Over the past several years we have seen a prolific influx of African American Quarterbacks entering the NFL. Although this marks a time of change it is apparent that still—many of the elite college Quarterbacks are not given the same equal opportunity that their white counterparts have inherited. Not only as a race are black Quarterbacks often naturally denied the same opportunities, but in addition we see that skin tone is reflected in the earning potential and position retention., The “light skin” vs “dark skin” fallacies continue to play judge and jury in decisions. In the Dichotomy of the Black Quarterback I will explore case by case from older veteran QBs to the newer young elite group.
The Poster boy for black quarterbacks with the Colgate smile has officially won the Charlotte fan base over after leading his team to back to back NFC South division titles and 1 playoff win in his first 5 seasons. In his rookie campaign he managed to throw for 4,051 yards, and 21 touchdowns, which at the time ranked 1st among rookie QBs and the best in Franchise history. Cam’s image turned a complete 180, after allegations of “NCAA violations“ in college during his final year at Auburn. Cam has managed to snag endorsements with Subway, Gatorade, and Under Armour. Now to his credit Cam has upheld his end of the bargain ranking among the elite quarterbacks year in and year out since he’s entered the league. But he is not immune from harsh criticism; fans, and analyst alike have scrutinized Cam heavily in his first few seasons in Carolina. He has been looked upon to carry a franchise that has been mediocre at best since the expansion club first entered the league in 1995. The Carolina Panthers organization has done very little to surround Cam with talent. When you look at what teams such as the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, and Green Bay Packers have done to supply their QB with adequate weapons, you wonder—why is it that the Panthers have not followed suit? The most talented player Cam has had the pleasure working with thus far has been a 32 year old Steve Smith Sr. In Cam's first season, Steve Smith hauled in 79 catches for over 1,300 yards, and 7 touchdowns which ranked 5th in the league at that time. Then Danny Morrison brought in a washed up Jeremy Shokey and an uninspiring receiving core that has included the likes of Muhammed, Jericho Cotchery, Ted Ginn Jr., and Brandon Lafell. It was not until this past season when TE Greg Olsen and newcomer wide out Kelvin Benjamin began to appear as if the Panthers are heading in the right direction, but it took a mere 5 seasons. The talent that the other elite QB’s receive is yearly, which not only allows them to remain elite, but establishes continuity in the locker room and directly impacts cohesion on the field. Cam appears to have a stronghold on his job in Carolina, but we will have to keep a close eye on Charlotte.
When Robert Griffin the 3rd entered the league after bringing Baylor University its first Heisman trophy winner, he had the NFL’s full attention. No one, not even the legend of Michael Vick had possessed this type of world class speed to go along with one of the most graceful deep passing arms college football has ever seen. But the NFL is where dreams sometimes end, and Robert found that out very quickly. The question here remains, was it just? Even with all the hype that surrounded Griffin, his Superbowl winning coach Mike Shanahan still was doubtful of Robert and decided to draft just two rounds later Kirk Cousins’. In this day in age, it is rare to see two QBs taken so highly, unless you are not sold on the first one selected and Mike never was. In his first season RG3 dispelled the odds, and won the prestigious rookie of the year award, out dueling his friendly but arch rival Andrew Luck. The marching bands began to play in DC, as it finally had found its next Doug Williams. Mike Shanahan had revived his career, and Dan Snyder was able to move past the dismal “rebuilding” phase that was going on for a stretch of 6 to 8 years. But then at the end of 2013, something troubling happened called adversity. Robert suffered a torn ACL, and his Superman like campaign came to an end against the Seattle Seahawks. Over the next two seasons as Robert showed extreme toughness in playing through injuries, he was held responsible for the firing of Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle. He continued to battle through injuries that were not quite healed from previous off seasons. Unlike most quarterbacks deemed “Franchise” Robert was not able to retain his job automatically when newcomer Coach Jay Gruden came into the fold. Jay Gruden started Robert the first 3 games of the season and after suffering a mild knee sprain, the job was given dual responsibilities between Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. In Week 15 RG3 was able to reclaim his position but it was only after being publicly scolded and mocked before doing so. What is ironic about the trials and tribulations of RG3 is the trade in which the Redskins acquired him. The St. Louis Rams had the 2nd overall selection in draft and chose to give up this pick for several draft picks. St. Louis was content with their injury-marred QB Sam Bradford who has played a dismal 49 games in his six year career. Surprisingly he has continued to regain his starting position at the beginning of each season following injury. Why was Robert not granted similar immunity? Sam Bradford has not made nearly the same splash that RG3 has made since entering the league nor has even remained on the field long enough, but yet he has been shown uncanny loyalty from the Rams franchise. I need an explanation for this...
