Black Men Can’t Throw

Robert Griffin III: The Next Black Quarterback Hope

In my mind, Steve Spurrier – the former head ball coach at Duke, Florida, and current coach of South Carolina – is the finest evaluator and developer of quarterbacks in college football (well, maybe not so much at South Carolina, where he seems more interested in getting borderline retards enrolled to play football then developing a sound quarterback).

Names like Shane Matthews, 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, Doug Johnson, and Rex Grossman stand-out as quarterbacks that Spurrier has tutored to greatness. One thing is noticeable about this group of people: they are all white.

Quarterback has long been the position in football that has eluded the Black athlete. For one reason: the deep-seated stereotype that Black people aren’t smart enough to learn the complex offense, defensive schemes and that they lack the ability to discern variations in blitzes so they can audible the play to one that best suits the personnel on the field.

It is a well-known fact that college football and the NFL has been cognizant of this discrepancy (consider that, though the NFL is comprised of 69 percent Black athletes, since 1998, the quarterback position has been higher than 75 percent each year). 

It is telling then that only in 2005 did Steve Spurrier finally start a Black quarterback. Joseph Pearce wrote an article for The State to celebrate this event:

USC quarterback Antonio Heffner’s first career start also will be a first for Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier.

When Heffner takes the field Saturday at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, he will become the first black quarterback to start for Spurrier, whose 21-year, head-coaching career includes stops at Duke, Florida, Tampa Bay of the USFL and the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

Spurrier started two black quarterbacks as Duke’s offensive coordinator, recruited several black passers while at Florida, and had backup quarterbacks with the Tampa Bay Bandits who were black.

But Heffner, a redshirt freshman from Memphis, will be the first to start while Spurrier has been a head coach.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what Antonio does Saturday night. He’s done some good things in practice this week, so it’ll be interesting,” Spurrier said Thursday. “This is his opportunity. We all get that first opportunity. This is his. I think he’ll be as best prepared as he can.”

Former Florida quarterback John Reaves, who played under Spurrier in the USFL and later coached with him in Gainesville, said Spurrier is more concerned with winning percentage than skin color.

“Steve doesn’t care. He just wants to win,” Reaves said. “He’ll take a Chinese quarterback.”

When Spurrier was Duke’s offensive coordinator in 1981-82, Brent Clinkscale and Ron Sally, both of whom are black, started a couple of games in place of Ben Bennett. Sally later followed Spurrier to the USFL in Tampa Bay, where he and Billy Koonce, another black quarterback, were backups to Reaves.

When Sally and Ben Bennett were competing for the starting job, Spurrier was equally demanding of both.

“There was no racial distinction,’ said Sally, a former executive with the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets.

Spurrier inherited a black quarterback when he arrived at Florida in 1990. According to Reaves, Donald Douglas went through winter workouts and spring practice with the Gators before transferring to Houston.

Spurrier also inherited a black quarterback at USC. Syvelle Newton played all 11 games at quarterback in 2004, including five starts. On the day Spurrier was hired at USC in late November, Dean Boyd, Newton’s coach at Marlboro County, predicted that Newton would not fit in Spurrier’s offensive system.

“We all know what Spurrier likes to see in a quarterback: tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed,” Boyd said at the time. “I fear it’s not going to be good for Syvelle. Syvelle’s a good college quarterback, but he isn’t the kind of quarterback (Spurrier) would go for.”

Boyd said he did not mean to imply that race would factor into Spurrier’s evaluation of Newton. He said he was pointing out that Spurrier generally preferred pocket passers to more mobile quarterbacks.

“It wasn’t a black-white thing with me. It was more of a dropback (versus) a sprint-out thing,” Boyd said Thursday. “I know what Syvelle’s strengths were as a quarterback, and it was more a run-oriented quarterback.”

Newton moved to receiver shortly after Spurrier’s arrival, clearing the path for Blake Mitchell, more of a dropback passer than Newton.

Mitchell started the first four games this season before spraining his left ankle last week in USC’s 45-20 win against Troy. Spurrier named Heffner the starter early in the week and said Newton will be the emergency quarterback at Auburn.

“The ideal quarterback is a guy that can throw like Joe Namath and run like Michael Vick,” Spurrier said. “I’ve always wished I had a quarterback that when you call a play that, ‘Gee, that’s not good against that defense,’ he bounces out and makes 18 yards running.

“We tried to recruit top quarterbacks, regardless of black or white,” Spurrier said. “And sometimes when we don’t have one for so long there’s a few high school coaches that say, ‘He wouldn’t play a black quarterback.’

