April 10, 2014

A Black Quarterback By Any Other Name

I have often stated my amazement at the fact that the President of the United States of America has been a black man for just about the entirety of my seven year old daughter's life.  A person's view of the world is shaped by the particulars of their existence.  If a single person could lead two lives, one of them beginning in 1953 and the other starting in 1993, the result would be two different sets of belief systems and attitudes.  Practically two different people.  It may as well be two different planets they resided on rather than merely different decades.  My daughter and her peers will not grow up thinking that becoming the most powerful person in the world is beyond any of them, be they girl or boy, black or white.  I can't honestly say that this is how I felt as a 7 year old.  No matter how you feel about President Obama's policies and the way in which he has presided, the significance of his presence in the oval office cannot be minimized and its impact will spread indefinitely.

Pictured above is not President Barack Obama, but rather, 9 of the 32 quarterbacks who started for NFL teams in week 1 of the 2013 season.  Now if you were born in 2003 you might simply look at this picture and shrug.  If born in 1993 it might give you slight pause.  If you had my ancient birthday however, you'd likely say something like - Well damn, will you look at that!  One cannot deny that there is significance to this event, not if one has been around long enough to remember when the occurrence seemed quite implausible.

At The Big Lead @thebiglead an article was written by Jason Mcintyre provocatively titled "The NFL is Entering the Golden Age of Black Quarterbacks".  The photo above illustrates rather clearly why it was written.  The reasons cited were primarily football reasons rather than social commentary about the evolution of race relations in this country.  Defensive players, particularly linemen and linebackers, are growing increasingly fast and athletic.  In order for quarterbacks to excel, they needed to do the same.  Dumb stereotypes about black men not being able to handle the thinking man's position of QB have fortunately gone by the wayside over the past few decades, as most false beliefs do (see flatness of the earth as an example).  Removal of such ignorance freed football teams to simply go with the best man for the job, and that has increasingly become the more athletic man, and this leads to the choice being the Black Man more so today than ever before.  If the trend continues, and I see no reason why it won't, then the title of Mcintyre's article is fairly accurate.

This title/premise annoyed at least one sports writer - Robert Littal aka @BlkSportsOnline of Black Sports Online.  It led him to post "Why the Phrase 'Black Quarterback' Should Be Eliminated From Media".  In it he urges us to focus on the skill set of the player, not the race.  Neither Mcintyre nor Littal wrote anything that I particularly disagree with.   They are not even necessarily disagreeing with each other, nor with Jason Whitlock aka @WhitlockJason who also chimed in on Twitter with an endorsement of the piece at The Big Lead.  In my opinion Mcintyre is merely being candid about the fact that there are more African American quarterbacks today than ever before and giving an explanation for why he thinks this is so, whereas Littal doesn't want a race based label placed on any quarterback even though he chose to place a race based label on his blog.  If you read Littal's posts with any regularity as I do, you'll note that he doesn't write about "Black Sports".  He writes about sports.  He also digresses into non sports areas such as photos of beautiful women and "groupie tales" and other stuff which is not especially racial in nature.  His blog, his right.  I'm in agreement with him that we live in a world with far too many labels.  I extend this opinion to matters far beyond quarterbacks.

Rather than writing a rebuttal or endorsement of either piece, I am reprinting an article that I wrote for Suite101.com in 2001 entitled THE BLACK ATHLETE.  That's right, I said in 2001.  Told you I was no spring chicken.  So much water has passed under the Cliche Bridge since I wrote it and yet I didn't need to change a word to re-express my opinion about the issue of race in sports.  Turns out I agreed with both Mcintyre and Littal long before they ever got around to expressing their views on the matter.  Check it out:


Do African-Americans (and individuals of African heritage in general) tend to excel in athletic competition? If answered in the affirmative, what is the rationale behind this phenomenon? And most important of all, what are the implications of this reasoning? Considered objectively, African-Americans clearly represent a significantly larger percentage of professional athletes (particularly at the most elite levels) than the portion of the population that they represent. This is beyond debate. On the track, if anyone will be gaining ground on Marion Jones or Maurice Greene any time soon, in all likelihood they will not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Whether in short distance sprints or long distance marathons, the person who crosses the finish line first usually has brown skin. On most teams in the NBA in recent history, if you were searching for a white man you would have been best served starting with the twelfth man on the bench, if there was one to be found at all. Disproportionate numbers of blacks occupy positions in the NFL that require the most speed, agility, and leaping ability. Think about it. If you were choosing sides for a game of pick up basketball and had to decide between the remaining white guy and the remaining black guy, all other characteristics appearing equal, whom would you choose? Scientists have researched, and some even claim to have found physiological differences that prove members of one race are predisposed to do better at certain tasks than members of other races. If it is taken as factual that a person's heritage makes them more susceptible to a particular disease, then can an equally valid point not be made about one group of people genetically having faster twitch muscles than another?

