by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a controversial figure in 2016 after he knelt on the sideline during the national anthem to protest police brutality. After the season Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, no other team signed him. He filed a grievance against the NFL for collusion, and eventually the matter was settled out of court.
Kaepernick hasn’t played football since.
Recently, the media received a document written by Kaepernick’s agent. It said, “It’s difficult to think of another young player in NFL history with statistics and character as impressive as Colin’s not being given an opportunity to earn a spot on an NFL roster.” This statement made me wonder if Kaepernick fully understood the history of Black quarterbacks in the NFL.
The first Black quarterback in the modern era of the Super Bowl was Marlin Briscoe. In 1968 Briscoe was drafted by the Denver Broncos. Briscoe played quarterback from youth football to college but the Denver Broncos converted him to a defensive back. When Denver’s starting quarterback got injured Denver started him for the last five games of the season. In that short stint Briscoe threw 14 touchdown passes and was a candidate for Rookie of the Year. Denver released him after the season. Briscoe bounced around the league as a wide receiver and never played quarterback again. While Briscoe started quarterback in Denver a reporter wrote, “Of the dozens of quarterbacks on the rosters of the 26 major league professional teams in the United States, Marlin is the only one whose skin is Black… But Marlin is not mainly interested in proving he can run the ball. What he’s trying to show them is that a Black man can run the ball club.”
The stereotype was Black players lacked the character for leadership and didn’t have the intelligence to play quarterback at the professional level.
Kaepernick was born in 1987.
The 1987 Washington Redskins became the Super Bowl champions. That team was quarterbacked by Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. But that didn’t put the stereotype to rest. Williams was a backup who replaced the starting quarterback after an injury and Williams didn’t start the following year. The question remained if teams could build an offense around a Black quarterback and be serious postseason contenders for the duration of that quarterback’s career. At the time there were only two other Black quarterbacks—Houston’s Warren Moon and Philadelphia’s Randall Cunningham. Both were struggling to have success, but Moon and Cunningham were fully aware of what failure meant, so it wasn’t an option. (Warren Moon became a Hall of Famer and Cunningham is a legend.)
Over the next decade Black quarterbacks started to appear on NFL rosters. But the critics said these Black quarterbacks were runners, not passers, as well as poor game managers. One of the best to emerge was Philadelphia’s Donavan McNabb. In 2003, Rush Limbaugh resigned as a co-host of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown after his controversial remarks indicating McNabb wasn’t a good quarterback and the media overrating him because he was Black. Limbaugh suggested there is a social desire for Black quarterbacks and Black coaches to do well and their mediocrity is overlooked.
In 2007 McNabb appeared on HBO’s Real Sports and stated that there’s an element that doesn’t want Blacks to succeed at the quarterback position so Black quarterbacks have to do more than Whites. On a show called the Young Turks the host told his co-host that McNabb was wrong because times have changed. But a 2015 study revealed Black quarterbacks were twice as likely to be benched, or removed from play, than White quarterbacks, and broadcasters often attributed the success of Black quarterbacks to superior athletic skills while attributing the success of their White counterparts to superior intellect.
The next year Kaepernick protested police brutality on the sideline.
If Kaepernick understood the history of the Black quarterback he would have realized the myth of Black mediocrity still existed and he was in a position to make a contribution to its destruction. The struggle continued on the field, not on the sideline. But he took a knee and when quarterbacks do that, the game is over.
Follow @NewPghCourier on Twitter https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier