Pro Football’s First Black Starting QB On Sports Racism Then and Now

By Sameer Rao Sep 25, 2018

Professional football pushed Black players to the margins well before Colin Kaepernick risked his career as a National Football League (NFL) quarterback to protest anti-Black oppression. Marlin Briscoe told The Associated Press today (September 25) that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“I grew up in the ’50s and the ’60s, when all that stuff was rampant, but you knew where you stood,” Briscoe said in reference to racism against Black players, as typified by President Donald Trump‘s attacks on kneeling players and a White Texas school superintendent recently writing on Facebook that "you can’t count on a Black quarterback."

“Today, you thought that all those attitudes were nonexistent or filtered away to some degree, but with the Trump-isms, his philosophy has brought, out of the woodwork, that old-time thought process," Briscoe continues. "That’s scary—it really is.”

Today’s racism against Kaepernick and his peers still looks different than what Briscoe encountered in 1968 when he started at quarterback for the then-American Footbal League’s Denver Broncos. Briscoe was the first Black athlete to ever start in that position—a lauded one that still traditionally goes to White men. Briscoe said that he understood the position’s value, and that inspired him to challenge historical precedent: 


“People of color were only expected to reach certain heights in life,” Briscoe, now 73, told The Associated Press. “In my particular instance, it was the packing house. They [White people] thought that was our end-all, be-all. It came back to my wanting to play that position.”

Briscoe’s accomplishment endeared him to future generations of Black quarterbacks. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback James Harris describes Briscoe as a mentor:


"We used to talk a lot about the dos and don’ts and things that he had been through. He was telling me the things I needed to be prepared for,” Harris said. “I felt that Marlin was the only person on the team that understood what I was going through.”


That included death threats, Briscoe said. “We had the race card on our careers because we were the first,” he said.

Read more, including reflections from current NFL starters like the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, at