The Black Quarterback: Change the Narrative

Denard Robinson has two games of 200/200 during the 2010 campaign…a record.

Quarterbacks are the most scrutinized athletes in sports. The great ones are deified while the greatly misunderstood are criticized. Young talent shredding veteran defenses are marketed for the next generation, while hyped former number 1 picks ride the pine making millions holding clip boards. The system of evaluating quarterbacks should be based on merit and not what our perception of what a quarterback should be. Times are changing and a new wave of athlete is poised to storm the NFL like never before. Over the horizon flies a crop of poised signal callers that will change the way we view the position and race is an issue whether you realize it or not.

History is documented through repetition. If it’s written, it will be remembered. These pieces should not have to be written but if the Black quarterback is to be taken seriously with history in mind, they must be penned…

This is not for those who are socially grounded but more for those who seek to divide true fans of sport.

Denard Robinson early in his sophomore season is doing things no other quarterback has ever accomplished statistically. If he continues on this current pace…rushing and passing for 2000 yards…and Michigan wins 8 games, why shouldn’t he be considered to win the Heisman ala Tim Tebow for an 9-4 Florida squad in 2007? He flashed into the limelight because of his supersonic performances and because he’s Michigan’s quarterback. Shoelace, as he is nicknamed, must show and prove to win the award despite a bad game (by his standards) vs. a highly motivated Michigan State squad. Yes, he made 3 bad throws vs. the Spartans but if he continues to develop his passing skills to go along with his highlight reel running game, the sky is the limit for this kid.

What can’t be denied is a notion (reticent as it may be) Denard Robinson doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful quarterback on the NFL level. He’s a sophomore so give him time and then judge his talent properly.

What if Denard Robinson wins the Heisman Trophy and Terrelle Pryor is picked first in the upcoming draft? This could happen…which would be another first.

Speaking of Pryor…who has yet to have a bad outing…when he signed with Ohio State three years ago, his announcement was one of the most anticipated college football has ever witnessed. The 6’6″, 240 pound speedster equipped with a cannon arm seems to be the quarterback most will be compared to as the position evolves. Jim Tressel and his staff have been patient with Pryor and now the Buckeyes head into the showdown with Wisconsin the number one ranked team in America with a significant shot at winning it all. Terrelle is gifted in so many facets that it’s hard to figure out truly where he excels and that’s not a bad thing. Ohio State wins the national title and he will have to be evaluated as potentially the number one pick in the 2011 NFL draft given his tremendous upside. If a NFL team with a quarterback need passes over Pryor simply because of the perception he is too raw…that team is stupid.  He is a physical behemoth and one of the few quarterbacks that should be able to withstand NFL hits as a field general. He has matured tremendously as a passer this season and will continue to grow as long as he understands the work it takes to one day become one of the great quarterbacks Western Pennsylvania is known for.

It’s easy to see LeBron James in Terrelle given his attributes and when I asked LeBron about Pryor, his responses were interesting.

From 2009:

Michael Tillery: LeBron, does the thought ever cross your mind about playing quarterback in the NFL?

LeBron James: Once I got to high school, I didn’t play much quarterback. I wanted to play wide receiver. I was a big fan of Randy Moss and  Peter Warrick coming up. I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I played quarterback as a youngster, but I always wanted to be a receiver.

MT: The reason why I ask is because on my site, we discussed you possibly being the best athlete ever. I tried to convey to my readers that your combination of physical attributes would translate to any sport seamlessly.

LBJ: Appreciate that.

MT: When I look at Terrelle Pryor and his development in football, I see the same athlete you are in basketball.

LBJ: Same?

LeBron gives me the C’mon man look. Then we share a laugh.

MT: Obviously not at this point bruh.

LBJ: He played  basketball in high school too.

MT: Yeah, I’m not talking about basketball. I’m speaking of the athlete he is now compared to the athlete you were at that same stage physically.

LBJ: Right, right, right. I see what you are saying. You are definitely right about that.

MT: Are you two cool like what’s being reported?

LBJ: Not like that. I’ve been down there a few times and met him but I don’t have him on speed dial or nothing like that. I’m an open guy though. Somebody needs help? If Terrelle is one of those guys who may need help one day? I have no problem giving advice.

MT: I wanted to take the ubiquitous Black quarterback discussion further because cats like you are sticking to the soul sphere instead of airing out Jim Brown’s lunch pail.The way you drive down the lane now? Just imagine looking over the damn near seven foot linemen, getting into your five step drop, hittin’ Randy Moss in stride or taking off like Randall.

LBJ: (Shakes head) Man that would have been something.

MT: Did you have any kind of arm?

LBJ: Yeah, I could throw the ball sixty yards. I was the third string qb. If we threw a double reverse pass, then I could throw the ball down field.

I was just fascinated with being that guy that made plays down the field catching the ball man. I just had that knack and matter of fact there were already two quarterbacks in place and had been there. I was put in a position to excel at receiver because I was so good at it so it stuck.

MT: When was the decision made to push football aside and why was it made?

LBJ: We lost the state championship my junior year in basketball. My senior year, I just refocused myself to the game of basketball–completely. I loved to play  football. To this day, one of my only regrets was not playing my senior year, but that loss hit me hard so I rededicated myself to the game I play now.


I reference this interview because what if more basketball players played football? How would the game evolve if a physical freak like LeBron committed fully to becoming an NFL quarterback? Of course there’s more to the game than physical prowess but if a player has one aspect of the game in hand, more defined nuances can be achieved through hard work and discipline.

What is the reason many don’t chose to do so? Is it strictly the mental and physical demands or more consistently stated, a lack of motivation to learn the position because of other sport influences?

Is there pressure to change positions? Of course there is. I know NFL offensive coordinators are salivating over the prospect of Terrelle Pryor becoming this change of pace gimmick or even a bigger Kellen Winslow running around and over NFL defenses. In a different time, he might not have had a choice…which brings the conversation to Warren Moon…

We could go back further, but let’s start with 1978 just to show that much hasn’t changed in 34 years. Despite fighting crazy odds to simply start for a Division 1 program (Moon starred at West Los Angeles College in 1974-1975 because schools wanted to change his position),  Warren Moon became the first Black quarterback to play in a Rose Bowl when his #13 Washington Huskies defeated the #4 Michigan Wolverines 27-20. Moon was named MVP behind a TD pass in the air and two on the ground.

He was not drafted and from where I sit, that unfortunate development altered NFL history. Black high school quarterbacks began their college careers as tailbacks, receivers or defensive backs. There had to be this “What if?” specter shadowing their time spent on the gridiron until they finally made up their minds this is the only NFL shot they’d ever get. It’s so ridiculous to even entertain the thought a Black quarterback cannot be a leader or more importantly the face of a franchise.

Is this what it’s really about? Is the fear Black quarterbacks will take over the league alarming enough there will always be resistance for the status quo to submit to their physical and mental prowess and unequivocally give them a shot?

If Black quarterbacks gain traction in the NFL will fans run away as they have the NBA? Is this an NFL front office concern with the way quarterbacks are promoted in mind?

What if Warren was simply given a shot like Tom Brady received in New England? Would he win multiple Super Bowls? Would he be the season passing yardage record holder? Possibly. We can also speculate where Moon would rank on the career passing list if not for his 6 year “sabbatical” in the CFL but really…what would that prove?

The point is he should have been given a shot.

There have been many Black quarterbacks who didn’t get an opportunity: Joe Gilliam and Tony Dungy past; Brad Smith and Josh Cribbs present…Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor future?

Did Randall Cunningham properly get his shot? No, of course not. Philly would rather him lead the team in rushing 4 straight seasons than providing him with elite offensive talent. It was not until 1998 when Denny Green plucked him from the marble cutting scrap heap did we truly see how talented Randall Cunningham was.

If it wasn’t for that damn Gary Anderson…

How will Cam Newton be viewed? He’s huge and runs with the best of them.

(Editor’s note: vid added 12.15.11 because of previous broken link–Michael Tillery)

What about the howitzer armed Russell Wilson? What…do you think he’s too short or has more of a future in baseball?

There are others. Look at Robert Griffin III down at Baylor. He’s mainly a pocket quarterback. Fast, intelligent with a gifted cannon. Why shouldn’t he be considered as the eventual number one pick when his time in Waco is up? Mack Brown wanted to make him a defensive back? Why?

Changing a quarterback’s position is one of the more racist exercises in sports. Do scenarios exist that necessitate a position change? Yes of course, but it appears Black quarterbacks are affected the most.

How are we to properly examine the influence of Black quarterbacks if they are pushed to other positions simply because they are the most athletic players on the field? Coaches on every level must stop relying on the lower half of their bodies just to win and assume responsibility for encouraging development of their upper half…patiently.

Why wouldn’t you want the player with the best chance to score in a myriad of ways to have the ball in his hands the most?

But…again…talent must be tempered with patience and wisdom.

It seems Black quarterbacks must win the Super Bowl on their first pass of preseason and if they aren’t successful the carpet is pulled from under them. Let’s be real, most will fail just as any other quarterback has (and will) and only if the narrative is corrected will true talent and desire succeed.

