It’s The Definition, Not The Discussion, Of The Black Quarterback That’s Wrong

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 6, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – Quick. What is the definition of a quarterback? According the Webster’s Dictionary built into my word processing program it is “a player positioned behind the center who directs the play by calling signals”. Now if that is the case then it shouldn’t matter if that player playing that position is white or black, right?

For the most part in this time and age of sports, that would seem to be the case. However the racial definition of the position is still very much in the foreground of any discussion because there are literally two schools of theory when it comes to teaching this position to a player.

In the honesty of this debate, it is very much known that players who are Caucasian are taught to be prototypical pocket passers while if that player is Black, that player is taught to use his athleticism.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these schools of theory in teaching the position. When it comes to the game of football itself, the game has now evolved to where it is reflecting the people who play the game.

In a sport where maybe the only time you saw a Black quarterback was at a school like Grambling, Southern or Howard University, you now see them at schools like Penn State, Ohio State, Central Florida, and yes, Texas.

The day of only seeing scrambling signal callers at the Black schools still remains but you are seeing a different Black quarterback than even what you saw at Virginia Tech with Michael Vick. What the nation is now seeing is something that truly was a little known secret. Today’s ‘Black’ quarterback isn’t just a dynamic athlete with his feet.

As Vince Young of Texas showed the nation on Wednesday night, today’s generation of this player is a true playmaker. Yet it is still the definition of this position in football that seems to keep resurfacing.

From J. Whyatt Mondesire’s treacherous piece slamming Donovan McNabb to even the most basic discussion at the barbershop or corporate water cooler, the definition of what makes a Black quarterback continues to either incite a near riot or at least a small civil war.

Even if you take the other school of thought, the pocket passer theory, that can be dismissed because former NFL players like Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young were not pocket passers. They were very mobile. Even to this day, quarterbacks are taught to be mobile because the defensive players are faster and stronger.

Pocket protection is not like it used to be. Yet for some enigmatic reason, the Black community wants to endear itself to saying that Black quarterbacks need to be scramblers. For some unknown position, this community truly believes that the only success a young man who is Black that plays the position behind the center needs to be able to run more than throw.

Any other technique that is taught to these young men is considered taboo in the Black community. Why? Who said that you can’t teach a young Black football player learning this position at ten years old the ‘fundamentals’ and mechanics necessary so that he can maximize his potential?

In all fairness there have been several quarterbacks who have not succeeded like they should at the highest level and that might be the catalyst for why so many in this community want to hold dear to the scrambling runner who can throw the ball every now and then.

Michael Vick is a talented athlete but in this writer’s opinion, he’s an average quarterback. He may have the arm strength and he can move with his feet but if Vick was truly challenged in a game, could he make the proper reads and throw a pass to the ‘hot’ receiver in the West Coast offense?

When you look at former Black quarterbacks who were drafted, many are no longer starting or even serving as the back up to the starter. Jeff Blake, Aaron Brooks, Kordell Stewart. These are just three names that come to mind who many fans, sports experts and talking heads thought would be setting the example for a guy like Young or Ohio State’s Troy Smith.

Of the Black quarterbacks that come to mind who are in the NFL, only McNabb, Culpepper and Byron Leftwitch come to mind as players who are consistently making the grade at that position. Tennessee’s Steve McNair is behind those players but due to his injuries, it just seems that his days may be numbered.

So if the definition needs to be changed and the perception of the Black quarterback needs to be altered, how do you get those tasks accomplished? By having players like Young and Smith.

As the nation has seen during the week of the Bowl Championship Series bowl games, those quarterbacks who happen to be of African American descent can do more than just run; they can make game changing decisions that put their teams in winning positions.

This has always been the knock on Black quarterbacks. The question of “can these athletes make decisions that win games” have always been a part of that dreadful definition of what a Black quarterback is. Well as we have all witnessed in the past week, not only can Black quarterbacks make the ‘right’ decision in the game, they can also be the playmakers that leaders should be when the game is on the line.

The bar has been raised now because from the small Pop Warner programs all the way to high school, Black football players who are being taught this important position are learning how to be game breakers when it counts.

So let’s keep the discussion of who are some of the great Black quarterbacks going in the Black community. Let’s add Young to that list that has the McNairs, McNabbs, Randle Els and others who have done well at the collegiate level and let’s continue to have meaningful dialogue as to how the future football players who are aspiring to be in the next Rose Bowl can learn from watching Young’s performance and still learn the fundamentals and mechanics of the position.

But let’s also work on changing the definition of what is a Black quarterback. As it was clearly shown, Young doesn’t even fit that definition and folks, that’s a good thing for everyone who is a football fan; no matter what your racial make up or ethnicity may be.