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.”
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
1 of 31
2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
2 of 31
3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
3 of 31
4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
4 of 31
5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
5 of 31
6 of 31
7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
7 of 31
8 of 31
9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
9 of 31
10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
10 of 31
11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
11 of 31
12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
12 of 31
13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
13 of 31
14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
14 of 31
15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
15 of 31
16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
16 of 31
17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
17 of 31
18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
18 of 31
19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
19 of 31
20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
20 of 31
21. Bae #retailtherapy
21 of 31
22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
22 of 31
23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
23 of 31
24. Diggy Simmons
24 of 31
25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
25 of 31
26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
26 of 31
27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
27 of 31
28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
28 of 31
29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
29 of 31
30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
30 of 31
31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
31 of 31