February is Black History Month, and as sports fans, it gives us an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Black athletes in the sports world and in culture at large.
February also is the month of America’s biggest TV spectacle, the Super Bowl. This Sunday, the game’s annual audience of 100 million people will watch two Black quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles — start in the Super Bowl for the first time ever.
It was a long road to get to this historical moment. I’m only 28, but I’m well aware of the importance of the milestone.
The NFL and professional sports are not immune to the injustices that have historically plagued society, including racism. At the forefront of such conversations in football has been the quarterback position, which was gate-kept for the “All-American guy” — a smart man with strong leadership skills, a pure arm, a square jaw and white skin. Black quarterbacks were thought to have lacked the poise, wits and arm talent to fit the traditional mold.
Thankfully, the game is evolving right before our eyes, and so are those narratives.
Mahomes, Hurts to make history as Black QBs starting in Super Bowl LVII
Mahomes and Hurts are the exact opposite of what is considered the prototypical NFL quarterback. Mahomes operates off script. His ability to use his legs to get out of trouble and then thread the needle with his arm are second to none. From a physical standpoint, the 27-year-old former league MVP plays the game in a way that a coach would never teach. He’s one of one, and that is why he is the best quarterback in the world.
Hurts fit the profile of what a QB couldn’t be in the NFL. He’s a runner first, and his critics in college declared he couldn’t play the position at the pro level. They couldn’t have been more wrong. When the Eagles need tough yards on fourth-and-short, Hurts churns his legs like a fullback. When it’s time to outpace a secondary, he can run like a wideout. But let’s not forget this: Hurts is a quarterback, and it shouldn’t be ignored that he makes wonderful plays throwing from the pocket.
On second thought, maybe Mahomes and Hurts are the prototype to play QB in the NFL. Both are intelligent men who lead fearlessly. And it feels insulting that we still have discussions about a quarterback’s skin color, but there is so much coded language, both in sport and society, that it remains important ground to cover.
Mahomes’ intelligence is evident each time he improvises. After all, you can’t go off script unless you understand the script. Most quarterbacks are in panic mode in the situations where Mahomes is consistently at his best. Why? He has the ability to process changing information quickly. He knows the interaction of moving players and coverages, and his decision-making typically leads to positive gains. He also plays with a controlled passion, as his team follows his lead emotionally and responds when he speaks. There is no question who has everyone’s attention in the Chiefs locker room.
As for Hurts, his intelligence is apparent by his lack of mistakes. He has thrown only six interceptions this season … as the quarterback of the No. 3 scoring offense in the NFL! He makes good decisions on when and where to throw the ball and when to just pull it down and do damage with his legs. He knows when to go for the big play and when to just rely on the talents of his teammates — like a great quarterback does. Hurts also is respected as a leader, having learned lessons from his father, who coaches high school football, and when Hurts speaks, his Eagles teammates listen. In his two NFL seasons, the 24-year-old has done nothing but carry himself with professionalism and wisdom beyond his years.
And here’s one more data point for Mahomes and Hurts: The NFL Players Association released its inaugural All-Pro list, as voted on by the players, and the No. 1 and No. 3 QBs on the list were Mahomes and Hurts, respectively (with Lamar Jackson rounding out the list at No. 5).
This Super Bowl is monumental for numerous reasons, and the week leading up to the big game is always a good time to assess the NFL and examine what works and what doesn’t. Redefining quarterbacking, specifically who and how, works. Those same old tropes, however, don’t.