So I was on YouTube watching NFL highlights during my break at work from “Jsn Walker,” who has in-game footage of various legends like Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson and Steve McNair. While I was watching Steve McNair’s highlights, it reminded me of how good of a quarterback he was.
Let’s take a look at the numbers: 31,304 passing yards, 174 passing touchdowns, 37 rushing touchdowns and 60.1% completion percentage. Also worth noting, he was a NFL Co-MVP with Peyton Manning in 2003 (24 passing TDs, 4 rushing touchdowns, 3,215 passing yards, 100.4 passer rating, 62.5% completion percentage and the team had a 12-4 record) and was the second black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXXIV. Those stats and accolades had me thinking about his impact on the league and I did a little thread about it on twitter later that night.
Man if Steve McNair would have played in this era, he would be one of the biggest black hero. Think about it.
— Jerrell Leeper (@DapperJ) March 3, 2017
Let’s break it down: HBCU Quarterback (Alcorn State), member of Divine 9 (Omega Psi Phi to be specific), finished Top three in the 1994 Heisman vote, Top five NFL draft pick, second black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, NFL Co-MVP along with Peyton Manning.
With a resume like that, McNair was definitely a fan favorite but knowing how social media is today, each highlight would go viral as fast as Odell Beckham making a one-handed catch or Steph Curry shooting a 30-footer. You can argue in a league with Hall of Fame HBCU talent (Jerry Rice and Walter Payton come to mind) that McNair was the last household HBCU football star and maybe even the last household name.
Don’t get me wrong–there are a plethora of HBCU athletes in the NFL today. There are currently 32 HBCU athletes such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Antoine Bethea and Chris Baker. But none that have captivated national attention as Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Steve McNair.
So that has me thinking, why the decline?
African Americans make up 68% of the NFL or 1153 of 1696 available players if you wanted the math, so why is there few HBCU athletes given the proper platform to perform on the big stage. In an article on The Undefeated prior to the start of this past season Carl ‘Lut’ Williams asked former HBCU players Doug Williams his take. He said, “No. 1, I think we as a league and as scouts have to pay a little more attention to the historically black colleges,” Williams said. “I think what we have to do is don’t judge the school. We’ve got to start judging the player. It’s all about opportunity.”
If the league was able to find, develop and plug in Hall of Famers such as John Stallworth, Mel Blount and Aeneas Williams before why the decline now? Is it the talent level? South Carolina State head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough thinks so. “I think it’s pretty obvious that we are getting a little less of that type of player, the kinds of players that have those types of abilities to play at the next level.”
So if that is the case, why do heavily recruited athletes choose not to attend HBCUs? Is the under the table money some D1 recruits allegedly get? Is it the limited visibility? is it fan support or lack of competition?
Pough said “I think it’s just a sign of the times.” What will it take for there to be more of an opportunity for future players to get national attention?
For example, the draft’s most talk about player from an HBCU is North Carolina A&T’s running back Tarik Cohen. During his four years, he rushed for 5,619 yards averaging 6.9 yards a carry en route to scoring 56 touchdowns. Cohen was a three-time MEAC offensive player of the year, winning a National Championship in his Junior year. Every time he was on the national stage, whether it was ABC for the title game, ESPNU for Thursday night football or going viral on SportsCenter, he always delivered.
If he becomes a stud in the NFL, will that encourage future kids to take a different route when choosing schools or will it take a top recruit in the country to break the mold and attend an HBCU? Forcing the spotlight to not only be shed on him, but his school, the competition and the overall HBCU culture. It just has me thinking, can you imagine if Leonard Fournette went to Southern instead of LSU or if Dalvin Cook went to FAMU instead of Florida State? The type of spotlight those schools would receive if players of that caliber went there would be unprecedented.
Before I attended North Carolina A&T in the fall of 2011, I grew up a Maryland Terrapin and a Miami Hurricanes fan. I am still a fan of those teams, but I have to add A&T on to that list as well. Going to games at A&T during my four years, I witnessed great games. Although at an HBCU, its more than a game, its a spectacle. From the field, to the bands to the halftime shows to the types of fashion seen at a game we had it all.
There is no way, that if the HBCU sports culture gets a proper spotlight in comparison to the big schools such as USC, Florida State, Ohio State, Miami and Michigan, programs such Howard, FAMU, Fisk, North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T would be sports powerhouses. We live in a world where all it takes is one moment–one opportunity that can change everything.
So one day, it could be that one big recruit that changes the sports landscape and attends a historically black college/university or it could be the highlight going viral on social media and the athlete turns out to be a star. Until that moment presents itself, ask yourself what will it take to mold HBCU athletes into NFL mainstays. Who knows if it works with the NFL, imagine the possibilities with the NBA and even MLB. I know we must crawl before we walk but hey it is just a thought.