The image of the Black quarterback is being redefined by Russell Wilson.
The Seattle Seahawks’ champion QB is showing that it does not have to be about a powerful arm, like when James Harris and even Doug Williams came along in the 1970s or ‘80s. And it does not have to be about having the skills of a running back playing QB, a la Michael Vick, in the following decades.
Further, it is not about flash and nicknames, like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
Wilson’s redefining magic is an intellectual approach to a physical game.
He plays smart and within his skill set. He’s disciplined and cunning, quick to make the intelligent play over the spectacular play. And he’s a leader on the order of the all-time greats.
Best example of Wilson’s inner strength and focus—that’s what is needed to play quarterback in the NFL and lead a team—came earlier this season, when there was a borderline mutiny or at least some serious friction in the Seahawks’ locker room.
Receiver Percy Harvin had an undisclosed issue with Wilson. Word spread that Wilson was not “Black” enough, a preposterous notion because there is no limit to what Black is.
In any case, the team had to make a choice, and it shipped Harvin, an immensely talented player, to the New York Jets. Wilson won the battle without fighting it. His work, professionalism and results made his case.
Significantly, with that turmoil simmering around him, Wilson has played the kind of football that leads a team to believe it could win another Super Bowl—along with its swarming defense, of course. What’s interesting is that there was little fanfare from media covering the Super Bowl last year about Wilson becoming the second Black quarterback to win the title. Wonder why that was?
A cynic would say Wilson is so polished and such a strong representation of a man that to acknowledge his Blackness would be to give too much credit to it. Race and perception is that strong in this country.
Wilson said back in February: “The amazing thing was, I knew. I knew, after the game, the history of it. It matters because our world is changing—for the better. America’s hearts are changing, and the NFL is changing too. The NFL is moving forward.”
Wilson should be moving minds forward. He makes plays and seldom makes mental mistakes. He has the arm strength to get the ball where he needs it, and the speed and agility to make yards scrambling out of the pocket. He did all that in the Super Bowl, and was robbed of the MVP.
In any case, it’s his head that should be the model of all quarterbacks, Black in particular, who would like to play the position in the future.
“I could run too—before I hurt my knees,” Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, said to Atlanta Blackstar. “But in the end you’ve got to be able to play the position. And that means think the game, too. It’s different from when I last played (in the late ’80s). The schemes are more complex. The players are bigger and faster. The scouting is better. So to succeed in today’s game, you have to have the head, the brain to get it done.”
Hence Wilson’s success. Further, he does not possess the “show off” gene of many, like the ordinary Johnny Manziel, who flashed the money sign after scoring a touchdown two weeks ago, possess. On Sunday Manziel started, threw two interceptions and his team did not score a point in a 33-0 loss to rival Cincinnati.
Wilson’s decorum is one to be appreciated, one to be emulated by up-and-coming players who are about the business of football and winning and not putting on a show.
At the quarterback position, that has to be the focus. Not so sure Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick get that. They were the new star QBs on the block, devastating with their arms on big plays and running the ball when under duress.
But they have had trouble this season thinking the game. Clearly, Wilson’s pedigree aids him now: His grandfather, Dr. Harrison B. Wilson, was the president of Norfolk State University for years. His father was an attorney. He flourished in the classroom. But all that only matters when you apply it while on the field, which he has.
In match-ups against four of the top quarterbacks in the NFL—Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers—Wilson’s team is 7-0. Says a lot, right?
All QB are judged by results. But there has to be substance over style with the Black quarterback. Vick had style and flash, but was an inaccurate passer and lacked the calm nature and composure to advance his team. His critics figured (or hoped) he would level off at a plateau short of greatness because the leadership and acumen in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage lacked.
Wilson shows that a good head can be better than great athleticism. When Vick or Griffin or Kaepernick do not perform at a high level, the entire collection of Black quarterbacks are judged. That’s just how it is, unfortunately.
You can bet that when Geno Smith looks clueless at quarterback for the Jets there is a considerable faction that lumps his ineptitude with all Black quarterbacks.
If that’s the case, which it is, then Wilson’s pose, leadership and productivity should not be considered an aberration. He’s the new model of the Black quarterback: smart, poised, together. Oh, and he can throw and run, too.