A new barrier was broken on Sunday, February 12th. Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles faced each other as the starting quarterbacks of their respective teams. This was the first time ever in the history of the Super Bowl where both men were Black. Along with the first live on-field singing of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, performed by Emmy award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph, the 57th Superbowl made history in many ways.
When the above is pointed out, people tend to ask, “Why is it always about race?”. Especially since Black men have played in the NFL for over 100 years, why was this year so special and why are we even discussing it?
This question, and others like it, come up whenever we talk about Black History Month or discuss Black people who have contributed positively to American history. Why is it that we make a big deal whenever the first Black person does something? So often people believe that we are elevating Black people above others (aka white people) when we educate others about the first Black person to own property in America or the first Black person to be a CEO. In doing so, are we discrediting others who’ve accomplished these things beforehand? Are we minimizing what others have done in history to highlight important Black people? When we celebrate the first Black person in history to accomplish a certain goal, it is to highlight the racism and bigotry in the past and how those things still have lasting repercussions. This is why it is important to bring attention to it when history is made.
So, why is it important that in 2023 two Black men were starting quarterbacks of their football teams for the first time ever in history? Because it highlights how systemic racism and prejudice affects an entire group of people.
It wasn’t until 2017 that every NFL team finally had a Black man as a starting quarterback in their roster at some point in their history. Historically, Black men were deemed unable to hold such an important position as quarterback. This was 97 years after the first Black man was even allowed to play professionally.
Why? Because White people believed that Black men were less intelligent, less dependable, and that they lacked character, composure, and charisma. They believed that Black men were best suited for other positions such as wide receiver, corner back or running back. Even when these star quarterbacks were drafted from college teams to the NFL, it was with the intention of starting them in these other positions. When players would speak out to coaches about retaining their quarterback positions, the coaches would respond by making them third-string quarterbacks instead. Even when more Black men began to take on quarterback positions leading their team to victories, White commentators would give the credit of the winning streaks to the defensive line of their teams rather than giving Black men credit for their leadership abilities.
Historically speaking, just as in nearly every other area of their lives, Black men need to work harder, perform better and endure racism and bigotry only to have fewer opportunities and less pay than their White peers, even in the NFL—which is made up of 58% Black players.
So, when someone says, “Why does it always have to be about race?”, you can point out that it has ALWAYS been about race. However, young Black athletes can finally see people whom they look like holding important positions and they too can aspire to reach these heights.