In the NFL’s 100 year history, there have been only 107 starting African American quarterbacks. In 100 years, 60 quarterbacks have won the Most Valuable Player award, and only four of the winners have been African American: Steve McNair, Cam Newton, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson.
The lack of “successful” black quarterbacks likely stems from high school football. Often the quarterback is the most athletically gifted player for the team, and historically, these athletes would be African American. In college football today, we see a lot of black quarterbacks dominate, but even 10 years ago, this wasn’t as common.
This ties back to Steve McNair, an eventual NFL MVP, who had to settle on Alcorn State to play collegiate football because no Division 1 programs gave him an opportunity at quarterback. A few years later, college coaches were punching the air (pun intended), as McNair went third overall in the draft.
A story like McNair’s makes one wonder how many other black quarterbacks were converted in order to play at bigger schools.
Cam Newton: A Pioneer
As I mentioned earlier, only four African American quarterbacks have won the NFL’s most prestigious award, and three of the winners were announced in the last five years. The first of the three was Cam Newton. Cam’s play has dropped these last couple of years due to health, but he will forever be seen as a pioneer in my eyes.
He dominated the college scene and topped off his career with a national championship. Just a few years later, he brought a level of swagger that NFL fans couldn’t take their eyes off of. His flashy outfits and animated touchdown celebrations captured the interest of people around the world. He was able to pull off his antics without halting his team’s success–leading his team to a super bowl appearance.
Newton not only showed that black quarterbacks are exciting athletes, but also have the goods through the air, putting up 35 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. This was the start of a new era of football.
A Future Great
Just three seasons later, football fans again watched in awe as another African American quarterback took the NFL by storm: Patrick Mahomes. From his no-look passes to his left-handed throws, Mahomes is truly a PHENOM. In his first year starting, he was named the league’s MVP and was likely an unlucky coin flip away from advancing to the Super Bowl.
One season later, he capped off his Cinderella story with a Super Bowl victory, becoming the first-ever African American quarterback to win an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in his career. A few days ago, Mahomes signed the biggest contract in U.S. sports history.
While Newton introduced this flashy brand of football, Mahomes is a picture-perfect example of what an African American quarterback could be in this league. Unbelievably, the spotlight was stolen from Mahomes this season by a different black quarterback.
Lamar Jackson shined at Louisville, and has a Heisman trophy to show for it. Despite his flash on the collegiate level, Lamar had an army of critics entering the draft. Media outlets and “analysts” said Jackson couldn’t be a successful quarterback at the NFL level. Some went as far as to say he needed to convert to wide receiver or running back.
These claims infuriated me during the draft process. Nobody was calling Johnny Manziel a runningback or receiver at the next level despite him being not only 3 inches shorter, but also an inferior passer to Jackson. This was the point in which I realized how racist and ignorant NFL media is towards the quarterback position.
Players like Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes will continue to be pumped into the NFL as these pioneers have success. While these three are hot topics in recent months/years, there was a Russell Wilson before them, a Michael Vick before him, and a Randall Cunningham before him, etc. In a few years we will be looking at the success of Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and even Trey Lance.
The NFL was slow, but thanks to the fantastic play and flare of the Cam Newtons and Patrick Mahomes, the league is finally adapting to the new landscape of football…and football fans are loving every second of it.
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