According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of quarterback is an offensive back in football who usually lines up behind center, calls the signals, and directs the offensive play of the team.
The meaning of quarterback sounds simple, but it’s more complex than it should be. I find it ironic that there is nothing correlated with height, race or one’s upbringing when talking about the position, yet those traits hinder so many wanting to play that role.
For decades, quarterbacks have looked the same and because of that, those who don’t fit the stereotype are often overlooked or insulted.
Change is inevitable. Well, that’s what we think. In the NFL, change continues to move a snail’s pace in certain aspects. Such as the rigid narrative against black quarterbacks that continues to be exhausting and unfounded.
To say that there hasn’t been any progress would be deceitful, but there is still a long way to go. In 1968, prior to the AFL-NFL merger, Marlin Briscoe became the first black quarterback to be named as a starter. Even Briscoe, who set a then-rookie record with 14 touchdowns for the Denver Broncos was not a long-term option for the team.
As a black quarterback, the margin of error is smaller, mistakes are heavily scrutinized and, to make matters worse, you have to smile in the face of adversity. Showing too much emotion, or should I say passion, could be taken the wrong way if you’re not Tom Brady or others that look like him.
The NFL is a peculiar place. This is a league where standing up for one’s beliefs can result in getting you black-balled (see Colin Kaepernick). This is also a league where one’s skin color, especially at the quarterback position trumps results on the field.
Despite the qualms, we’ve witnessed a great deal of success from black signal-callers. Doug Williams set the standard by becoming the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. After that, Warren Moon entered the Hall of Fame after a record-setting career.
Also, guys like Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick transcended the position. Today, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have cultivated into two of the league’s best as they are entering the prime of their careers.
Despite the success that they’ve had over the years, one would think that they would evade the criticism. No matter how successful one is on the field, they have to prove themselves over and over just to show that they belong.
Even before they step on the field, the odds are against them starting in the NFL pre-draft process.
Fresh off a Heisman Trophy campaign and National Championship in 2011, Cam Newton faced scrutiny about his character and lack of football intelligence by many draft “experts”.
To some he was a one-hit wonder that got by solely on his athletic gifts. In particular, NFL draft scout Nolan Nawrocki critiqued Newton in a way that had several subliminal messages that correlated with racial insinuations. Nawrocki stated the following about Newton:
“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room … Lacks accountability, focus, and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.”
Almost a decade later, we are back in the same place as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is the latest black quarterback to face unwarranted scrutiny.
The former Heisman Trophy Winner is as dynamic of a player that college football has ever seen. While not always surrounded by elite talent, Jackson threw for 9,043 yards and 69 touchdowns in three years in college. He ran for another 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns. Not to mention he played in a pro-style offense under a coach that has a reputation as a QB whisperer in Bobby Petrino.
In addition to his video game-like stats, Jackson has a natural ability to throw the ball. Like most young quarterbacks, he is inconsistent with footwork and mechanics. But that’s to be expected out of a soon-to-be rookie.
His world-class athleticism is a gift and curse for him and it’s one of the reasons why some people want him to switch to wide receiver.
Former Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian seconded that notion. Referring to what position that he thinks Jackson would be best suited to play in the NFL, as you would have thought, he pegged Jackson as a wide receiver.
“Exceptional athlete, exceptional ability to make you miss, exceptional acceleration, exceptional instinct with the ball in his hand and that’s rare for wide receivers. That’s AB, and who else? Name me another one, Julio’s not even like that.”
He also adds concerns about his accuracy, “Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are. The accuracy isn’t there.”
Jackson will never be confused with Drew Brees as his 59.1 percent points to him being an erratic passer, but his wide receivers dropped 12 percent of his throws. Wyoming’s Josh Allen, who has been compared to Carson Wentz completed 56.3 percent of his passes and his receivers dropped nearly 8 percent of his passes.
Polian also called Jackson “short and slight” which is another false statement. On paper, Jackson is 6’3″ and 211 pounds, but at the combine, he measured in at 6’2 1/4″, which is a similar height to Aaron Rodgers, and he weighed in at 216 pounds, similar to Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill and Alex Smith.
The problem with Polian’s statements is that he isn’t too far removed from running a team. His narrow-minded opinion of Jackson is what many of his former colleagues think of him. With those thoughts, it’s the reason why some teams have asked him to work out in a different position.
Year after year, black quarterbacks face the rigors of proving they belong while the proof shows that they are successful — when given the chance.
How many times have you’ve seen a quarterback as decorated as Jackson ask to switch their position?
Tim Tebow wasn’t the greatest thrower and he still managed to be drafted in the first round of the draft as a quarterback. Josh Allen and Josh Rosen have great size and you don’t see anyone asking them to become tight ends.
As of late, Joe Webb, Braxton Miller, Terrelle Pryor, Randall Cobb and more made the switch, but Jackson is far and away a better QB coming out of college than the above-mentioned quarterbacks. Asking Jackson and others with a similar skill set not to play quarterback has a racial undertone and it feeds into a narrative that has endured for too long.
In corporate America, we see companies struggle to carry out strategies to hire women, minorities, and especially black men in leadership positions. For many people, a leader is viewed as someone who is knowledgeable, transparent, and a visionary that’s easy to follow.
Quarterbacks are in a place of leadership and they are usually the face of the franchise. And while the league is working towards being more progressive, it has a way to go both on and off the field. It’s a shame that it’s been 50 years since a black quarterback received a chance to lead a NFL team and yet, similar questions of those times arise anew. Embracing change in evaluating quarterbacks remains an uphill battle, but it doesn’t have to be.
We shouldn’t be having this dialogue in 2018, but here was are. Until people in positions of power in the NFL begin to discuss biases against black quarterbacks, we will continue to have this issue next year, the following year, and every year after that.
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp