NOV 20, 2019
Editor’s note: The commentary below contains opinion. The author’s name has been withheld at the writer’s request.
Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are considered by many to be the two best quarterbacks going right now. Lamar Jackson is closing in on the top fast, Deshaun Watson isn’t far behind and two of the best young QBs are Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins. Jameis Winston, Cam Newton (though hurt) and Jacoby Brissett are starters in the NFL as well.
The interesting thing to me is this: The race of those players rarely is brought up in discussions about them. That’s not to say it never is, but the fact that black quarterbacks are for the most part just seen as quarterbacks speaks volumes about how far that group has come since the days of Warren Moon having to go to the CFL to get his shot.
Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, I never really thought we’d see the day where the majority of the league’s top quarterbacks are black. And they aren’t expected to be runners, but rather beat people with their arms and their heads. The stereotypes in the old days were sickening, but they did exist. Black players weren’t smart enough to play quarterback, they didn’t throw the ball well enough and their athletic abilities were wasted at quarterback as opposed to one of the skill positions.
But looking across the NFL, things have changed.
Mahomes and Wilson are playing the position at a level higher than anyone, including the old-guard Hall of Fame types such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Both Mahomes and Wilson have the ability to run and use their legs to make plays from time to time when the situation dictates it, but neither of them are “running” quarterbacks.
I think maybe even a better sign of progress are the mediocre players who either keep getting shots or haven’t been benched. Winston is a turnover machine, but he still continues to start for Tampa. Brissett hasn’t been consistent in any area, but the Colts seem committed to him as their future. And even guys such as Josh Johnson continue to get chances to hook onto rosters even though it seems pretty clear they aren’t good enough.
The thing is the fact that black quarterbacks don’t have to be the absolute best of the best to get their shot or keep their job is a sign of progress as well. It is similar to the fact that black coaches don’t just get one shot at it and if they fail are done forever. Black coaches get recycled now, too, and for the most part black quarterbacks aren’t judged differently and on a tough scale than white quarterbacks any more.
I’m not naive enough to believe all is right in the world of race relations. I am also not naive to believe that there aren’t some —a dwindling minority, thankfully — who hold black quarterbacks to different standards and judge them differently based on stereotypes. Remember, Jackson was asked to work out at receiver at the NFL combine and he refused to do it because he said “I’m a quarterback.”
There will always be that group of people who doubt, and racism in some form is very real and a disease that likely doesn’t have a cure. But it’s encouraging that there has been plenty of progress made.