Black Quarterbacks Are Gaining Ground in the NFL

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Image: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Like so many of you, I have spent the last few weekends with a cacophony of what I call
“seasonal emotions.” I’m dreading the end of yet another summer where I didn’t get done nearly as much as I was hoping to, but giddy about the fact that fall is upon us which means the NFL season is, too.


The NFL and I have had a love-hate relationship for the longest time, in large part because I
don’t believe the product they put out has consistently been the best product they can deliver. Far too many gifted players at the college level were cast aside because they were the round peg that didn’t fit into this nice, neat square box that too many NFL teams like to put players, especially those who are Black and play the quarterback position.


There’s no need for a long-winded diatribe about how Black quartertbacks for decades have been denied opportunities to play the most coveted position in the NFL. The issue hasn’t been the color of their skin, but the collective efforts by NFL teams for decades to limit their opportunities to play the position because of the color of their skin. Far too long, NFL team executives felt Black quarterbacks did not belong in the league, which has been in sharp contrast to the technicolor of talent we have seen over and over again, by Blacks at the position.


The NFL has a ways to go before Black quarterbacks can feel as though they are given an equal opportunity to prove their worth, but there is progress on that front. We saw it last season when the NFL season began with 10 Black quarterbacks starting Week 1, the first time the league had as many open the season under center.


And this year?

Once again, the league opened Week 1 with 10 Black quarterback starters. The knee-jerk reaction to this for many is to associate this shift to the racial reckoning that has
befallen this country following a year of protests, many of which were fueled by the killing of
George Floyd. If only it were that pure and simple.


While timing certainly is a factor, bigger factors have been teams recognizing talent in ways they had not in previous generations. Too many quarterbacks in the past have been hit with the “athletic” label, leading far too many organizations to associate a high level of athleticism with a low intellect level, the latter being a franchise killer if that’s part of your quarterback’s DNA.

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And while there are still NFL teams that haven’t quite evolved past that antiquated, ignorant
narrative, there are far more open-minded clubs that recognize the versatility and overall
“football feel” that Black quarterbacks often bring to the game. “Let’s face it, the coaches today, they want to win,” James “Shack” Harris, the first Black quarterback to open the season as a starter, in 1969, for the AFL’s Buffalo Bills, told The Washington Post. He added, referring to Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, “There is no way you can deny
playing players with that kind of talent.”


Indeed, there is no quarterback more electrifying in the NFL than Mahomes, whose
improvisational passing game/rushing attack has made him a fan favorite. The 26-year-old has also won at the highest levels, accomplishing individual (he was league
MVP in 2018) accolades as well as team success, winning SuperBowl LIV while also being
named SuperBowl LIV MVP.


Just as telling is how he is viewed among his football brethren who prior to the start of this
season, voted him as the league’s best player according to the NFL Network.
But don’t get it twisted. There are Black quarterbacks in the NFL that aren’t very good.
But talent isn’t the issue; never has been, really. It’s the opportunity to showcase that talent, something more Black quarterbacks are getting to do more of lately. And to their credit, they are taking full advantage of those opportunities to create a win-win-win scenario for players, their respective teams, and of course, the fans.

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