“I don’t know what I can do about it. If I wouldn’t play a black quarterback, why would I play a black center, a black guard, wide receiver?”

In 1991, Spurrier signed Antwan Chiles, a black quarterback who transferred to Division I-AA Liberty. Before leaving Florida after the 2001 season, Spurrier laid the groundwork in the recruitment of Gavin Dickey, a black quarterback who has played several positions for the Gators.

Reaves, whose son, David, is a USC assistant, said he never has known Spurrier to base a personnel decision on race.

“He ain’t like that at all,” Reaves said. “Never a word or breath out of his mouth in any direction like that.”

“We all just play the best players,” Spurrier said. “I don’t know any coach in America that has lasted any time that has been prejudiced. I don’t know any out there.”

For historical purposes only, Auburn won 48-7 that day. College football coaches don’t “just play the best players” but instead primarily focus on recruiting Black males as early as their freshmen years in high schools. Remember though, that Black people mature faster than white people, and remember that most college coaches don’t recruit white running backs, receivers, or defensive backs, because they are constantly compared to Black athletes who have – for the most part – reached their physical maturity by the time they are 16 – 17.

Quarterback has been a position that Black athletes have had a difficult time of dominating. Noticing that Black athletes do have a numerical superiority of roster spots at certain positions, is it only fair to speculate that intelligence (and quick decision making) could play a factor in the lack of Black quarterbacks?

Though the 2010 college football was one that The Wall Street Journal dubbed “The year of the Black Quarterback“:

When Cameron Newton and Darron Thomas square off in college football’s upcoming national-title game, everyone will be talking about the two quarterbacks’ fleet feet, their accurate arms and their leadership abilities.

The one thing no one is discussing: They’re both black.

As the Jan. 10 national-title showdown between Mr. Newton’s Auburn Tigers and Mr. Thomas’s Oregon Ducks approaches, it’s gone virtually unmentioned how black quarterbacks have been the story of the 2010 season. Major-college teams have long had black quarterbacks, of course—Cornelius Greene of Ohio State, Dennis Franklin of Michigan and numerous others operated conservative, run-based offenses back in the 1970s. But never has the achievement level of black quarterbacks been so high. 

It’s hardly just them. In the six major conferences—the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Southeastern—six black quarterbacks were named first- or second-team all-conference. That’s half of the spots. (A seventh, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, was named Big Ten offensive player of the year.) This occurred even though black quarterbacks held less than a third of the 65 starting quarterback positions.

The success of black quarterbacks in college football dovetails with how blacks began to stand out in other sports decades ago, says Ben Carrington, an associate professor of sociology at Texas. “There was a phenomenon that, for black players to gain acceptance, they had to be exceptional,” he said. “You couldn’t be average. People are less cognizant of race today, but quarterback is historically thought of as a white position.”

Let’s get a few things straight: for decades, those same people who believe Black people hold a monopoly on “speed” have been engaging in a bit of social engineering to try and get more Black athletes at the quarterback position. The spread offense is one such attempt, an offense that 48 offenses in college (as of 2009) run currently.

Andrew Luck: The future of the NFL

This has given Black athletes like Denard Robinson of Michigan, Dennis Dixon and Darren Thomas of Oregon, and Robert Griffin III of Baylor the opportunity to utilize that Black “speed” to be a dual-threat quarterback (one who can both beat a defense by throwing and running). Strangely, a number of college football teams have established a tradition of only playing Black quarterbacks: Virginia Tech, Oregon, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, and West Virginia have firmly entrenched a Black-only policy at quarterback as of late.

Perhaps this is because of the divisive nature that not playing a Black quarterback can have on a team. Racial quarterback controversies have continually plagued and divided Penn State teams over the years. In 2000, Mike Dubose last Alabama was ripped apart by a controversy over starting a Black Andrew Zow or a white Tyler Watts. It even plagued Grambling (a HBCU) when they started a white quarterback named Michael Kornblau back in the 1990s. It happened to white quarterback Marcus Jacoby at Southern University too.

Back in 1988, Doug Williams was the first Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. It seemed the crusade to find a capable Black quarterback was complete. Twenty-three years later, that crusade is still on-going:

When it comes to breaking barriers, Williams has both figuratively and literally written the book on the subject — his book “Quarterblack: Shattering the NFL Myth,” was published in 1990. And since the day he hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the progress African-Americans have made in both the coaching and quarterbacking ranks in the NFL has been undeniable.

In celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with Williams to get his take on the progress the NFL has made with regard to opportunities for African-Americans:

It’s OK to be a backup: “I’m a firm believer in guys who are not starters. I applaud the Pittsburgh Steelers for believing in the Rooney Rule [which requires NFL teams to interview African-American candidates for head-coaching and senior-level opportunities], but also the quarterback side of it. They have two African-American quarterbacks [Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich] who are backups. If you look around the league, that’s hard to find. For the most part, if you’re not a starter, you don’t get a second chance.”

Black QBs need to be developed: “You have to be willing to let the black quarterback be your third guy. If you go down the rosters of NFL teams, there aren’t many third black quarterbacks. Joe Webb was up in Minnesota, and Tarvaris Jackson is the backup. We have to get more backups in the hopper, which will lead to more opportunities.”

Black quarterbacks need to be trusted: “Coaches have to sit down and talk realistically to black quarterbacks and tell them what to expect. There’s a lot of work to be done, and expectations are bigger than you imagine. There’s a trust there and the guy has to believe in you. We’ve made progress with Michael Vick getting a second chance. Then again, some of the scrutiny that Donovan McNabb went through, as much as he’s done over his career, I think that’s a little unfair.”

 Why is there no crusade to get more white running backs (like Southern Methodist’s Zach Line) and develop them? Why aren’t white receivers being nurtured to be trusted to make the big catch? Why is there a social movement – really, a crusade — to get Black quarterbacks in a more prominent role at the NCAA and NFL level? What about the paucity of white corner backs or safety’s? Two white starting corner backs at the college level, Greg Heban of Indiana and Texas Tech’s Sawyer Vest were both walk-ons. As is starting white safety Jordan Kovacs at Michigan.

Where’s there social movement? Why isn’t Jason Sehron mentoring them and others with articles at ESPN?

Ebony Magazine had this article published back in 1989 about Black quarterbacks:

The quarterback is perhaps the most glamorous and revered position in sports. The very word epitomizes the endearing qualities of a triumphant field general: ability, brilliance, control, maturity and, above all, leadership. For years, the quarterback was seen as one of football’s ultimate authority figures and a position very few Blacks were allowed to hold.

Is this why there is a movement to find more Black quarterbacks to start at colleges all across the country, and then – God willingly – hopefully complete the Black-out of the NFL?

The New York Times wrote this about Russell Wilson, a transfer to Wisconsin from North Carolina State, before the season started:

With his arrival as a one-year transfer from North Carolina State, Wilson is ringing in a new era of Wisconsin football, which has always been heavy on steak and light on sizzle. The addition of the dynamic Wilson marks an evolution for the Badgers from their between-the-tackles roots.

So you see, each year, a Black quarterback is picked to be heavily profiled and promoted as the next big thing. Vince Young, Jamarcus Russell, and Michael Vick all had their shot as well in the NFL. Before the NFL season was one week old, Cam Newton was pegged as the Black savoir for the Black quarterback, until the reality of Tim Tebow set-in.

A man who might win the 2011 Heisman Trophy, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, has been pegged as the next potential savior for the Black quarterback. Here’s Sports Illustrated on him:

Spend enough time in the orbit of Robert Griffin III—known around Waco, Texas, as RG3, Superman, Black Jesus, the Ambassador and the Most Exciting Player in College Football—and it’s impossible to shake the thought that the cheery quarterback was constructed in a secret military lab in southern Japan. Yes, official records contend that Griffin, 21, was born at Camp Lester on Okinawa to two loving Army sergeants, Robert Jr. and Jacqueline. (The family settled in Copperas Cove, Texas, in time for Robert III to go to kindergarten.) But these days, as a legend mushrooms around the Griffins’ only son, suspicions about his merely human origins have followed. “You can put limitations on even the great ones,” says decorated Baylor track and field director Clyde Hart, who has coached Olympic gold medalists Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. “With Robert, you can’t do that. He’s … different.”

Griffin plays in the Big 12, a league not exactly known for their defense. He is the beneficiary of the spread offense (like Denard Robinson) system, and it will be interesting to see if he has the ability to be the drop-back passer that Steve Spurrier is so found of recruiting and developing.

So let’s just get to the point: for decades, there has been a concerted effort to develop, recruit, promote, and celebrate the Black quarterback.

The same can’t be said for white running backs, white corner backs, or white defensive backs. 

Despite all of this, it’s pretty obvious that Black Men Can’t Throw.

Perhaps it does have something to do with intelligence after all.

If only Tim Tebow were Black, then you’d see a media push like you wouldn’t believe.



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