cover image Rocket Men: The Black Quarterbacks Who Revolutionized Pro Football

Rocket Men: The Black Quarterbacks Who Revolutionized Pro Football

John Eisenberg. Basic, $32 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5416-0040-9

This insightful chronicle by former Baltimore Sun columnist Eisenberg (The Longest Shot) examines the discrimination faced by Black quarterbacks in professional football, beginning in 1923 when Fritz Pollard of the Hammond Pros became the first African American quarterback to start for an NFL team. However, as the position grew in esteem over the ensuing decades, white general managers and coaches insisted that only white men could handle the intellectual rigor it required. Aspiring quarterbacks of color were advised to play wide receiver instead, and those who made the cut were sometimes asked to perform demeaning jobs or housed in inferior quarters. Eisenberg traces how the accomplishments of such players as Randall Cunningham in the 1980s and ’90s led front offices to reconsider their racial assumptions, culminating in the Atlanta Falcons selecting Michael Vick as the first pick in the 2001 draft. Eisenberg cautions, however, that progress has been uneven, as seen in the NFL allegedly shutting out Colin Kaepernick for protesting police brutality. Eisenberg’s indictment of the pro leagues is scathing, and he makes clear the personal toll racism took on Black quarterbacks, as when he describes James Harris’s despair after getting passed up for obviously inferior white players in the 1969 NFL draft. It’s an incisive appraisal of how racism has shaped who gets to play the “most pivotal and glamorous” position in football. (Sept.)