Home Sports The emergence of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL

The emergence of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL

Illustration by Jack Kurzenknabe

Patrick Mahomes just shocked the world. Down 10 points in the fourth quarter, Mahomes rallied his troops to come back and win Super Bowl LIV. Mahomes’s epic performance made it clear why he will be the face of the NFL for years to come. In the process, this quarterback from Tyler, Texas became the third African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl in history.

In the earlier days of the NFL, African Americans were not regarded as quarterback material but rather to be used at other skill positions to put their athleticism to “good use.” The quarterback position was seen as a “thinking man’s position” and unfit for African American people to hold down the reigns. These stereotypes would continue until the emergence of an early legend, Warren Moon.

Moon began his career in the Canadian football league, leading his team to many championships before moving to the NFL. There he would continue his success, going to nine Pro Bowls and even finishing top five in passing yards when he retired. NFL executives were shocked. An African American man giving his team a boost at the quarterback position like Moon did was simply unheard of at this time, yet this was the first step to breaking down racial biases.

Years later we received Michael Vick. With his tremendous athleticism and dazzling plays, NFL fans quickly fell in love. Vick was on top of the world, yet when trouble came in the form of jail time for animal abuse, the stereotypes were quick to rush back. African American quarterbacks were seen as untrustworthy. Using where people were born and seeing the harsh surroundings that they grew up in, NFL execs would lack faith in a black prospect because they would not want a troublemaker leading their team. Vick came back though, admitted to his mistakes, and showed the world that he was still good enough to play. The fans accepted him because he was just so dazzling to watch, and this really opened up the door for future prospects.

Next came Robert Griffin III, or “RG3,” for the Washington Redskins and his amazing rookie year, which showcased his elite ability to make people miss on tackles. Then Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, who won a Super Bowl in his second year against a very talented Denver Broncos team. Most recently we have seen Lamar Jackson explode in the NFL, winning MVP even though people did not think he was good enough to play quarterback. All of these prospects were doubted because of their skin color, yet all of them have prevailed to show the world that they are more than that. Now there are more non-white starting quarterbacks in the NFL than ever before, and all of them have unique talents that prove they are just as good as any other quarterback in the league.
People like Patrick Mahomes are setting the example for a new generation. The prototypical white quarterback is becoming a thing of the past and younger kids are encouraged more than ever by seeing people just like them on the big screen. Athleticism is not a curse anymore. Being yourself is becoming more and more encouraged. Skin color is not a barricade keeping your dreams from becoming a reality. Black quarterbacks are continuing the tradition of proving people wrong one throw at time, and it looks like they will keep doing so for years to come.

alada1@stolaf.edu