James Harris is one of the names lost to sports history, until now. Harris is credited as being the first black player to start a season at quarterback in professional football, making his debut in the position for the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League in 1969. (He was not the first to start a game at quarterback, however, that distinction belongs to Marlin Briscoe, who went on to a career as a receiver. Joe Gilliam, Jr., singer Joi’s father, was the first to start an NFL game at QB, but his career was derailed by drug addiction.)
Harris, a former Grambling Tiger who played for four collegiate championships under legendary coach Eddie Robinson is featured in a book “Breaking the Line-the Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights” by Samuel Freedman” about Robinson and FAMU coach Jack Gaither. The two rival coaches played a role in the eventual desegregation of college football.
Now an executive with the Detroit Lions, Harris says that while it was a struggle for him to play during his pro football career, now Black quarterbacks are prized for their combination of athleticism and shot-calling skills.
“I think there are more and more coming,” Harris told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “I’m real happy for the opportunity for Blacks to get a chance. It╒s getting to the point now where kids can dream of playing quarterback and it can become a reality. It wasn’t always that way.”
Harris played for the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego as well, but his career as a pro quarterback was curtailed by injury and racism as he was passed over for others that were deemed more acceptable if not more skillful. He paved the way for others like Doug Williams, who became the first quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl in 1988 for the Washington Redskins.
Williams was also coached by Eddie Robinson and is now the head coach at Grambling University.
“We feel very fortunate that we were at one time the only two Black starting quarterbacks and one of the reasons was Coach Eddie Robinson. He prepared us.”
Harris laughs when asked what he got paid compared to the starting Black quarterbacks of today. But Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Michael Vick are just some of the Black starting quarterbacks who at least owe Harris, Williams, Briscoe, Joe Gilliam, Jr., Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, Dante Culpepper and the other pioneers at quarterback a thank you.
“There’s not a lot of interchange because I think the young players don’t really know our history or know us that well. But some of them we talk to and they are all nice young men having a successful career. But you pull for them and you’re fans of theirs and you╒re certainly happy that the game has come to the point where there are more and more opportunities to play.”
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (6/18-6/24)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Me & the homie @jaleelwhite #RujohnFoundation Happy to be in Jamaica! Good times
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5. Good Morning. Early day in Detroit! Making press rounds for @thebossnetwork's Ladies That Lead Tour. Thank you @traycemadre and @colourbynumbr for my glam.
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6. POWER the best show on TV @djenvy, Queens we so big out here. #EFFENVODKA #FRIGO
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7. They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the real view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie, Him and Kev won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.... But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS #StriveForGreatness #ThisOneIsForTheLand #PutSomeRespeckOnMyName Hahahaha!!! Yes sir
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8. Oooooh weeee this man right here is responsible for at least three of our four babies!! #JOE ❤❤❤🎤 #rnb #king #voicelikebutter #ForPeetesSake
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9. Hanging with my @abcnetwork family! @abcunclebuck tonite y'all check us out ! @anthonyanderson @traceeellisross
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10. My broski ( @sayeedshahidi ) and I are on Top 5 Live on @go90 at 5 (which is super duper close)! Make sure to tune in :) #UncleBuck #Blackish
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11. Lights out💤 #GoodNight
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12. Late nights mornings
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13. Ran into the lovely talented @siedahgarrett on this brutiful favvuz deh!
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14. #halal #love #thedargans #kattwilliamsSHOW #mashallah when that Jennah piece HIT!! @sweetjennahcollection glasses by @baddieglamaccessories LIZ 😍 @dynamiteko top @dazzledmv and jeans @thevision414 and shoes: @louboutinworld
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15. Big Hair and Optical Illusions #OceanDrive #MiamiLiving #coverparty
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16. MAMA and THE SAVAGES ... ⚓️ #supportyourlocalgirlgang
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17. From the bottom of my ❤️, thank you new followers & old! & hello fellow night owls! #grateful #racheltrue #naturalhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #healthyhair
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18. I feel so grateful because I met these amazing young minds, visiting from Houston TX, during their college tour stop today at #usc.These students are ALL extraordinary and embody academic excellence so I'm humbled to have shared a few moments with them to applaud and celebrate their bright futures ahead! Thank you @EmergeFellows for inviting me to speak and blessing me with your love and attention this afternoon!
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19. Happy Fathers Day Pops. U taught me how to be a man. Lessons of love, hard work & gratefulness. Sorry the fishing didn't stick. LOL. I Love U!
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20. Sky Zone and Ice Cream! Best Fathers Day Ever!! Photo credit @mariahcarey
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21. Look what finally came in the mail 😎 #mtvmovieawards2016 💥+🌽! #straightouttacompton
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22. Claudia Jordan: ....
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23. 'Member that time I almost knocked a bajillion dollar camera off the car? Really? Yeah, me neither! #Greenleaf Episode 2 comin atcha!
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24. Full of love. #birthday #Cabo
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25. Oh hey! Look who just joined Snapchat
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