The quarterback position is becoming increasingly more diverse in the NFL, but recent comments and slights suggest Black QBs are judged with a more critical eye.
The independent study clause in Kyler Murray’s contract extension might have been voided, but it opened old wounds and resurfaced stereotypes that Black quarterbacks have tried to eradicate for years.
The Denver Broncos drafted Marlin Briscoe in 1968 after Briscoe’s standout collegiate career playing quarterback. The Broncos initially intended for Briscoe to play cornerback, but Briscoe insisted the team give him a look at quarterback. After starter Steve Tensi was injured, and his backup was unimpressive, Briscoe got a chance to play quarterback as a rookie and that year became the first Black quarterback to start a game in the Super Bowl era.
Briscoe has discussed the racism and stereotypes he faced, and in some ways, history appears to be repeating itself in the NFL. Many current and former quarterbacks still say Black QBs must work twice as hard proving themselves, despite continued success on the field with players like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson and others.
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“The Black quarterback has had to battle to be in this position that we are to have this many guys in the league playing,” Mahomes said last week. “Every day, we’re proving that we should have been playing the whole time. We’ve got guys that can think just as well as they can use their athleticism.
“It’s always weird when you see guys like me, Lamar (Jackson) and Kyler (Murray) kind of get that on them when other guys don’t. But at the same time, we’re going out there to prove ourselves every day to show we can be some of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Mahomes’ comments came after an anonymous defensive coordinator told The Athletic’s Mike Sando that Mahomes plays “streetball.” Black quarterbacks have faced the stereotype for decades that they aren’t capable of the same mental strengths as their white counterparts and can only use their athleticism, thus the racist term “streetball” to describe them.
Jackson’s had to deal with NFL scouts and pundits calling for him to convert to a running back ever since he entered the league. Hall of Fame team executive Bill Polian, who guided the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowls, once infamously said that Jackson should convert to the wide receiver position.
Murray’s independent study clause was perceived by several former Black quarterbacks as another slight to Black players at the position.
“That’s stereotypical with how some people think,” former NFL quarterback and team executive Doug Williams told USA TODAY Sports. “Kyler Murray has some talent that a lot of other people don’t have, and a lot of people can’t deal with that. Patrick Mahomes, there’s been some things said about him. There’s been some things said about Lamar Jackson. You’re talking about three guys who are fortunate enough to have the ability that they do have.”
Mahomes is a Super Bowl LIV champion and was the game’s MVP. Jackson won the MVP in 2019, and Murray is a two-time Pro Bowler.
Williams, as a player for Washington, became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He believes stereotypes were more prevalent when he was playing but said they still exist.
“That myth is going to be there for years to come,” said Williams, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXII. “It’s not gonna ever go anywhere. We got too many people in America that think a little different than most of Americans do.”
The quarterback position has evolved exponentially since Briscoe took his first snaps decades ago. There are 10 Black projected starting quarterbacks among the NFL’s 32 teams this season.
Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon, like Williams, heard the stereotypes for years.
“From an African American quarterback standpoint, we’ve all heard the stereotypes about what the thoughts were on African American quarterbacks in general,” Moon told USA TODAY Sports. “The stereotypes were we weren’t very smart, we were lazy and we rely on our athleticism and didn’t really study the game.
“All those different things were always criticisms of ours way back in the day when they weren’t giving us a chance to play the position. I think a lot of that has been erased because of guys like myself, like Doug Williams, and I can go on and on through the years.”
However, Moon was disappointed by the independent study clause, hearing “streetball” comments and pleas to switch positions.
“To hear something like that come back out again, it really kind of set us back,” Moon said. “…It was there in black and white.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.