Mahomes Or Jackson? Black America Rooted For A Black QB

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs shakes hands with quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens after the Chiefs defeated the Ravens 27-24 in overtime to win the game at Arrowhead Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

by John Celestand

It’s not breaking news that there was a time when the greatest Black athletes were steered away from playing the quarterback position in the NFL. With quick feet, the ability to cut back on a dime, solid hands, and blistering speed to blow past defenders, you would undoubtedly be led to the running back and wide receiver position as soon you step foot on an NFL field.

It didn’t matter if you played QB at the blackest high school or college in your state or could throw the ball 75 yards on target. It was mistakenly assumed that Black players didn’t possess the “leadership qualities,” quick decision-making skills, ability to read and digest a playbook, or discipline to throw from the pocket to lead a group of men at the NFL level.   

The thinking has changed over the years as Black quarterbacks such as Doug Williams, Warren Moon, Rodney Peete, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Randall Cunningham, just to name a few, have shown how asinine, foolish, and downright racist those thoughts were. Now, mobile, quick, and innovative QBs are coveted for their ability to put pressure on the defense with both their arms and legs.  

Last year’s Super Bowl was the first time the game featured two Black starting quarterbacks, with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts going head-to-head. On the heels of that matchup, I was just as excited last Sunday to watch two Black quarterbacks — Mahomes and the Baltimore Ravens’s Lamar Jackson — go head-to-head with a berth in Super Bowl LVIII on the line. 

Almost every Black person I talked to wanted to see Lamar move on to the Super Bowl.  

As I surfed social media and spoke to my Black friends, it dawned on me that most of them were rooting for Lamar Jackson to take down Patrick Mahomes. My first thought was that it was their instinct to root for the underdog, but Mahomes and the Chiefs were the underdogs in this matchup, with the Baltimore Ravens being the most dominant team in the league during the regular season.

Maybe folks were just tired of Patrick Mahomes winning, as he had already hoisted the Lombardy Trophy twice in his career. Maybe folks just felt that it was Lamar’s time and that he deserved his shot. But in talking to folks a little more, I realized it went much deeper than that. 

Many Black folks looked at Lamar Jackson as more anti-establishment. Lamar was the exact opposite of everything “the establishment” always tried to say a quarterback should be. The establishment said Black people were too athletic to play the position and always used their “legs” to scramble instead of the “discipline” to stay in the pocket and make the designed throws. 

Jackson represents a slap in the face to the establishment, someone who doesn’t have to code switch or dial back his “blackness.”

Lamar Jackson is also a dark-skinned dude from South Florida with braids in his hair who doesn’t quite speak with the same intonation, cadence, and diction as successful white quarterbacks from yesteryear. Jackson is a man who plays the QB position in one of the blackest cities in the nation (Baltimore is 64% Black at the last U.S. census count). Jackson is a man who, instead of hiring an agent in an industry dominated by white men, retained the services of his mother, Felicia Jones, as his manager and represented himself, leading to a five-year $260 million contract with $185 million guaranteed. 

To many Black folks, Jackson represents a slap in the face to the establishment, someone who doesn’t have to code switch or dial back his “blackness” to be accepted as a leader at the quarterback position in the NFL. Jackson is a man, to many, who has received unfair criticism for not being able to get it done in the playoffs. Many felt that some of the criticism was racially motivated and that if Jackson were white, he wouldn’t have received the same amount of backlash. 

And then I thought about Patrick Mahomes and how, in this country, Mahomes is considered Black. Although Mahomes’s mother is white and his father is Black, Mahomes is widely considered the most successful Black quarterback of all time. Mahomes has repeatedly expressed pride in his Black heritage. 

“I’ve always just had confidence and believed in who I am,” Mahomes told GQ in 2020. “And I’ve known that I’m Black. And I’m proud to be Black. And I’m proud to have a white mom too. I’m just proud of who I am. And I’ve always had that confidence in myself.”  

Although not the dynamic scrambler Jackson is, Mahomes uses his mobility to avoid sacks and make plays that almost no other quarterback in history could make. He is the ultimate definition of the mobile Black quarterback — hated by the old-school bigots of yesteryear who felt that any quarterback with too much melanin wouldn’t have the discipline to play the most important position in football. 

Because of this, you would think that some Black folks were rooting for Mahomes, while others were siding with Lamar Jackson, two great quarterbacks who decades earlier would have been whisked away to another skill position because of their athleticism. But overwhelmingly, in my informal research, it seemed one-sided. Almost every Black person I talked to wanted to see Lamar move on to the Super Bowl.   

Ben Carson is Black, and so is Herschel Walker, but they just ain’t down. 

My hypothesis? For Black folks, it’s not enough just to be Black. Many times, it’s about culture. Although many Black folks voted for President Obama, it was not just because he was Black, as so many believed. It was because he was down with the culture. He moved like us, spoke like us, and walked like us. Let’s be honest: Ben Carson is Black, and so is Herschel Walker, but they just ain’t down. 

I also wonder if white America’s acceptance of Mahomes’ greatness is a subliminal catalyst for some Black folks’ support of Jackson. Do we, as Black folks, unconsciously wonder that if Mahomes spoke a little differently, wore his hair in cornrows, and grew up on the Southside of Chicago vs. Tyler, Texas, he’d be viewed differently? 

I hope this doesn’t come off as a slight to Patrick Mahomes, a guy the great sports analyst Shannon Sharpe calls Patrick “Mahome-Boy,” an ode to Mahomes’ greatness as well as his blackness. It’s nothing that Mahomes did or didn’t do. I think Mahomes is already the greatest quarterback of all time.

But in the end, Black folks rooting for Jackson over Mahomes isn’t just about football. It’s about the ongoing dialogue within the community over what it is to be Black in America, and seeing our collective and individual experiences in a QB. There’s just something about Lamar Jackson that Black folks connect with a little more. I can’t explain it. You’ve got to grow up around it. It can’t be taught. You just have to be immersed in it to understand.  

It’s the culture. 

John Celestand is the program director of the Knight x LMA BloomLab, a $3.2 million initiative that supports the advancement and sustainability of local Black-owned news publications. He is a former freelance sports broadcaster and writer who covered the NBA and college basketball for multiple networks such as ESPN Regional Television, SNY, and Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia. John was a member of the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers NBA Championship Team playing alongside the late great Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and son.