It’s time for exploits of Black quarterbacks to be recognized and respected the same as their White counterparts. I liken it to the tremendous talent that has gone mainly unnoticed in baseball’s Negro Leagues. What if Satchel Paige pitched in the majors as a rookie or if Josh Gibson faced MLB pitching when his face was still smooth? Wouldn’t history be changed forever? The answer is more likely yes than no.

Everyone knows I’m hellbent on properly documenting Donovan McNabb’s career. His trade from Philadelphia to division rival Washington was foolish given his charity work, resume and talent. The trade sent shock waves through the sports world and even Super Bowl winning head coaches Tony Dungy and Mike Ditka adamantly stated they would never have traded McNabb. Franchise quarterbacks come along not so often and that the Redskins are 3-2 and tied with two other teams in the NFC East despite lesser offensive talent can be directly attributed to where Donovan should stand in NFL history.

He beat Super Bowl favorite Dallas in week one.

In the biggest NFL story this season, McNabb returned home and defeated his former team the Philadelphia Eagles.

He made sure his detractors knew of it and given his penchant for maintaining professionalism with the media, I’m glad he said this:

If he was properly respected, there would have been no need for him to state the obvious. Donovan is human and that he didn’t speak out in similar fashion a long time ago is downright noble.

He threw for 357 against another Super Bowl favorite, the Green Bay Packers in a very dramatic overtime victory but hey he doesn’t win the big game? He throws the ball in the ground? He hasn’t won a Super Bowl?

Neither have most of the greats and if you don’t highlight what Donovan can do instead of what he hasn’t done, I will be the one to do so.

I guess there’s a reason why one Black quarterback is enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame out of all the Black athletes who have played the position.

Barack is no different. What is this fear?

Let’s look down the line…say Donovan doesn’t sign a long term deal with the Redskins. How would his legacy be defined if he ends up in Minnesota? Could you imagine Adrian Peterson running angry and tremendously inspired while Randy Moss streaks to end zones near and far with 5’s strong armed bombs in tow?

What about Josh Freeman? When will he receive the media backing Flacco and Ryan have received early on? Is he not just as talented? He’s proven to be clutch and what if his Bucs defeat the defending Super Bowl champs this week?

Despite the accomplishments of the aforementioned Moon and McNabb, do front offices, fans and media still view Black quarterbacks as running backs in the year 2010?

When officials see Black quarterbacks, do they see runners or passers?

There was no flag on this play and subsequently no fine? This weeks after Ray Lewis complained quarterbacks are too protected. The obvious exception is Brett Favre in the NFC Championship vs. New Orleans. Brett was rocked all game. Rocked enough his coaching staff notified the league office.

Does the trickle down effect of the current Black athlete quarterback narrative seep into the minds of veteran officials not used to seeing QB athleticism on the NFL level because of the narrative? Cunningham and Vick? Quarterbacks or running backs? Steve Young…quarterback or running back? John Elway…quarterback or running back?

Do your research.

Writers, if they’re so inclined, must have courage to attack issues that divide us. Sports is the perfect opportunity to do so. I wrote this simply to elicit discussions that will lead to fairness for all. There is room for NFL field generals of all races to maintain a level of success. Through this success and if a more objective narrative is expressed, the next generation of athlete will have an easier transition to assume his or her place among the best there is or ever was. Instead of promoting Andrew Luck, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett exclusively as high draft picks on the next level, speak of others just as talented as well.

Open your minds and check the win columns more than strictly gauging quarterbacks statistically or by some ridiculous “eye test”. Think of how a first down gained on 3rd and 10 on the ground influences the game result as opposed to a quarterback throwing the ball out of bounds because no one is open. Doesn’t that provide the team with an extra possession potentially leading to victory?

Yes. Celebrate our differences and our collective future will be exclusive of the bs that holds us all back.

Change the narrative.

19 Responses to “The Black Quarterback: Change the Narrative”

  1. dsank43 says:

    Yessir!!! Great article. Glad that ypu wrote this Mike. The media has failed to address this issue for too long. Also when will it be noted that Carson Palmer has been awful for 3 seasons now.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Darren Sankey and Kenny , Michael Tillery. Michael Tillery said: "The Black Quarterback: Change the Narrative | The Starting Five" – One mo' go around on TSF. […]

  3. Temple3 says:

    I love the piece — and the innocence in the question, “What is this fear?”

    C’est la guerre.

