Raise your hand if the name Doug Williams is in your consciousness.
The name is relevant for a number of reasons. It is especially relevant to this Black woman football die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan.
Way back in the stone ages when I first began to watch football Doug Williams was a quarterback. He was not my quarterback he led the hated Washington
Deadskins Redskins. You always remember the QB who gashed your defense, and you always remember your first.
It was in 1988 that Doug Williams made history by being the first Black quarterback to hoist the Lombardi trophy in victory. Frankly it was kind of a big deal.
In my world it was bitter sweet that I could celebrate a milestone in Black history, while cursing the man’s existence as an Eagles fan. Yes I am old enough to recall that Doug was the first, yet I am not old enough to recall the specifics of the media coverage that surrounded his accomplishment.
I recall feeling joyous he was one of ‘us’. Other than that the magnitude of his accomplishment escapes me. Give it to my youth and not my heart.
Over the years the characterization, fetishization, and dissection of the Black quarterback continued.
After Doug Williams, and Warren Moon more doors were opened for Black men to assume the position of quarterback.
We’ve … well ME … witnessed over the years the media coverage of Black quarterbacks and frankly have been disturbed at the coverage.
Back in 1999 it was clear to me that the tale of the Black quarterback was irrelevant and relevant at the same time. Donovan McNabb Tim Couch Cade McNown Dante Culepepper Akili Smith… five men chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. 3 Black men.
It was an especially rich quarterback draft and the success of McNabb and Culepepper vs the failure of Couch was a story. It was a big story.
When the dust settled a few years later the last man standing was Donovan McNabb. He holds the records in Philadelphia for quarterbacks and led the team to 5 NFC championship games during his career.
The fans of the city never stopped calling for the White qb on the bench behind him though. Not once. The story of McNabb ended not with a bang but a whimper, and Fox Sports now pays him to commentate…..yet the story of the Black quarterback rolls on and on.
Except it didn’t this year during the biggest game of the year.
The Superbowl featured Peyton Manning who will most certainly be a first ballot HOF and Russell Wilson a 25 year old kid marginalized as a “game manager”. The fact that Wilson threw zero interceptions in the playoffs was ignored. The fact that the Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman was the textbook definition of game manager called Wilson a game manager was ignored. BTW…. Aikman managed his way into the HOF
Also pretty much ignored was the fact that Wilson is in fact a Black quarterback.
There is progress in that obviously. When only the second of his kind hoists the Lombardi in victory and no one mentions it that is progress. It speaks to an overall acceptance of his ability as an athlete and does not marvel at the color of his skin. It says that overall we understand that Black men are “smart enough” to “manage the game” and that too will open doors for those who will come after.
I wonder if the progress is actually because we’ve overcome the novelty or if we simply prefer to not use the word Black.
We are not in a post racial America by even the furthest stretch of the imagination. People of color might even make the case the racial divide is greater than ever as the first Black President of the United States is under never ending assault not for his policy but for the color of his skin.
Yet, the fact that Russell is indeed Black gets no ink in the sports press and barely a whisper on social media like Black Twitter. It speaks to an acceptance that Black men can be the epitome on the field, yet it also speaks that off the field we’ve not yet overcome.
In American professional sports we’ve gotten used to Black men being the best that laced up to play. There are Black superstars in three of the four majors – baseball, football and basketball. There are more NFL and NBA players who are Black than any other race. Hell even hockey has a Black face on the ice now and then.
Off the field though, the success of the Black man is hit and miss. We can look up to President Obama while at the very same time see double digit unemployment rates with those who look like him. We can wring our hands in concern at drug addiction and incarceration rates.
While our young Black and gifted are celebrated for ball handling, the young and Black are invisible to the rest of America…outside of our law enforcement officials.
Applause to Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks for getting it done.
Now how do we make the rest of our Black men both relevant and irrelevant at the same time?