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Sunday, December 18, 2005
Is This The End of the Era of the Black Quarterback?--Updated

That may seem like a startling thing to say considering that the NFL has an abundance of starting quarterbacks who are African-American. At least, it has an abundance of black quarterbacks who would be starting if they weren't injured. Looking at the NFL's top 30 QBs in passer rating here, there are seven black quarterbacks listed. Three are on injured reserve (Culpepper, McNabb, and Leftwich). One's been benched (Anthony Wright of Baltimore) and the others are Steve McNair, Michael Vick and Aaron Brooks.

Overall, these 30 QBs have a passer rating of about 83.4. The white players grade out at about 85.8, and the black players at about 78.6. And it's not like the black QBs are slipping behind in just one statistic; it's across the board. White QBs complete 61.1% of their passes, compared to 59.2% for the black QBs. Whites throw for an average of 6.81 yards per attempt as compared to 6.73 yards per attempt for black QBs (which is not a significant difference). But white QBs have thrown 4.3% of their passes for touchdowns, versus 3.6% for black QBs and only been intercepted 2.69% of the time as compared to 3.08% for black QBs.

What's going on? I suspect that black quarterbacks have reached their natural saturation in the NFL, and perhaps even exceeded it. There is a natural tendency to assume that blacks should make up a high percentage of starting NFL QBs the way they make up an extremely high percentage of running backs, wide receivers and defensive players. If this were the case there would not be six black starting quarterbacks but more like 23.

Well, you can see the problem with that, right? The notion that there are 17 black men who are not starting for NFL teams because of racism is ridiculous. And the fact that black quarterbacks overall are underperforming compared to white QBs indicates that perhaps black QBs are getting more opportunities, not less.

Don't get me wrong here; I am not arguing that blacks cannot play the quarterback position. Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper have been great players, as has McNair. Vick can't be measured solely by his passer rating and is an astonishing athlete, clearly the fastest player I have ever seen. Warren Moon was a great QB.

But the notion that we are entering the era where black quarterbacks will dominate the position seems over. Indeed if you look at it, most of the good, young QBs in the league right now are white--Roethlisberger, Palmer, Brees. Leftwich looks like the good young black quarterback right now; he looks like a much better passer than Vick. I'm not sold on Eli Manning or Chris Simms yet.

I should mention here too that one of the reasons I come to the conclusion that black QBs may have exceeded their natural saturation at the QB position is because the question of racism at the position was a hot one in the early 1990s and so I began tracking the white/black passer ratings and was astonished to find that there was virtually no difference in passing statistics by race over a three year period. Indeed the statistics of black quarterbacks and white QBs were eerily similar in quality back then.

Update: An anonymous commenter asks, "Why even make an issue of it? Are you on Rush's vitamins?"

Answer: First of all, Rush was right on his major point, that the media are eager to annoint the "Great Black Hope" at quarterback. He was wrong on his minor point, that Donovan McNabb was never all that good. McNabb is a fine player who has had some excellent seasons, and anybody looking at McNabb's first three seasons (which were in the book when Rush made his comments), would have no trouble projecting McNabb as likely to develop into one of the best players in the league, which he certainly was in 2004. He's thrown more than two touchdowns for every interception in his career, a ratio that if maintained will be an excellent argument for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's now won seven postseason games as a starting quarterback, which is four more than Peyton Manning at this point in their respective careers.

But I write about it because it interests me. Your results may vary.
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