Saturday, August 4, 2001
The NFL's resistance to black
quarterbacks is fading away
By Rick Cantu
c. 2001 Cox News Service
WICHITA FALLS, Texas There have
been only 56 black quarterbacks in the 81-year history of the
Willie Thrower, a Chicago Bear in 1953,
is the answer to a tough trivia question: Who was the first black
man to throw a pass for a professional football team? Thrower
was a pioneer in his day, whether he knew it or not.
At least two generations after Thrower
threw that pass, the shade of the position is still changing.
This year, the Dallas Cowboys are the first
team in NFL history with three black quarterbacks on their roster:
Tony Banks, Anthony Wright and Quincy Carter. They are the chosen
ones to replace retired icon Troy Aikman, the 12-year veteran
who led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships before
injuries and frequent concussions forced him out of football.
For the first time since 1989, the Cowboys
are in training camp without Aikman in the huddle.
Fifty-four years after Jackie Robinson
broke baseball's color line, Carter spoke openly about his easy
transition from high school to college to the NFL. Growing up
close to Georgia, he was accepted as a leader, a quarterback
whose skin color has been no obstacle. There already had been
black starting quarterbacks at Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and
other states in the Deep South.
I see everybody as the same color,
the 23-year-old Carter said after a Cowboys training camp practice
this week at Midwestern State.
There were others who paved the way for
men such as Banks and Wright and Carter.
People such as Marlin Briscoe, the first
black man in the old AFL or NFL to start at quarterback when
he played for Denver in 1969. People such as James Harris, Doug
Williams and Warren Moon.
Silence over the Cowboys' quarterback competition
in Wichita Falls underscores this theme: A lot of bigotry and
ignorance have been sacked in the NFL. Imagine how Williams felt
when a reporter asked him this question before the 1988 Super
How long have you been a black quarterback?
Williams went on to win the Super Bowl
MVP trophy. Moon, who played for the Houston Oilers, Minnesota
Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, recently retired
from a Hall of Fame career. Last year, 14 black quarterbacks
started games for NFL teams.
Three black quarterbacks were selected
in the first round of the 1999 draft. That matched the total
selected in the first round of the previous 63 drafts.
It's about what's right and what's
wrong, said Harris, a former Rams quarterback and current
executive for the Baltimore Ravens organization. What's
right is: The best guy plays. It's getting to be that situation
because coaches want to win. They're going to play the best players.
You look at what's happening (in this era). That's what's right.
Football was a different game when Briscoe
played for the Broncos 33 years ago. Blacks had already left
their mark in the game as running backs, wide receivers,
defensive ends. Ask anyone to name the best black football player
of all time and you'll likely hear the names Jim Brown (running
back), Jerry Rice (wide receiver), Mean Joe Greene
(defensive end), Lawrence Taylor (linebacker), Ronnie Lott (safety)
and Gale Sayers (running back).
Tearing down barriers
Williams helped tear down barriers with
his near-perfect performance in the 1988 Super Bowl, when he
led Washington to a 42-10 trouncing of Denver.
Williams, now head football coach at Grambling
University, is the first black quarterback to win Super Bowl
MVP honors. On the night of his biggest triumph, Williams said
he felt vindicated from all the criticism aimed his way during
I was thinking about it, but I wasn't
consumed, he told the Tampa Tribune earlier this year.
It'll eat you up if you make it about revenge. But when
it's over it hits you. You think about what you went through
and what made you stronger.
But none of that matters because
you just did something nobody else is ever going to take away.
Like they say in the Bible, `It is written.'
Moon, arguably the best black quarterback
of all time, played in eight straight Pro Bowls, a quarterback
record. He passed for 291 touchdowns and nearly 50,000 yards
in his 17-year career, mostly with the Oilers.
But when Moon announced his retirement
this year, he said his greatest achievement was helping Michael
Vick become the first black quarterback selected with the first
pick of the 2001 draft. Vick made his pro debut with the Atlanta
Falcons Friday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first
NFL preseason game of the year.
There have been a lot of blacks who've
been the first pick in the draft. But not at this position,
Moon said. This is the position on the football field that
commands the type of intelligence, leadership and respect that
go along with making an organization successful. For an organization
to take that kind of stand with a quarterback who happens to
be black is pretty significant.
Donovan McNabb, drafted by Philadelphia
in 1999, has played so well that he easily is the city's second-favorite
athlete behind Allen Iverson. Steve McNair led Tennessee to the
Super Bowl two years ago. Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, a first-round
choice in '99, now is considered the prototype quarterback
big, strong and fast enough to elude defensive players when flushed
from the pocket. And then there is Vick, one of the most talented
quarterbacks of any color to come out of college
Cowboys Coach Dave Campo has watched a
generation of change. In 1986 Reggie Collier became the first
black quarterback in Dallas, playing one season with the Cowboys.
Rodney Peete played the position in Dallas in 1994.
In the NFL this season, there could be
as many as eight black quarterbacks starting in the 31-team league.
That includes Banks, one of the most intriguing
players at Cowboys training camp. He started 61 NFL games for
St. Louis and Baltimore before Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed
him to a one-year deal in Dallas.
Banks was lucky while growing up. Several
black quarterbacks played at Michigan State before he was a Spartan
from 1992 to 1995.
Yet he felt pressure to be nearly perfect
because criticism from fans was always just an interception away.
That's the price any high-profile quarterback black or
white pays when leading a high-profile team.
At times I felt like I had to walk
on water, Banks said. For me, the thing that still
shows a discrepancy is that there are not a lot of black backups
in the league. If you've got to walk on water, you're not in
the league. But that trend is starting to change, too.
Carter said he felt little or no pressure
at Georgia. When asked if that signals a positive change, he
turned, smiled, and said, I guess so.
Credit to the colleges
When Wade Wilson, who is white, entered
the NFL in 1981 to play quarterback for the Vikings, the few
blacks who played quarterback were known for their running ability.
Wilson, now the quarterbacks coach in Dallas, has seen many changes
in the last 20 years.
The mindset 20 years ago was that
the black quarterback was going to beat you with his legs,
Wilson said. They said he may not be able to handle everything
mentally. You didn't see a lot of black quarterbacks at the time,
but now that they're given a better chance to play in college,
a better chance to get good coaching, they have shown they have
the ability. Better training in college is the biggest
reason there are more black quarterbacks in the NFL, many players
and coaches agree. When players such as Moon and Williams started
to make headlines in the NFL with their arms, more college teams
began to look at blacks as potential quarterbacks.
Of the 63 Division I teams eligible for
the Bowl Championship Series last season, 20 teams had minority
quarterbacks. One-third of the teams in the SEC a conference
that did not become fully integrated until 1971 were guided
by black quarterbacks.
Black quarterbacks have not had the
same legacy that white quarterbacks have, Campo said. What
you see now are guys who are going from being just an athlete
to being quarterbacks. A quarterback is a quarterback.
Wright agrees. The stereotype of the black
quarterback who ran the option in college but never amounted
to anything in the NFL are over. Black quarterbacks no
longer are asked to switch to wide receiver or safety in the
pros. Such a move was standard procedure in the '70s and '80s.
As time has come along, you see more
black quarterbacks who are able to drop back and pass as well
as run, Wright said. Now you have white quarterbacks
being able to do the same thing. Evolution has changed the way
the game has become.
Evolution also has changed the way people
view the game.
I don't know if race was a factor
in Dallas having three black quarterbacks, Wilson said. As
far as it having any significance, it's only a matter of whether
they can play or not.
You may contact Rick Cantu at firstname.lastname@example.org
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