A Thursday night showdown between Houston and Cincinnati was the official coming out party for rookie signal caller Deshaun Watson.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

The former Clemson QB ran his way into national spotlight with a 49-yard touchdown scramble, flashing the same speed and elusiveness that helped Clemson upset Alabama in last year’s national championship game. Watson officially joined Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston as the next wave of talented Black quarterbacks gracing the NFL. It’s a list that’s already headlined by Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, and may even be open for rookie Cleveland signal caller DeShone Kizer to join as the youngest of the group, at 21 years old.

The revolution of Black quarterbacks during the late 1990s failed to revolutionize the position. Akili Smith, Kordell Stewart and Tony Banks highlighted the Black quarterbacks of my teenage years; the problem was they just weren’t very good. Stewart was backed by a tremendous Pittsburgh Steelers run game and defense that carried him to regular season success, but when he had to be efficient and accurate in the postseason, he annually came up short. Banks and Smith were just plain bad.

When Michael Vick was drafted by Atlanta in 2001, he became everything on the field that the Black quarterback was supposed to be. Vick was heavy-armed, athletic and freaky fast, and he rode those traits to become not just the face of Black signal callers at the time. In his early years, he became one of—if not the—most popular players of his era. Now, there are Vicks everywhere. Watson, Wilson and Newton all share similar characteristics. Prescott and Winston may not offer the same elusiveness, they nevertheless provide the same pocket presence that Warren Moon was famous for. This isn’t the 1990s anymore and quarterbacks of all races are arriving in the NFL 10 times better than they were in the past.

When I was growing up, the quarterback position was normally reserved for White athletes. They were touted as being able to process plays faster and quicker than their Black counterparts, while Black athletes were largely placed in the roles of running backs and wide receivers. With Tom Brady and Drew Brees nearing retirement, there’s a new era of signal callers that the league and its fans should feel excited about. It might not be the same color pattern that people are used to, but has there ever been anything wrong with adding a little color to a blank canvas?


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO