The NFL Playoffs have opened sesame for another year. As we settle down in front of our television sets and tune into some American muscle it is easy to forget that for many of the players these moments are lifetimes in the making. Some have overcome more obstacles than others, none more so than Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes — this is the story of the 2019 playoff pioneers.

The NFL playoffs have arrived, and just in time. As the unwelcome January chill has begun to grip our proud little island, our American friends acquaintances are back to provide the winter warmth once more.

Wildcard weekend may have slipped under some of our runny noses, as the magic of the FA Cup apparently takes priority over here. But for those that tuned in (as I did) to the latest output from the country that brought you the questionable concoction of Donald Trump, Lil’ Pump, and the Hamilton musical, I have one question — are you not entertained?

The gladiators on the gridiron have provided a welcome distraction to a nation in shutdown as they gear up for the greatest sporting event on the planet — the Super Bowl (American hyperbole most certainly included).

But that is not to get ahead of ourselves. For to do that would be to ignore the fact that these playoffs, and indeed this season, has been defined by the success and stardom of the black quarterback.

Mahomes (left) embraces Wilson (right) after their regular season matchup [Associated Press Phtoto].

Unprecedently, four of the eight starting quarterbacks during this Wildcard Weekend are black – Deshaun Watson (Texans), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Russell Wilson (Seahawks) and Lamar Jackson (Ravens). Historic appearances that will soon be joined by 2018/19 NFL MVP favourite Patrick Mahomes and his number one seed Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round.

Now many among us might question why we should make a big deal over the fact that just under 50% of the playoff teams will be quarterbacked by black field generals when the league itself is over 70% black, and you might be right.

Can you play wide receiver?

There is still vast amounts of work to be done in deconstructing institutionalized racism in sports, and particularly the NFL. The aforementioned, Lamar Jackson won six of his first seven games to haul the Ravens into the postseason, becoming the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game in the process.

This of course being the same Lamar Jackson that was infamously commanded to work out as a wide receiver at the NFL scouting combine, and has repeatedly been told that he can’t stand in the pocket and throw but is saved by his “dynamic athleticism”, while too being told that he lacks the intellect to read defensive coverages and learn an NFL playbook.

Bill Polian claiming that Lamar Jackson should switch to wide receiver on ESPN.

This might at first seem like a rare instance, but a lesson in white 17th century history will tell you that blacks were seen as intellectually inferior, holding a “cranial [capacity] of only 35 ounces, compared to that of 45 ounces for an “average European …[and] highest gorilla”, while Social Darwinism too informed us of an “intellectual deficit”.

Subsequently, when we understand that this has served as the basis for the majority of our thinking on race, and by association the black athlete, experiences (such as that of Jackson’s at the combine) can be seen in a far more sinister light.

Lamar Jackson quarterbacking the Ravens [Associate Press Photo].

Upon digesting this, it is entirely unsurprising that the last four NFL positions to be de-segregated were those with the most decision-making responsibility: free safety, middle line-backer, center, and quarterback.

Bigler and Jeffries (2008) suggested that coaches feared black athletes would struggle to “grasp the terminology”, while Wigginton (2006) equally suggests that many people still falsely believe that determine white athletes as having “an intellectual… capacity that exceeds all but the exceptional black [athlete]”.

Whichever way you spin it, it has always been “beastly” brawn over “brilliant” brains in the semantic field of the black quarterback, and fundamentally just as players like Jackson will continue to exhibit their superior athletic ability, it is entirely likely that this will be praised to the ignorance of all else.

Cocky or confident?

More than simply lacking intelligence, the black quarterback also supposedly lacks the ability to be a leader of men. Again taking a history lesson will tell you that the recently integrated American football teams of the 1940s were well aware of the “air of bravado” that would come over those black athletes who were afforded playing time, and shockingly these prejudices still remain today.

Deshaun Watson, who led the Houston Texans to and 11-5 record came under fire prior to the season from a superintendent who suggested that you “can’t rely on a black quarterback”, while Cam Newton (not in the playoffs) consistently fights off accusations of immaturity and self-centredness. All too often the difference between confidence and cockiness, is the difference between white and black.

All too often the difference between confidence and cockiness, is the difference between white and black.

It has undoubtedly been a long journey for the black athlete hoping to play quarterback from the “Keep Redskins White” banners in the 1960s, to Doug Williams winning a Super Bowl for that exact ball club, to Warren Moon, McNair, McNabb, Vick, and then to this new crop of playoff pioneers.

Ultimately, this is why we should celebrate the five black men who led their respective cities into some of the biggest sporting arenas this NFL playoffs. Not for making it as a result of the wider de-segregation of the quarterback position, or due to an influx of liberal coaches with 21st century attitudes, but for making it as a result of nothing but their own determination, will-power, and desire to shove prejudice where the sun doesn’t shine — period.

Categories: Sport