The power of Patrick Mahomes saying ‘Black Lives Matter’
The NFL’s brightest star used his status to take a stand despite the risks
During an otherwise uneventful Super Bowl LIV news conference in Miami, Kansas City Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes paused to ponder a question about the importance of being a black quarterback playing for the NFL championship.
The son of a black father (longtime Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes) and a white mother, Mahomes had not been especially vocal on matters of race in his first three seasons. But as only the seventh black starting passer who would play in the Super Bowl, he understood the significance of the moment.
“The best thing about it is you’re showing kids that no matter where you grow up, what race you are, that you can achieve your dream,” Mahomes said then. “For me, being a black quarterback — having a black dad and a white mom — it just shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
Just in case anyone was wondering, Mahomes identified himself as being a black quarterback. And last week, he made it even clearer where he stands.
The All-Pro was among a group of more than a dozen black NFL stars who pushed owners to acknowledge past wrongs and truly ride with them, releasing a powerful video in which they asked the league to admit it erred in its response to peaceful NFL player protests of police brutality and systemic oppression, condemn racism and affirm that Black Lives Matter. In an equally remarkable response only a day later, commissioner Roger Goodell checked the items on the players’ to-do list, even saying, “Black Lives Matter.”
The stunning shift in the league’s public stance on the peaceful protest movement occurred because some of its black stars — and especially black quarterbacks — drew a line in the sand. Several black and white league officials told The Undefeated that the importance of Mahomes’ involvement in the video can’t be overstated. He’s not only the game’s top black star. He’s the face of the entire NFL.
At only 24 (Mahomes won’t turn 25 until Sept. 17), he’s the youngest player to have a Super Bowl championship, league MVP award and a Super Bowl MVP award. Yet now his most impactful feat is helping reroute the league’s course on an issue that has, quite frankly, angered and flummoxed owners and top officials for several years.
It’s no coincidence that, following the Year of the Black Quarterback — a season in which African American passers rose higher than at any time in NFL history — Mahomes and Houston Texan Deshaun Watson partnered with other black stars in making a video that effected radical change. Once shunned by the NFL, black quarterbacks now have enormous juice resulting from their outstanding play. In the NFL today, it’s quite a good thing to be young, gifted and black while playing the sport’s most important position.
Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl and be selected the game’s MVP, couldn’t be more impressed with the young quarterbacks, especially Mahomes.
“Let me tell you something … that [Mahomes’ involvement] was huge,” Williams said on the phone Saturday. “We’re not talking about a 15-year veteran. We’re talking about a young man who’s not even 25. He has been the MVP of this league. He has won a Super Bowl. Just right there, he’s already made an incredible impact in this league.
“Then he goes and does this [participates in the video] at this time. With all these young people out here marching in the streets and demanding change, it’s a different time right now. You see that there are so many young people leading. It says a lot that he wanted to be involved in pushing for that change. It was very powerful.”
When then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited the new civil rights movement in sports in 2016, Mahomes was producing video gamelike statistics during his junior season at Texas Tech. Now, he’s the brightest star in the NFL. Goodell and the owners are acutely aware of the power that accompanies Mahomes’ crown.
“Getting Mahomes to participate [in the video] was so big,” a white NFL club official texted The Undefeated on Friday.
It wasn’t just that Mahomes was part of the group. He played a key role, looking into the camera and declaring for the first time in the video, “Black Lives Matter.”
At that moment, Goodell and the owners were backed into a corner. As hard as they have worked to avoid even the mere mention of race, often awkwardly, let alone the whole Black Lives Matter movement over the past four years, seeing their best player saying those words required an immediate shift in strategy.
The league was dragged into the national discussion about police brutality and systemic oppression by Kaepernick, and then was prodded to capitulate on opposing protesting and openly support its players by Mahomes. Two black quarterbacks setting the agenda for the NFL whether owners liked it or not. As late as the late 1980s, there was still a widespread belief in the league’s corridors of power that black quarterbacks lacked the smarts, heart and ability to truly lead on the field. We’re way past those days, having crossed over into the uncharted territory of black quarterbacks establishing the league’s off-field political agenda. The sea change occurred slowly, but it’s here now, as evidenced by the fact that Goodell put it on tape.
Quarterbacks run the NFL. They’re the on-field CEOs. Through his actions, Mahomes pushed Goodell and the owners to quickly and dramatically change direction, two things they’re generally loath to do, and go all-in on the reckoning occurring nationally on race and inequity.
It’s important to note that Mahomes has ventured deeper into controversial societal issues directly impacting the black experience in America than any top-of-the-game quarterback in NFL history. Part of the reason is this: Never before in league history has a classic dropback African American passer been the consensus No. 1 player at his position in any era.
Because Mahomes is a black quarterback, a black man, issues of race, as he explained in his own words, affect him and his family differently than they would, say, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc. At one point during the video, Mahomes says, “I am Tamir Rice,” referring to the 12-year-old black boy who was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014. John Elway or Joe Montana couldn’t have gone there.
That’s not to suggest that white quarterbacks are disqualified from being allies in the fight for equality under the law. Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowler Carson Wentz and Cincinnati Bengals rookie Joe Burrow denounced racism and expressed their support for African Americans in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police. For both, that was a great look, prompting many on social media to laud them for their willingness to engage constructively about the black-white reality of America.
For years, retired Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, co-founder of the Players Coalition, has shared his hopes to have franchise quarterbacks stand with him in trying to uplift underprivileged communities.
“When you go around the league, and you see the faces of these franchises, it’s the quarterback, they’re the draw,” Boldin said on the phone Sunday. “So my point, from the beginning, is that if we could have those guys begin to speak out, what a difference it could make because of the kind of pull quarterbacks have in this league. A quarterback’s voice carries.”
Mahomes, however, has skin in the game. Literally.
He’s blazing a new trail despite the risks. Mahomes is whip-smart. He put himself out there in support of issues that many people who regularly fill Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, and there’s no way to sugarcoat this, vehemently oppose. And he didn’t care.
Watson, who’s every bit a franchise passer and recently marched in a peaceful protest in Houston in the wake of Floyd’s killing, also deserves a lot of credit for helping to move the sticks a long way. As do all the players who united to send a message Goodell and the owners simply could not ignore.
But in one sense, being an NFL player is like any other occupation: Not everyone in the workplace has equal standing. Bottom line, Mahomes is on another level than other stars, and he wielded every bit of his clout like a sledgehammer to help demolish the league’s wrongheaded public approach toward players who protest.
His name is Patrick Lavon Mahomes II. He’s the best quarterback in the NFL. And by making a stand in the most important video in the league’s history, he became so much more.