Rocket Men: The Black Quarterbacks Who Revolutionized Pro Football

Basic: Perseus. Sept. 2023. 416p. ISBN 9781541600409. $32. SPORTS
Covering more than a century, this book by award-winning sportswriter Eisenberg (The League) exposes the stereotypes and institutional racism that Black people have battled to play as quarterbacks in the National Football League (NFL). Twenty-nine chapters span from Fritz Pollard’s October 1923 quarterback role to the 2022 NFL season that included 18 Black quarterbacks—10 starters, eight backups. Through 1985, no NFL season saw more than two Black starting quarterbacks. In fact, the gridiron was white-only from 1934 to 1946, during the NFL’s ban of Black players. Backgrounding aspiring Black quarterbacks over the years, the book indicates changes in society and on the field, as franchises, owners, and coaches hindered or helped players of color. The author takes special care to unfold the spike in opportunity in the 1990s that produced the 2000 season’s unsurpassed peak of 14 Black starting quarterbacks.
VERDICT An insightful behind-the-scenes peek at the NFL and its continuing prejudices that negate the concept that the best quarterback should play, regardless of race. Rich with commentary from interviews, this expansive narrative is ideal for football lovers and readers interested in developments in U.S. race relations and the compelling stories behind some athletes’ paths and experiences.
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