The greatest professional football team over the last 16 years is the New England Patriots. The organization has won five Super Bowl rings, established the #1 Coach-QB tandem of all-time and pulled off the most iconic comeback in Super Bowl history. A major reason why is because the most critical position to any football team, the quarterback, has generally stayed intact unlike the Texans and Browns. The Pats have had few changes since the turn of the century, but on September 22nd, 2016, the Patriots made history, black history.
There was Drew Bledsoe, then Tom Brady’s current run, sprinkle in Matt Cassel filling in for Brady during injury and one day Jimmy Garoppolo is presumed to be the team’s ‘future.’ The coach and his system in place hasn’t fluctuated much since Y2K. Similarly to Tim Duncan, Greg Popovich and the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs who went for five world championships together in 20 years, it’s clear that an organization can thrive off of an unaltered system. Essentially, it’s either the Patriots/Spurs way or the highway.
In sports there’s always a teamwide methodology no matter what organization it is. Phil Jackson will implement a triangle offense whether the team has the parts to or not, and Tom Allen will run his 4-2-5 defense. Many coaches tend to bring their bread and butter with them wherever they go. But we saw President Barack Obama run on the platform of change. Now Hashim Walters, the 22-year-old candidate for New Orleans Mayor, is following directly in his footsteps to further that change. I know the saying goes ‘if it ain't broke don't fix it,’ but it doesn’t hurt for a little change every once in awhile, too.
If Bledsoe hadn’t went down in 2001, there likely wouldn’t be a dynasty in Foxborough, Massachusetts today. The team’s success has been due to one single act of change: choosing to start Brady. The Patriots have done it once before, and a year ago the organization made a historic substitution again.
Before re-cementing its place in football immortality, the New England Patriots had to overcome early-season misfortune without its leader, Brady. In game two of the regular season, backup QB Garoppolo injured his shoulder and wouldn’t return. Jacoby Brissett, the Patriots then third-string QB, went in to replace Garoppolo. The rookie taken in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft became the first and only black QB to start for the Pats when they faced Houston the next weekend. The news was overshadowed by Colin Kaepernick and his decision to protest the legal and criminal justice system in this country though.
A month before the Patriots made franchise history, Kaepernick’s social change movement began as he sat for the playing of the national anthem. The afro-rocking QB, who was one conversion away from leading his team to the 2013 NFL title, has yet to sign another NFL contract because of his protests. Although Kaepernick gained notoriety as one of sports’ most influential people last September, another black QB, Brissett, was thrust into the limelight in a more conventional sense.
Brissett’s two starts, in which he went 1-1, were historic because the Patriots had drafted eight black QBs since its inception. If it weren’t for ‘Deflategate,’ there still wouldn’t be a “first black starting QB” tag credited to the organization. The team hadn’t given any of its black gunslingers a chance in the past, but the ‘Patriot way’ had finally turned the tide.
The inability to give one black quarterback a starting role before 2016 is indicative of the oppression of black QBs in this league. The Patriots franchise is not the last NFL team to start a black QB; the New York Football Giants have yet to put one of us in the game. Racial segregation in professional sports isn’t a new concept, especially in the city of Boston. But Beantown isn't so bad actually.
The same city Adam Jones was taunted in and the same area that chose eight black quarterbacks before they started one, drafted the first black professional basketball player, Chuck Cooper. It also drafted Bill Russell in 1956, and he made the Massachusetts town a hoops haven that won eight straight NBA championships at one point. The Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach (a white man from Washington, D.C.) continued to ignite change when he started five black players during the 1964 season. Russell, an eleven-time world champion, was given so much power that he became the NBA’s first black coach in 1969. He then won his last championship as a player-coach before retiring. All of these remarkable feats were accomplished in the New England region.
New England has also granted us with opportunities in football before. Rommie Loudd was the first black assistant coach in the AFL for the Boston Patriots, and he also became one of the first black executives and majority owners of a major sports franchise. Since the days of the Boston Patriots, we have broken through many racial barriers. At one point there were zero black QBs, but now a black QB can aspire to become league MVP and also Super Bowl MVP.
Brissett was briefly at the forefront of the racially charged sports town just a year ago during the Pats’ fifth Super Bowl title run. He is a Super Bowl champion, but was traded before week 1 of the 2017 season to aid the Indianapolis Colts' situation. Brisett wasn’t given his chance in Indy right away, but the Colts were being throttled by the 49ers (Rams) and they put him in. He went ⅔ for 51 yards passing, and it is uncertain when Colts starter Andrew Luck will be healthy enough to play.
On Sunday, Brissett is likely to start ahead of Scott Tolzien giving us another black starting QB to root for. This date will precede his one year anniversary as the first and only melanated Patriots QB.
It’s been a long journey for African Americans in entertainment, politics and pretty much every area one can think of. Let’s continue to push forward for change, so that our kids and grandkids can see the change that we were in sports and beyond.