In all of sports – basketball, baseball, track, soccer, sumo wrestling – one position stands above the rest as the king, the role that garners all the glamor and glitz. Quarterback. No other position in the world of sports has the fame and notoriety that the quarterback entails.
The leader of 10 other men on offense, the quarterback is the field general capable of securing victory with the flick of his arm, simultaneously cognizant that that same motion could spell defeat. 11 other men on defense exist on islands, understanding their assignments and keys but aware that the quarterback across the line of scrimmage is prepared to inflict maximum damage at any moment.
Black players in football have a monopoly on the corner back position, a near monopoly on the running back position and only recently began to mortgage their hold on the receiver slot. The quarterback position, however, is solidly in the hands of white people. Unless one of the Manning brothers decides to marry a Black woman, the quarterback position will be played by a monochromatic color for many years to come (for the sake of this article, we are only talking about the National Football League – NFL – which has a test sample of only 32 teams, compared to major college football that has 120 teams, all running vastly different offenses).
White players dominate the quarterback position with images of Montana, Bradshaw, Unitas, Marino, Farve and Manning acting as prototypes for the perfect representation of the field general.
But why is this? Quarterback’s must know every minute detail in the vast encyclopedia that doubles as the offensive playbook, and they need to know all of the correct routes of their skilled position players, blocking assignments of their linemen and the precise timing of where the running back will be for each hand off.
In other words, performing poorly on the Wonderlic Test isn’t a positive sign that the prospective quarterback can handle the difficult playbook he’ll be forced to learn, plus the many nuances that go into the game at real-time (audibles, crowd noise, reading the defense…).
Black people have long thought that the quarterback position is the last refuge of the white athlete, a reservation for white people that acts as a veritable casino for those lucky few able to guide an NFL offense:
We should never pass up the opportunity to point out that Rush Limbaugh is not only a racist pig but, unlike the swine, one of our stupider mammals as well.
This past weekend, as All-Pro quarterback Donovan F. McNabb led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl in 25 years, Limbaugh was undoubtedly chasing oxycontin with Kahlua in a state of utter misery.
Last year, Limbaugh ignited an inferno by wheezing on ESPN’s NFL pre-game show that McNabb was “overrated” because of the “media’s social concern” to see a successful Black quarterback. It was textbook Limbaugh, linking race and performance with a jab at “liberal affirmative action” advancing the “unqualified”. The fact that Limbaugh was a paid football announcer for ESPN still boggles the mind. Was G. Gordon Liddy unavailable? David Duke too expensive? Limbaugh was run out of ESPN on a rail after thousands of complaints, but he smirked back to talk radio, more a hero to his minions than ever before…
Limbaugh’s words bear mention because there is an argument currently afoot that the durable color line– which has in the past kept the NFL quarterback position as “white-only” as a 1950s Greensboro lunch counter–is finally over.
There is merit to this claim. As recently as 1984, there was only one Black QB in the entire league. But this year, Black quarterbacks held more than twenty NFL QB roster spots. Today, Black quarterbacks not only grace almost every roster, but also play every imaginable style. There are speed demons like Michael Vick, and lead-foots like Byron Leftwich. There are aged career back-ups like Jeff Blake and Rodney Peete, and young benchwarmers like David Garrard and Shaun King. There are also frightening talents like McNabb and Daunte Culpepper – players who have the ability and brains to pass their way to football immortality. The sill-sets of the Black QB run the gamut from brilliant to lousy. Yes, Black quarterbacks have earned the right to not only be stars, but also suck as much as white quarterbacks – which is a form of progress.
This ascension of Black quarterbacks carries a social impact that reverberates off the playing field. No athletic position in our society is as esteemed as that of the “field general.” Quarterbacks are the heroes, the icons, the cover of the Wheaties Box. Denying Black athletes a chance to compete for this role held a much deeper symbolism about what Blacks could aspire to in our society. The message clearly being sent was that African Americans just didn’t have the brains or “intestinal fortitude” to truly lead.
Every Sunday was a demonstration for the country that while a Black player could run, catch, and jump, the signal-calling – control – was something that required white skin. When Randall Cunningham was drafted in 1984, the first question he was asked by a reporter was, “What makes you think you’re smart enough to read NFL defenses?” This is an ugly history, and much of it seems over.
As James Harris, who was the first Black quarterback to start a playoff game 30 years ago and who is the current Head of Player Personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars, said recently, “They’re not using the word black quarterback any more. They’re now referred to as quarterbacks and that’s the way it should be. You’re judged on your ability. It wasn’t always that way.”
Black players dominate the NFL (70 percent of the employees participating in the game), yet the quarterback position isn’t shaping up to be a position that they can crack:
Six years later, 2009 is turning out to be a bust for black quarterbacks in the NFL. Not a single one is having a good season.
Seven of the 36 most active quarterbacks are black. David Garrard is probably doing best so far: on Sunday, he got Jacksonville back to .500, but he’s only #20 in passer rating.
On Sunday, Jason Campbell got benched at halftime by the Redskins. Former #1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell did win a game for Oakland, by beating Donovan McNabb 13-9. Seneca Wallace is back on the bench in Seattle. In Tampa Bay, Byron Leftwich has been replaced by young Josh Johnson, who is 32nd in passer rating.
