As Patrick Mahomes heaved the ball in the air to bleed the clock dry during the waning seconds of the Superbowl, he was just seconds away from being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Mahomes has become the youngest player to win an NFL MVP award and a Super Bowl. A black quarterback has the NFL in his entire hands; that shows the progress that black quarterbacks have made.
This year isn’t the first that black QBs have been successful. In 2001, Michael Vick became the first black quarterback to go number 1 overall in the NFL draft. Vick would later make history for becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history. The late Steve McNair shared the AP NFL MVP with Peyton Manning, thus becoming the first black QB to win the award. Though the forefathers of black QBs like Vick, Donovan McNabb, Warren Moon and Doug Williams had success in the league, they didn’t have the NFL at their fingertips like Jackson, Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.
This past Saturday Feb 1., Lamar Jackson became the second-ever unanimous MVP in NFL history alongside Tom Brady. Jackson, the quarterback who former NFL GM Bill Polian said, should become a WR. Jackson, the same quarterback whose style of play came into question throughout the draft process and whose IQ was unfairly challenged.
“Short and a little bit slight,” Polian said about Jackson. “Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are. The accuracy isn’t there.”
Keep in mind that Jackson had a higher percentage throughout his collegiate career at Louisville than Josh Allen, who was drafted ahead of Jackson in the 2018 NFL Draft. Black quarterbacks have had to go through the coded language about why they can’t play QB.
Jackson responded to the criticism after a week one game against the Dolphins by saying, “Not bad for a running back,” to Yahoo Sports.
Jackson’s innate running talent was somehow viewed as a detriment instead of strength by most NFL teams. Is Jackson the ideal prototypical quarterback? No, but Jackson wasn’t a bad passer in college.
Jackson threw for 3,127 yards and led the NFL in touchdowns with 36. Not bad for a running back, right? What made the Ravens dynamic, was Jackson’s ability to run. The Ravens built a system around Jackson and had everyone buy-in. Behind Jackson’s 1,206 rushing yards — which broke the NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season — the Baltimore Ravens shattered the NFL record for yards per game by a team.
In an article written in The Ringer.com by Kevin Clark, Jackson’s teammate Nick Boyle said, “It’s hard. He’s a generational player. I don’t think there’s anyone else like him.” There’s not going to be another Lamar Jackson, but there isn’t one perfect player. It’s the job of the coaches to put their players in the best possible position to succeed, like how John Harbaugh did with Jackson.
Former NFL HC-turned-broadcaster Tony Dungy has noticed certain language other broadcasters use. In an article with The Undefeated, Dungy said, “Luck plays a lot like the stereotypical black quarterback, but they aren’t saying that. No one says, ‘Oh, he’s not going to survive.’ As soon as Lamar Jackson does it and doesn’t run out of bounds, they say, ‘Oh, he’s not going to survive.’”
Most black quarterbacks are more athletic than their white counterparts. Though those advantages give them an advantage as a quarterback, the athletic traits are used to suggest that they play a different position.
James Harris starred at Grambling State as a quarterback. When he declared for the draft, NFL teams asked him to change his position. Tony Dungy had to change positions after starring as quarterback for the University of Minnesota.
Andrew Luck’s reckless, backyard playing style eventually led to his early retirement before the 2019 NFL season. However, all the media says about Luck was how “cerebral” he was on the field. White QBs get talked about for their brain, but black quarterbacks never get that same admiration.
When broadcasters talk about Patrick Mahomes, it’s mostly about how strong his arm is or how intuitive he is on a given play, not how smart of a player he is. A player like Peyton Manning gets defined as “surgical.” This isn’t meant to degrade Manning because he’s one of the best quarterbacks ever to grace the field, but just an example of how black quarterbacks are talked about differently.
Tony Dungy said, “He understands the game better than any 23-year-old I’ve ever seen. Nobody wants to say that. All the focus is on how he’s so gifted; his arm is so strong, he’s so accurate. He is all of that, Dungy said.” But they really don’t want to say, ‘You know, this guy may be pretty brilliant.’”
There was a study conducted by Patrick Ferrucci, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado, about stereotypes in sports and he found that the language does affect them.
“White quarterbacks tend to be intelligent and give great effort. If a white quarterback succeeds, it’s because of something they controlled and worked hard at; if a black quarterback succeeds, it’s because of something that was innate,” Ferrucci told The Undefeated.
Now, as Mahomes is an SB champion and Jackson is the MVP, we see how far we’ve come, but also how far we have to go.