Geno Smith was anticipated to be a mid to late 1st round draft pick, surprisingly EJ Manuel was the first quarterback taken and Geno went into the second round. When Rex took him in the early part of the second round, he drafted him with the expectations that he would lead a prolific offense similar to that of his collegiate offense at the University of West Virginia. What the Jets hierarchy did not take into consideration were the number of weapons surrounding Geno at WVU. The Jets were inept on the offensive side of the football and Geno has yet to prove he is a consistent producer or thrower of the football. Now from a Black Quarterback perspective, Geno already had a lot going against him. Smith has horrible body language, a disgruntled face after turnovers, he has never had command of the huddle or his team for that matter. Even on draft night after learning he would not be the first QB taken and then slipping to the second round caused him to pout and stomp out of Madison Square Garden like Chuckie Finster from Rugrats. His actions and persona closely resemble that of Jay Cutler. The only difference is that as a white quarterback in the NFL, Cutler has been granted several opportunities to display his mediocre skill level over and over, no matter how many times he has failed. Despite Jay Cutler only making the playoffs twice in his 9 year career, he has not only managed to receive a major contract, but remain a starting Quarterback over the majority of that span. Geno who displays similar body language, attitude, and talent level was benched on and off for the past 2 seasons.
Alex Smith began his career as the #1 overall selection for the San Francisco 49ers and after 6 seasons of horrendous play and being a catalyst for coach firings he was labeled a bust. It was not until 2011, twenty offensive coordinators (slightly exaggerating) later and a new head coach Jim Harbaugh who found a way to improve upon his narrow skill set. As a result he led the 49ers in 2011 to a 13-3 start only to be replaced by Colin Kaepernick half way through the next season. Using the injury as a smoke screen, he knew his time with the 49ers was coming to an end after recovering from the said injury only to find himself as a potent back up in the Jim’s system. He was later traded to Kansas City and Andy Reid has been smitten with him since. But why was Alex Smith given so many chances? Had the sports world not seen enough of the mediocrity played at that position? After several opportunities he still has found himself a home in the AFC West and has firmly grasped a new contract and a starting position for years to come. Unfortunately this is just another instance of the lack of equality for African American quarterbacks in similar situations. After examining EJ Manuel we see the similar injustice happening in Buffalo. A first round draft pick out of Florida State with tremendous expectations battles through minor injuries and fails to deliver success in his first two seasons in Buffalo. As a result Coach Doug Marrone elected to put him on the back burner in exchange for a Kyle Orton who ended up retiring from football at the end of the season. There were no playoff goals or aspirations set as Orton took command of the huddle. Rather than to continue the development of their first round draft pick the Bills staff decided it would be better to decrease his playing experience and have a perennial back up serve as the starter and finish well outside of the playoff race. Another clear example of the glass ceiling for african american quarterbacks in the NFL.
Cruel and unusual punishment at its finest, Vince Young is the second offensive ROY (rookie of the year) on this list who was dealt an unfortunate hand by his coaches. The Texas standout came into the league as a big body, rifle arm, clutch performer drawing many comparisons to Donovan McNabb in his earlier years. It did not take long for Jeff Fisher to fall out of love with the All-American after only 3 seasons and 1 playoff birth. The titans at the time had a top 5 offense with Young at the driver seat, and a Chris Johnson formerly known as CJ2K in his prime. Unfortunately, these same Titans had to deal with Peyton Manning’s Colts’ two times a year just to have a chance at a Wildcard let alone a Divisional crown. Vince Young however was not your “Yes Man” quarterback and had many disagreements with his Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Just like Brady gets into sideline arguments with Josh McDaniels, and Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have not seen eye to eye, it is not unorthodox for quarterbacks to disagree with their coaches. Most often it is the mark of a true champion striving to win but in this case Fisher viewed it as defiance, and a young man who was not humbled. As a result, Young was sent to the bench and later not re-signed after his rookie contract was up, leaving one of the most talented young black quarterbacks in recent memory out on the free agent pool. To this day, even after a brief rebirth with the Philadelphia Eagles, Young remains unemployed. Vince Young was given one brief stint, with one coach, showed promise but yet no one is willing to take a second chance on a young man with so much potential and ability? Why is that Matt Leinart, Colt McCoy, Rex Grossman, and other quarterbacks who have had equal or worse success continue to sign free agent contracts for NFL clubs? If the NFL is truly about production how do so many young black quarterbacks get put out of work with no opportunity to build a legacy in the league?
