By Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
Morgan Freeman is right, he is vehemently opposed to Black History Month. In his opinion we should celebrate Black history every month, not just every October.
For many of us this month is time to learn about the challenges faced by Black men, women and children, an opportunity to understand that society was once abhorrent, and a chance to gain insight into the sheer unfathomable fortitude shown by individuals to overcome racism, prejudice and a complete lack of human compassion.
In 2020 we are not there yet, everyone is not treated equally, oppression still exists and the level of understanding by the masses of Black history is woefully inadequate.
Peeking behind the curtain at the Full 10 Yards I proposed a few different covers for the fabulous 2020 season guide. One of the cover options I designed was from a picture I took at the 2019 Raiders v Bears game held at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last season. It featured Chris Worley, a Black player, kneeling in the end zone with his head bowed.
In my opinion this was a powerful image that helped to show that here in England we are supportive of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
This was discussed by the entirely all-White Full 10 Yards leadership team, and was opted against being used, in part because one of our writers, who I will not name considered the image to be ‘ostracizing’ many potential purchasers, who may make their racist feelings apparent on social media. I strongly disagreed, as in my humble opinion if you do not wish to buy a magazine that is in a tiny way trying to promote equality, then I wouldn’t want you as a customer.
In the end a neutral, non-player focused picture was selected from the Spurs game, and I completely respected that decision, after all I am a voluntary contributor.
We all have choices we can control in life, and whilst social media can be a force for good, it can also be a sickness, that in part you can manage and in other ways you cannot.
Anyone who says anything racist on any of my social media feeds I block, report and then eliminate from my life. If you have a heart, a conscience and a soul, you will do the exact same.
Words can help to wound and scar as much as they can soothe and heal. Some of us love to write about sports, give predictions, give opinions, provide commentary, and in my case recognise the rich history of the NFL.
It makes me want to cry when I read of the racism, prejudice and lack of understanding that was displayed by NFL officials throughout history, what makes my stomach knot is the fact that still to this day we are in a place where a Black man takes a stance, and years later he is still without employment in the arena he once ruled within.
Colin Kaepernick was the 87th Black quarterback to suit up and start an NFL game (in 2012) and the 4th to start in a Super Bowl. Following his peaceful protests on the 49ers side lines in 2016 Kaepernick was seen as toxic by NFL owners, was vilified by many and not understood by the majority of folks writing or reading about his actions.
Now, four seasons on, Kaepernick is still not employed by an NFL team, in a season where the Denver Broncos have already started three different signal-callers in four weeks.
We are in a different place to when I first started watching the NFL in the mid 80s. Back then Black quarterbacks were a significantly small minority, and when Doug Williams became the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl in January 1988 it was bigger news than anything else.
Part of the myth around build up to the game (Super Bowl XXII) was that a rather naïve journalist asked the question ‘How long have you been a Black quarterback?’. This was never the case, as the question actually asked was ‘Doug, obviously you’ve been a black quarterback your whole life. When did race begin to matter to people?’ Remember don’t let the truth get in the way of folklore.
Williams is still with the Washington franchise to this day, he is the Senior Vice President of player development, and is part of a senior team that includes team president Jason Wright, who broke the colour barrier this year to become the first Black team president in NFL history.
Doug was the first Black quarterback to start for Washington in September 1987.
By the end of the 1980’s, when the league had just 28 franchises, just over 50% (15) of the teams had started a Black quarterback in their entire history.
Black quarterbacks first start in the Super Bowl era (decade it occurred)
1960s – 2
1970s – 7
1980s – 6
1990s – 4
2000s – 8
2010s – 5
Jaw dropping fact here, but it took until 2017 for the New York Giants to start a Black quarterback. Geno Smith, who was originally drafted by the New York Jets, was a controversial start for the Giants, for killing Eli Manning’s 210 game starting streak. Incidentally Smith lost the game 17-24 to the Raiders, and was soon back riding the pine.
Here are some more notable numbers:
- The first Super Bowl era Black starting QB was Marlin ‘the magician’ Briscoe. He was drafted in the 14th round of the AFL draft, by the Denver Broncos, with the intention of being played as a defensive back. Briscoe went on to win two Super Bowl rings with the Miami Dolphins, but only after being moved to wide receiver.
- The 50th Black QB to start was Charlie Batch, who started his career with the Detroit Lions in 1998. In a bizarre twist of fate, just as Briscoe did, Batch won two Super Bowl rings with his second team, this time the Pittsburgh Steelers. Charlie was Ben Roethlisberger’s backup during periods between 2003-2012).
- The 100th Black QB was Deshone Kizer. Kizer became the Cleveland Browns first Black starter as recently as 2017. He is currently a free agent having been released by the Las Vegas Raiders from their practice squad on October 1 2020.
- Black quarterbacks are 3-4 in Super Bowls. Winners are Doug Williams (XXII), Russell Wilson (XLVIII) and Patrick Mahomes (LIV).
- Only one Black quarterback has started two Super Bowls. Russell Wilson is 1-1, missing out on a second ring because of arguably the most significant goal-line interception in Super Bowl history by Malcolm Butler.
- The highest volume of opening day Black starting quarterbacks occurred this season – with 10 starters (Lamar Jackson, Tyrod Taylor, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Dwayne Haskins, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyler Murray, and Dak Prescott)
- Four Black quarterbacks have been league MVPs (Steve McNair, Cam Newton, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson). Three of the four are all active heading into Week 4 of 2020, and two actually face off against each other for the first time – Cam’s Patriots v Mahomes’ Chiefs.
- The first Black quarterback to start a playoff game was the Los Angeles Rams James Harris. 1n 1973 Harris helped the Rams to win their division, and earned his team’s first playoff win in 22 seasons (19-10 v Washington).
- Only one black quarterback is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, namely Warren Moon. Moon passed for over 70,000 (not a typo) in his time in the NFL and CFL and is enshrined in both leagues. Moon was the first Oliers/Titans QB to have his number retired (#1). Steve McNair (#9) was posthumously given the same honour in 2019.
The most recent black quarterbacks to start games were Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins in 2019. Mixed fortunes it appears ahead for these two. One looks like a future MVP and the other still looks like a rookie starting his first game.
Haskins became the 104th black quarterback to start a game in the Super Bowl era. It is likely that number increases by the end of this season, as long as trainers avoid stabbing needles into their passers lungs (see Tyrod Taylor).
The reigning NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP are both black. Perhaps more significant is the colour of passers across the NFL is becoming, in my eyes, less significant.
The coach, the scheme, the game plan, the game flow, the formation, the lack of fans, the injuries, the pandemic, all major talking points. The fact the most important player on a team is black is no longer the biggest headline is progress.
Fritz Pollard suffered physically and mentally when he became the first black quarterback in the 1920s. Marlin Briscoe was never given the time to prove himself as a starting quarterback in the late 60s and early 70s. Doug Williams helped to shatter myths in the 80s. Steve McNair was a warrior in the 90s and was a tackle away from a potential ring. Michael Vick garnished more headlines than the Kardashians in the first part of this century.
We now see talent, intellectually and physically in equal part, when we admire black quarterbacks playing in the NFL in 2020.
The league is in safe hands, and children around the world can look at black quarterbacks as role models, not pioneers, gimmicks or experiments.