On the opening day of the 2023-2024 National Football League season, a historic record was set. For the first time in the history of the NFL, 14 Black quarterbacks took the snap on week 1. Last season, 11 Black quarterbacks started on week 1. The Week 1 starters are Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Deshaun Watson (Browns), Russell Wilson (Broncos), Geno Smith (Seahawks), Desmond Ridder (Falcons), Joshua Dobbs (Cardinals), Justin Fields (Bears), Jordan Love (Packers), Bryce Young (Panthers), C.J. Stroud (Texans) and Anthony Richardson (Colts).
The 2023 NFL Draft marked the first time in NFL history Black men were selected in the top three positions for quarterback. The position was once seen as a white male-dominated one until players such as Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham revolutionized the position and the game of football. In the modern era, the NFL has seen an increasing number of Black quarterbacks breaking barriers and achieving success. Players like Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes have become stars in the league. Mahomes is currently one of the most recent standout Black quarterbacks. He led the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory and has won the NFL MVP award.
The history of Black quarterbacks in the NFL is a story of perseverance. Breaking down racial barriers in the NFL has been a long and difficult road in a sport that is now dominated by African Americans. But the quarterback position has been a special problem: Teams from college up have been reluctant for decades to encourage Black players to play quarterback. Many talented Black athletes were denied opportunities to play quarterback.
In the 1920s Fritz Pollard became one of the first African American quarterbacks in the NFL. He played for the Akron Pros in 1920, making him one of the league’s first Black players. He also became a player-coach. But he was a rare early pioneer at a time of racial segregation Jim Crow. In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first Black quarterback to start in the NFL during the modern era. He played for the Denver Broncos and later transitioned to a wide receiver position.
In the 1980s, Houston Oilers QB Warren Moon became one of the most prominent Black quarterbacks in NFL history. Moon started as a star in the Canadian Football League before joining the NFL in 1984. He had a highly successful NFL career, earning nine Pro Bowl selections and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1988, Washington Redskins QB Doug Williams made history in Super Bowl XXII (1988) when he became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He led them to a victory and was named the game’s MVP. Philadelphia Eagles QB Randall Cunningham was known for his athleticism in the 1980s and 1990s. Cunningham was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. While there have been significant strides in the representation of Black quarterbacks in the NFL, there is ongoing recognition of the need for continued diversity and inclusion in all positions in professional football — including owner and head coach.