McNabb Has A Valid Point

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: September 19, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — As the recently chronicled “Black Quarterback” historian in the ESPN book and documentary “Third and a Mile”, I have been constantly asked what is my take on the whole “Donovan McNabb — black quarterback treatment” melodrama.

In my research and with my website (, I have always tried to accentuate the positives of the African American quarterback’s journey preferring to tell the public about “how” far the black quarterback has evolved over a relatively short period of time including their triumphs and obstacles overcome.

But I also recognize that the McNabb comments from his August interview with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” are extremely topical and just won’t go away.

I know it is going to create a firestorm of attention, but I have to agree with the comments of McNabb that black quarterbacks face greater scrutiny than their white counterparts from a historical context. The struggle for acceptance and the battle against undo criticism by some goes back to October of 1953 when Willie Thrower became the first black quarterback to strictly play the position in the NFL.

I have studied this struggle for the past 25 years including my work for “Third and a Mile” and some of the stories that I have heard from past and present black quarterbacks are sometimes tough to hear, but they important to be told.

In the interview that was ironically broadcasted on September 18th after McNabb and the Eagles had played okay in a home loss to the Redskins on Monday Night Football, McNabb said black quarterbacks “have to do a little bit extra” because there are relatively few of them, adding “people didn’t want us to play this position.”

McNabb added if he passes for 300 yards and his team wins by a touchdown, critics will say, “Oh, he could have made this throw here. We would have scored more points if he would have done this.”

Asked if white quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer are held to the same standards, McNabb replied: “Let me start by saying, I love those guys. But they don’t get criticized as much as we do. They don’t.”

As someone who has studied and talked about the plight of the black quarterback more than anyone, I think that the documentation is there that scrutiny from some fans and media points to the difficulty and bias that McNabb is talking about.

Though there are now six black starting quarterbacks in the NFL — McNabb, David Garrard of Jacksonville, Vince Young of Tennessee, Steve McNair of Baltimore, Jason Campbell of Washington and Tarvaris Jackson of Minnesota — and 18 total black quarterbacks currently in the NFL, the journey of the African American quarterback has been long and strained for many quarterbacks.

In my opinion I like that Donovan has decided to speak out against the bias that is out there by some regarding the African American quarterback. Usually the current players that I talk to shy away from the talk of a “black quarterback”, leaving it up to veteran guys like the Field Generals who are no longer playing .

But the elephant is always in the room going back to the treatment of Marlin Briscoe, Joe Gilliam, Doug Williams, Eldridge Dickey, Warren Moon, and other early pioneers. The interesting aspect to me is that McNabb has picked this time to be vocal.

It may have been his comfort level with James Brown, him feeling pressure from his knee injury, tough Philly fans that crave a championship or he felt he had to open up. In the book “Third and a Mile”, Warren Moon talked openly about how he is now in therapy for all of the things he suppressed during his playing day.

In watching almost every game of McNabb’s career with the Eagles, he has received criticism for Eagles teams that didn’t have enough weapons besides him. Is this because of race probably not to the largest extent, but to some it is a factor.

McNabb is a lightning rod player, who over the course of his career has done more with less than anyone over his eight plus years in the league, but he is constantly dogged by some fans and media for his Accuracy, His rift with T.O, throwing up, injuries, losing the Super Bowl and numerous of other criticisms that clearly point to an agenda by some of his doubters.

We all know the criticism should have been spread around for Eagles teams where he was the only option with WR’s like Torrance Small, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash and others that Andy Reid has brought in. These WR’s have offered little to get the team to the next level (Remember Ricky Manning Jr. in the 2003 NFC Championship game) leaving McNabb to be the team’s passer and rusher (before Westbrook).

A person close to McNabb once rhetorically told me “Do you think he has enough weapons?” and “Do you think Peyton Manning would get the same treatment with Donovan’s group?” I agreed with him and hoped that the sentiments were the same ones echoed by Donovan and now we know this was the case. McNabb and other black quarterbacks get questioned just as much as other quarterbacks for losses, but intelligence/guile/leadership issues have been brought up historically when a black quarterback under performs or struggles in big games (i.e The playoffs and Super Bowl).

McNabb has always been the “good soldier” never outwardly questioning the way the team has been handled or the criticism that he and other black quarterbacks face, but now he has taken the step to bringing one of the NFL’s oldest and dirtiest secrets to the forefront.

I think by talking about the African American quarterback’s journey, McNabb can give an insight regarding his and other black quarterback’s struggles with undo criticism and maybe this issue can be put to rest.

After five Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl appearance in 2004, 106 games with passing numbers of 1941 completions (a 58% completion rate for all you haters), 22,504 yards, 153 TDs, and an additional 2,750 yards rushing with 24 TDs, he’s earned the right to speak out about the treatment of the black quarterback like Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams and Hall of Famer Warren Moon.

But we will still see articles like the one wrote by Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News on September 25, 2005 where he wrote in the first line “For the second straight week, Donovan McNabb played like a white quarterback.” And let’s not forget the asinine comments by Rush Limbaugh in 2003 discrediting McNabb’s play because he was a black quarterback.

For anyone that wants to debate me on these historical facts, I welcome the challenge and please read my award winning article from the Pro Football Researchers Association’s Coffin Corner Magazine called “ The Complete History of the African American Quarterback in the NFL” and the ESPN Book “ Third and a Mile“.