  4. […] The Black Quarterback: Change the Narrative Quarterbacks are the most scrutinized athletes in sports. The great ones are deified while the greatly misunderstood are criticized. Young talent shredding veteran defenses are marketed for the next generation, while hyped former number 1 picks ride the pine making millions holding clip boards. The system of evaluating quarterbacks should (Read more …) […]

  5. Kenny says:

    To me, this starts in high school.

    Tillery, we have a similar stance on this so much that it’s scary. I live in Texas, arguably the King of high school football (although I give Florida their due, if they wanna say they’re the best, but that’s another discussion for another day).

    Every week, I go watch games, and more often than not, a quarterback of one of the teams is Black. These kids are put in positions by their coaches to just go out there and win. They don’t receive the proper attention to hone their QB skills to a college’s liking, because, in my opinion, some of these coaches realize the kid is so talented that he’ll just lead them to a state championship, earn a scholarship, and then move on.

    Man, I could go all day on this. It’s something that passionate doesn’t even describe, but I’ll stop for now. If anything, you just inspired a post for me to write. We’ll chop it up soon, brother. Great stuff.

  6. GrandNubian says:

    Great article. I enjoyed reading it.

    Last year I posted in another forum that the pocket-passer’ will almost become extinct in the years ahead. With DEs and LBs running a 4.4 and 4.3 respectively, you can best believe the mobile QB is going to be the future of the league. Every position has undergone some form of transformation over the years. The QB position is the last position to go through this change, for various reasons. But it WILL happen as it is only a matter of time.

  7. Miranda says:

    Great stuff Mizzo – the subtle little digs at Denard by the lamestream sports media has not gone unnoticed by me either.

    GN, I was just having this conversation with some friends after we all read this:

  8. Miranda says:

    ROFLMAO @ Primetime! That video is hilarious!

  9. Temple3 says:


    That is a funny video. It’s hard to take issue with what he says.

    67 offensive players, 37 defenders — 19 quarterbacks.

    If he played his entire career in Dallas or S.F. he’d have easily made the Top 10. All he did in ’94 and ’95 was punk Steve Young and Troy Aikman and decide the balance of power in the NFC…that’s all.

    I agree with critics of his tackling — so does he (sort of), but his skills as a cover corner were easily the best I’ve seen. I do not have mental image of him getting torched by any single receiver for an entire game. I have that for Woodson (Sterling Sharpe, thank you very much!). I have that for Champ Bailey (Jerry Porter in the snow!). I have it for a lot of guys. Not for Deion.

  10. GrandNubian says:


    Yeah, I can’t recall anyone getting the best of Deion.


    Not sure if you remember this or not, but I have an image of Louis Lipps torching Darrell Green, specifically on an 80 yd bomb.

  11. HarveyDent says:

    Fire column, Miz, and glad to see you continuing the steady drumbeat to have Black QB’s of the past, present, and future recognized for the contributions they bring to the gridiron ever Fall. I hope when McNabb hangs up the cleats that you are the one he comes to when it’s time to write the book that needs to tell the story of the arc of his career because all of us have lived through it right along with him and it’s still an amazingly mind-bogging tale. You were right when you asked how history might have changed if Warren Moon had been drafted in the NFL out of college. How might the game be today when it comes to how the QB position is perceived. Maybe the QB’s of all races who have immeasurables would have been given more of a fair shake no matter their color. Guys like Charlie Ward, Ray Lucas or even Doug Flute and Jeff Garcia. The talent and the mental capacity needs to be there but so does that ‘IT’ Factor that a leader brings to the huddle when the clocks running down and the victory can be snatched from defeat. If the guy can play, let him play and if he can’t then the whole world will know.

    PS. That was a vicious hit on VY. I haven’t seen anything like that since that Browns player pile-drived Bradshaw back in the 70’s.

  12. KevDog says:

    I don’t know about that list or if it has come out, but if Jerry Rice ain’t #1, it’s a joke and should immediately be disregarded.

    Deion deserved top 20.

  13. […] these three quarterbacks and portrayal by the media could very well determine the future of the Black quarterback in the […]

  14. […] record book stuff…again…as a rookie and when very few outside of this site and some others felt he actually was capable of passing the ball consistently. He’s having […]

  15. […] hand, letting the media off the hook isn’t the answer either. There is still many a pundit who just won’t give it up to the Black quarterback. Cam will look back on what he said and cringe one day because Cam when you don’t come up big […]

  16. […] the compromised plight of “The Black Quarterback” as The Starting Five. For starters go here, here, and […]

  17. […] Michael Tillery also sees a systemic problem: “The system of evaluating quarterbacks should be based on merit and not what our perception […]

  18. […] Michael Tillery also sees a systemic problem: “The system of evaluating quarterbacks should be based on merit and not what our perception of […]