A perfect opposition and distinguished difference of treatment in “Black QB’s” are the “fair skinned” quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russel Wilson. Both of these QB’s come from black heritage and have a parent who is of African american decent. And although both have had early success in their careers, leading their teams to a Superbowl birth and Russel winning it, the media, fans, and football community do not seem to identify both of these two as so called “Black Quarterbacks”. Instead they are thrown into this vague category of “urban” quarterbacks where most believe they are just “white guys with great tans” I am not sure if it is the astute educated way that Russel Wilson manages to articulate himself that confuses people as to what ethnicity he may or may not belong too. Colin Kaepernick is identified as urban primarily because of his image; the tattoos that make him appear as though he is from an urban community. Instead of his known membership in black fraternity and service, he is more known for the partnerships with Beats by Dre (who Russel Wilson also is endorsed by) and the popular black musicians, actors, and actresses that he may be close too or have dated in recent history. We are still living in a time where blacks, and other minorities are judged by the color of their skin, and the stereotypical image rather than the on-field production which is the measuring rod in this billion dollar business.
Despite popular opinion there are a number of black quarterbacks who have served as back-up and practice players, as well as former starters who also have seen their fair share of inequalities since joining the NFL Players union. Troy Smith was a former heisman award winner who flamed out quickly and is now a 2nd string QB in the Canadian Football league. Troy Smith started 6 games, and finished with a record of 4 - 2, but Charlie Whitehurst remains a viable back up in the NFL who has had a similar winning percentage but yet still continues to get picked up by teams as a back up. The same can be said about many other black QB’s who have suffered a similar fate. 3rd stringer Logan Thomas was deemed “not” ready by Bruce Arians even after the starting QB had 3 dismal performances in a row heading into the post season, but yet there were no chances taken on him. Yet a Johnny Manziel is launched into the starting Browns QB position despite being in the midst of an AFC North playoff race at 7-5. Terrell Pryor who may be as athletically gifted as any player entering the league in previous history was given 5 opportunities to start with the horrendous Oakland Raiders, and even though the Raiders finished 4-12 in the same season he was eventually cut and has not managed to find a home with other teams. Even one of the most electric players in NFL history Michael Vick is struggling to remain on a roster mainly due to alleged “injury woes” despite the fact that he still has a cannon arm and 4.5 -40 yard dash speed. Yet the often injured an highly unsuccessful Sam Bradford can be traded and expected to start immediately for a Chip Kelly Eagles team that is only 1 year removed from a NFC east title. Not to mention the injury prone Jake Locker’s of the world who were still being considered as starters before retiring. Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, and Mathew Stafford have all filled up a stat sheet, and managed to be elected by fans to pro bowls, but none have yet to find consistent play off success, and between the 3 have 4 playoff wins over the span of 10 years combined. The black quarterback is collared on a much tighter leash, than his white counterparts. Both from a starting, franchise perspective and a developing one. The contrast advocates will be quick to highlight the failures of such athletes such as Jamarcus Russel, but for every Jamarcus there is a Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf. Until Roger Goodell takes a serious look at the disparities African american quarterbacks face in the league there will continue to be cynical headlines that are being ignored by the general public. When it comes to the Quarterback position, it is well-known, and often labeled as the “Face of the franchise” and it appears that the NFL fraternity is doing everything in its power to keep the Black faces to a minimum. Sure there will be blacks in other positions such as wide receiver, running back, and even defensive players who gain recognition. But they are not viewed as the face of the league and are not mentioned among the other publicized professionals regardless of their opinionated success. Could the reason that is preventing other blacks from rising to the top in the NFL the same reason that Marshawn Lynch was not given the ball at the 1 yard line? The NFL is all about numbers and the bottom line, and at the end of the day Roger Goodell and colleagues believe they cannot net the same billions with an abundant of black faces like the NBA does.
Tune in Saturday's for the weekly podcast, and hear Lils discuss whats poppin in the Urban sports media world.