Commentary: Russell Wilson’s Championship and the Changing Times

Russell Wilson's Super Bowl victory speaks much about the changing culture in the NFL and in America.

The Super Bowl that was forecasted as one of the most competitive matches of offense to defense proved to be anything but that. The event turned out to be particularly notable for the lopsided crushing by the Seattle Seahawks over what seemed to be an impotent Denver Broncos.
But the Super Bowl was notable for another milestone. It was the event where Russell Wilson became the second African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl championship. He follows Doug Williams, who had the distinction of becoming the first in 1988 while playing with the Washington Redskins.
Wilson’s story is a fascinating one, a tale of a young man who not long ago was hardly considered to be championship quarterback material. Standing less than six feet, he was the sixth quarterback drafted, and selected in the third round by Seattle, compelling himself to make a name for himself in the quarterback position.
"It's something I think about, being the second African-American quarterback to win, that's something special and it's real," Wilson said after the game. "There are certainly guys before me that tried to change the game and have done a great job of it. God is so good, man. It doesn't matter what you look like. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, Latino or Asian. It doesn't matter if you're 5-11. It's the heart that you have."
There was little media attention paid to Wilson’s historic role in Sunday’s game. Perhaps that is because it has become relatively unremarkable in this Age of Obama. By contrast, Doug Williams' accomplishment was one widely celebrated by Black fans and others throughout the country in a way that transcended football. But that is also largely because the sports world – and indeed the nation – has become more accustomed to seeing a Black man in a take-charge job.
The position of quarterback has largely been seen as something of a thinking man’s job. He is widely seen as a tactician who relies more on quick-minded analysis than on sheer brawn. While this is a simplistic and somewhat flawed take on the job, it nonetheless placed African-American football players at a disadvantage from coaches who deemed them insufficiently talented for the role of quarterback.
In this year’s Super Bowl, any discussion about Wilson was more than eclipsed by reaction to Richard Sherman, the Stanford-educated Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback whose outburst after the NFC Championship game created a national discussion. In fact, Wilson was dramatically overshadowed by Peyton Manning, the unquestionable darling of the media.
In large measure, this is a sign of progress in American society. In an era where Americans just two years ago resoundingly reelected the nation’s first African-American president, Black quarterbacks are no longer a rarity in the National Football League. We have seen quarterback skills with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick, Michael Vick, Steve McNair and many others.
One wishes, however, that this could transfer more widely to the view of young African-American boys who are still widely viewed by the larger society as threats and menaces. Even an innocent outburst by Sherman in an on-field moment of bravado resulted in this brilliant Stanford graduate being labeled a thug by many. And while we celebrate Wilson and the spectacular achievement in New Jersey on Sunday, we nonetheless look forward to the day that far more progress is attained.

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

 (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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