interesting is the hatefull letters and vitriol aimed at the leagues most polarizing, yet always smiling star. One, Cam Newton.
I’m realizing all the old sayings may be true after all. You know, “misery loves company” or “they hate to see you enjoy yourself.” All the hate this young man gets is amazing. After all the Charity work, after all the touchdowns thrown, yards gained, and footballs given to kids. He danced , so he’s a classless thug. Peyton Manning would never embarrass the league. Tom Brady would never upstage anyone. Oh, that hyperlink? Oh that’s just Tom showing passion. Anytime one of the fair skin players gets rowdy it’s passion. How many chances will Johnny Manziel get? The four letter network is chomping at the bit for an all-American comeback story. Yet when any player darker then a corporate CEO see a blunt being rolled, it’s a reflection of 38.9 Million people. Oh, and that individual player gets the book thrown at him. What’s worse, what Mike Vick got in trouble for, or what Ben Roethlisberger got away with?
The 2016 season is upon us, and like Allstate, the league is in good hands. America is a diverse place, and it’s most popular position, in the countries most popular sport is on the verge of reflecting that. So while you’re debating who you’ll play in fantasy league, I’ll be watching a dream come true.
Writer for TheCouchSports.com, LiveFromWoodward.com, & PTA. Editor, and Co-Host of The Couch Sports Podcast, and a Certified Beardsman.