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2 NFL Players Have Strong Chance Of Becoming 3rd Black Quarterback To Win MVP Award

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Cam Newton and Patrick Mahomes - those are the only two African American quarterbacks in the NFL's 100-year history to outright win the MVP award. And with just a few weeks left in the NFL season, there is a strong chance that number will go up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: It's the second down in three. Jackson takes it himself. Look at him turn back and forth. Oh, he broke his ankle.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: Wilson all the way back to the 25 and then downfield - and gets it.

CHANG: Quarterbacks Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks are the runaway MVP candidates this year. If one of them wins, this would be the first time in league history that black quarterbacks have won the award back-to-back. Tyler Tynes is a staff writer for The Ringer, and he joins us to explain just how significant of a feat this would be.

Welcome.

TYLER TYNES: Hey. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So how big of a deal would this be for the NFL to have consecutive black MVP quarterbacks?

TYNES: It would be breathtaking. It would be something - the realization of what generations of black quarterbacks that were either segregated from the position or kept wholly out of the position, racially stacked into other areas of football. You think specifically about James "Shack" Harris, who played in 1969 with the Buffalo Bills, who was made to come in, switch to wide receiver even though he's one of the best quarterbacks in the game and literally shine the shoes and clean the locker rooms for the coaches and his white counterpart players.

CHANG: Wow.

TYNES: And so it is the continuation of a lineage of black excellence that has been kept off the field for generations. And to see that Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes or the plethora of black talent that is literally our game is now the norm - it is something that should be celebrated, but there is so much more that we need to achieve for this to be regular.

CHANG: Well, that feeling that you're talking about that black players don't belong in the quarterback role - I mean, that kind of happened to Lamar Jackson of the Ravens. I understood that when scouts first met him, they thought he should play a totally different position at first, right?

TYNES: Absolutely. This is what has been asked of him from the very beginning. His mother has been so protective over him to play the quarterback position where - she would walk on the fields in high school and call coaches in college and tell them that he could never play anything else. And so...

CHANG: (Laughter) Good for her.

TYNES: She had a vision from a very early age that Lamar Jackson was going to be one of the best of the business. And so that paid off to the point that he's a quarterback, he's the best quarterback of the year, and he's going to be going down as one of the best we've ever seen play the position.

CHANG: OK, and then there's Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. He's, like - what? - 5'11. Aren't quarterbacks supposed to be taller than that?

TYNES: The way that we talk about the quarterback is that they are prototypically around 6'4, usually over six feet tall. They are usually white. They're usually broad-shouldered. They play in the Midwest or the SCC, and they have a pocket presence. But Russell Wilson's 5'11. He's 205, 210 pounds. He is one of the most physical competitors that the position has ever seen, which led him to a Super Bowl victory this decade. And so usually, people are wrong about talent like that.

CHANG: Well, OK then. Besides what Jackson and Wilson do on the field, I'm curious. Is there something about the way these two guys inhabit the role of quarterback that just feels different?

TYNES: You look around the NFL, and it's - it can't even just be limited to those two. It's Deshaun Watson. It's Dak Prescott. It's Patrick Mahomes. It's so many guys at this point that embody so many different parts of blackness, which means they embody the human condition and how amazing and how extravagant and how beautiful it can be in motion. And so when you look across the league, you see in the pocket it's changed. It's no longer lily-white. It's of a different shade.

CHANG: So I have to ask, who do you think will win MVP?

TYNES: Oh, it's Lamar Jackson.

CHANG: Totally?

TYNES: Of course, yeah.

CHANG: Oh, you didn't even hesitate.

TYNES: And if it's not - the great part is, if it's not, it'll be Russell Wilson. So no matter what, we will likely have back-to-back black MVPs for the first time ever.

CHANG: Tyler Tynes is a staff writer for The Ringer, where he covers the intersection of race, politics and sports.

Thank you very much for joining us.

TYNES: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUTE MATH SONG, "YOU ARE MINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.