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The Rise of Black Quarterbacks: Separating Fact from Fiction

By: Lauren Smith

Image of football players. Photo Courtesy of Flickr

The 2023-2024 season was one for the record books. For the first time in NFL history, 14 Black quarterbacks started in week one. The National Football League has begun to acknowledge the existence of the Black quarterback.

The quarterback is highly regarded as the most intelligent and leader-driven person on the team. Since the league’s inception, this has been a white male-dominated position, and at times, certain people will still believe in that ideology; however, many Black quarterbacks such as Micheal Vick and Randall Cunningham have been able to revolutionize and evolve the position and the game to be what it is today. 

The league believed that black athletes had the physical advantage, but were at the lower ladder of their white counterparts in the intellect category. The league and fans believed these men needed to be equipped to read defenses or stay in the pocket. On September 16, 2018, a white superintendent went onto Facebook and liked a message about how you can not count on a Black quarterback to make precise decisions with the ball. 

“I honestly don’t think it’s ever been that you know but it’s just the way the media paints the picture right is how people believe it… if you look at the NFL right now….three or four or five of the highest paid quarterbacks outside of Joe Burrow are Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson DeShaun Watson.” – Coach Gregory McGhee 

In the modern era of the NFL, there has been a notable increase in the number of Black quarterbacks, and this trend is expected to continue in the future. The 2023 Super Bowl marked a significant moment in the history of the sport, as it was the first time that two Black quarterbacks were leading their respective teams in the highly anticipated tradition.

But let’s go back in time to where it all began – the first Black quarterback. In the 1920s, Fritz Pollard became one of the earliest African American quarterbacks to play in the NFL. He was a member of the Akron Pros in 1920, which made him one of the league’s first Black players. He was a rare pioneer in an era of racial segregation under Jim Crow laws. This continued in 1968 when Marlin Briscoe became the first Black starting quarterback in the modern era of the NFL. He played for the Denver Broncos before later transitioning to a wide receiver position.

Then in the 1980s, Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers became one of the most prominent Black quarterbacks in NFL history. He had a highly successful NFL career, earning nine Pro Bowl selections and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Doug Williams, the Washington Redskins QB, made history in Super Bowl XXII (1988) when he became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He led them to victory of [points] and was named the game’s MVP.

In recent years, the topic at hand is the NFL and the pervasive bias that many Black quarterbacks face. Talented quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts have been asked on multiple occasions whether they would be willing to switch positions to running back or wide receiver.

 These questions serve as a reminder that prejudices still exist in the league–but each generation of players continues to challenge and break down these barriers.  Even fans have at times fueled this notion that the “Black Quarterback is taking over” because there is a steady increase in their presence as time goes on. This ideology has not gone away especially since the 2023-2024 season had a record high of 14 starting Black quarterbacks. 

Despite significant progress made by the NFL in breaking down racial barriers for Black quarterbacks, there still exist stereotypes regarding the physical attributes of Black players that both the media and fans tend to dwell upon, thus hindering the advancements made in this regard.

May 13, 2024

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