With 140 yards rushing in six games, Garrard is the only black quarterback with at least 100 yards on the ground 30% of the way into the season.
Meanwhile, white quarterbacks are having a great year, with seven with passer ratings over 100, versus only one at the end of last year, although presumably top end ratings will come down as sample sizes increase and the weather worsens.
Black quarterbacks haven’t excelled in the NFL – sorry McNabb – and yet, every other position is dominated by Black people (name one corner back that is white). Black players obviously are faster, based on the empirical evidence of no white corners and the paucity of white running backs. White receivers are making a comeback, but this is due primarily to the speed of the game changing and the importance of precise routes being run and timing such an important feature of the game, as the quarterback must get rid of the ball in a flash.
Black quarterback’s, in the mold of Michael Vick, are going the way of dodo (once again, Steve Sailer and his impeccable analysis):
The peak year for black quarterbacks was 2003, the year of the Rush Limbaugh brouhaha, when black quarterbacks ranked 1st, 3rd, 7th, 16th, 21st, 24th, 26th, and 32nd. But that now appears to have been a bit of a fluke. Black quarterback talent seems to be proportional to black representation in the overall population, not to the black representation in the NFL as was widely assumed by pundits denouncing Limbaugh.
What about that 2009 New York Times Idea of the Year that “Black Quarterbacks Are Underpaid” because nobody recognizes their enormous rushing contributions? Well, David Garrard did lead quarterbacks in rushing in 2009, but only with 323 yards.
And black quarterbacks tended to get sacked a lot, with Campbell, McNabb, and Garrard in the top 10 in Sacked Yards Lost. Only Vince Young seemed to combine rushing offense with ability to avoid being sacked. And Garrard, Campbell, McNabb, and Freeman were in the top 10 in most fumbles.
The Era of the Black Rushing Quarterback (a.k.a., the Quarterback of the Future) seems to be more or less over. That doesn’t bode well for the NFL career of U. of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, a white running quarterback who might have had the greatest college career ever.
Sports offer some of the only positive images of Black people, and for the franchise position of the NFL to be occupied primarily by white people is a source of major contention for Black people. Thankfully, fictional Black History Month has found the perfect combination of franchise moxie and Blackness in Willie Beamen, the quarterback of the Miami Sharks in Any Given Sunday:
The film begins as the team’s legendary, championship-winning quarterback Jack “Cap” Rooney is injured during a game. Rooney, played by Dennis Quaid, looks as if he escaped from the big-screen version of “The Dan Marino Story.” Quiad even adopts a slight Western Pennsylvanian accent for the part, and any Dolphin fan can pretty well grasp who this guy is supposed to be. Unlike Marino, he has won championships, but also unlike Marino he seems to want to retire at the right time.
When Rooney gets injured, beleaguered legendary coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino playing Don Shula if he were short and felt the need to yell everything he said) puts in journeyman black quarterback Willie Beamen, played by Jamie Foxx. Despite initial struggles, Beamen eventually leads the team to three straight victories showcasing his phenomenal athletic ability and on-field improvisational skills. It is interesting to note that the film was made in 1999, before the “mobile quarterback revolution” with guys like Mike Vick and Donovan McNabb in the National Football League. So when the fictitious sportswriter in the film states that Beamen is the “quarterback of the future,” it seems that Stone was almost prophetic in his writing.
Any Given Sunday offers a positive image of a Black quarterback, excelling at a white position that has yet to occur in the real world of sports. Beamen is loved by sports fans everywhere, fawned over by sports writers and desired by women (the film is a must see for any fan of the game, as it paints a politically incorrect, but accurate picture of pro football).
Beamen has a few choice lines about the biased history of the quarterback position and his people in the film (Read page 143 to 148 of the PDF script from the film at this link, and then also read page 158 to 161 for a solid understanding of race and the quarterback position):
Yeah it is! And you know it is! Cause it’s really all about the money. Rakin in the TV contracts, fat cat boosters sitting in the skybox and coaches uppin’ their salaries, all looking for the next Black stud to get’em in the top 10, the next bowl game…
Willie Beamen becomes such star that he even has his own rap song:
My name is Willie… Willie Beamen,
I keep the ladies… cream-in’,
And all my fans… are screa-min’
You gon’ defeat me? You drea-min’.
Uh, wild style, profile, Willie Beamen got the ladies in the stand smilin’.
Why? Getting down to the nitty gritty, makin’ them all feel so they get me.
Jaime Foxx does a fabulous job playing Willie Beamen, a fictional Black hero that stands head and shoulders above the real Black quarterbacks whom participate in the NFL every Sunday.
Stuff Black People Don’t Like welcomes Willie Beamen to the growing huddle of fictional Black History Month Heroes, because Black people need positive sports figures to continue to create positive images of Black people to sell to the American public.
With a lack of superstar Black quarterbacks in the NFL, Beamen is vital to the well-being of Black people everywhere.
What better person to captain fictional Black History Month than Steamin’ Willie Beamen!