And so, with both impartial numbers and unbiased science supporting the case, why is the statement that blacks are superior athletes to whites such a controversial one? Why do some people vehemently oppose such a seemingly obvious notion? The answer can be written in black and white. Americais a land obsessed with race relations. Racial prejudice is by no means a lost art in the land of the free, home of the brave. So any broad statement that divides us along color lines will be open to great scrutiny. Even if a generality seems benign, it still constitutes a stereotype. Once a stereotype is accepted by those it is being pinned on, the argument for other less pleasant stigmas is strengthened. Is to accept being labeled as naturally faster worth the cost of also being considered inherently lazier, or less intelligent, or more criminal minded? Of course not. This is a clear cut case of the negatives far outweighing the positives. Sometimes evidence is best left ignored. 

Besides, the latest wave of European imports and special American finds is slowly but surely bringing a semblance of racial balance to the NBA. If any race can be said to be tailor made to dominate Major League Baseball, that honor belongs not to blacks, but to Hispanics. Perhaps the next white heavyweight champion of the world is not lurking around a corner in nearby proximity (I was proven wrong here.  See Brothers Klitschko). But a Brit did recently manage to win and hold the belt for awhile, which is just about as fantastical as the plots of Rocky I through V. 

It's just plain sense that those who were initially excluded from competing at the highest levels of sports would end up excelling when finally given the opportunity. As for dominating or at least achieving fair representation in coaching and front office positions, this is probably still a long time away. One barrier at a time. Changing institutionalized perceptions is a slow process, and Jackie Robinsons come around only every so often. So as tennis goes the way of the Williams sisters; Tiger Woods elevates himself farther and farther above his tennis brethren; and African-Americans continue to smash pigskin myths by demonstrating an aptitude for "thinking" positions like quarterback; those who long for a paler shade of sports are left to take solace for now that not too many folks of brown, yellow, or red complexion have taken much interest in ice hockey yet. 

If you've read this far, you rock!!!  As bonus for those of you not suffering from short attention spans I will cut and paste below some thoughts I wrote about an exceptional athlete/quarterback/black quarterback/ball/er/phenom/whatever you wish to call him, during the 04-05 football season.  The sky appeared to be the limit for this young man who was basically the personification of what I wrote in 2001.  At the time I wrote about him he had led his team the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs early in his career, and it seemed there would be no stopping him any time soon.  There have been quite a few twists and turns in his story since then, but this makes the potential I saw in him and for the change he would bring about in the NFL no less valid.  Check it out:


With all due respect to Tom Brady and his two impressive Super Bowl rings, or to Ben Roethlisberger and his impressive winning streak, the man to whom most eyes would be glued is MICHAEL VICK. Why is that? Well, he just happens to be the most athletically gifted highlight reel making player the NFL has ever seen. He plays the most analyzed and admired position on the field, and does so in an unconventional manner never before witnessed. Yesterday the NFL belonged to the likes of Dan Marino and John Elway, and today belongs to Peyton Manning and his two consecutive league MVP awards. However, if you take Peyton out of his domed home stadium and place him outdoors to face wintry elements, his prowess can be tamed by an elite defense. On any given Sunday a scheme can be concocted to thwart veteran pigskin slingers such as Brett Favre or emerging hot shots like Drew Brees. But just how does one prepare to face a player as talented and unpredictable as Michael Vick? He is two superstars merged into one, both a quarterback with a canon for an arm and a running back with lightning fast legs. Michael Vick may be providing a glimpse at tomorrow in the NFL. Football purists who believe the prototype of a quarterback is a white guy who stays in the pocket and throws perfect spirals right before getting hit in the chest by a charging linebacker probably do not fully appreciate Michael's gifts. Those who can take or leave aging aesthetic values and prefer to focus on the bottom line understand that Vick may beat you with his arm, or he may beat you with his feet, but the important thing is that he will beat you.

The NFL is known as being a copycat league. If a particular game plan proves to be very successful for one team, it’s a brief matter of time before half the league has adopted it. Offensive and defensive fads come and go, and for each one, numerous variations are devised. If Michael Vick proceeds to lead the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl victory, talent scouts throughout the NFL will go in search of running backs with strong arms, or quarterbacks with fast feet. The hybrid QB will be much sought after while the conventional quarterback will become an endangered species. Professional football as we currently know it may be transformed into an entirely different game, sort of like how the NBA went from a league of spot up jump shooters to one of acrobatic dunkers, or how sluggers in baseball could once lead the league in homeruns with 30 in a season, but now hit that many by the All Star break.


1 Comment:
  • Kaepernick isn't black. Russell Wilson isn't black either. He is mulatto . Josh Freeman lost his job to a white European American quarterback. Michael Vick lost his job to a white European American quarterback. RG3 lost his job to a white European American quarterback. Blacks have always scored lower on the wonderlic test than European American quarterbacks. Vick and McNabb have some of the worst scores ever. As far as our president goes he came from the womb of a white person and bares very little resemblance to an African. Completely different colors. His roots are traced to the same township in Ireland that my family comes from and I am proud to call him the first Irish-African American president. Let's discuss baseball sportsscribe. Black pitchers are almost nonexistent in the sport today. The sport is dominated by European American men who stand between 6'5" and 6'7" with the velocity to throw 100 mph. Catchers have similar speed throwing down to second and there are zero black catchers in the league. Let's talk strength. Watch a strongman competition sometime. Again white European and White European American men dominate. We have completely different opinions but one thing I can say is that when you have played 48 Super Bowls and one Super Bowl has been won by a black quarterback I would tend to think the European American quarterback is superior at the position.
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