If one watches even a quarter of what quarterback Nathan Peterman does, it’s clear he is not good at his job. He’s played four games this year for the Buffalo Bills, losing every one and throwing seven interceptions along the way. Yet, he remains the starter in Buffalo following a slew of injuries at the position. The Bills believe they are left no choice but to play Peterman, even though qualified players remain unemployed in free agency.
Peterman isn’t necessarily an anomaly when it comes to extended chances being given to white quarterbacks. Black quarterbacks historically haven’t been offered the same room for mistakes and subsequent evolution as their white counterparts. It is commonly assumed that black players are flashy field talent — receivers, corners and tailbacks — and do not possess the skillset to lead teams and signal-call.
This week Peterman played for the entirety of a game for the first time in his career. He threw 49 times for less than 200 yards, notching three interceptions. He’s now thrown so many interceptions he owns the record for the most in the Super Bowl era from a player with 100 or fewer professional attempts. Following the game, Peterman’s lasting appearance in Buffalo was questioned by one of the last black men to play quarterback for the Bills — E.J. Manuel, a consistently maligned former first-round selection.
“I usually never open up about my situation in Buffalo, but the fact that this guy has had multiple games with 4-plus interceptions ... and I still don’t have a job in the league? ... UNREAL,” Manuel said in a now-deleted post. “Say what you want about me, but never have I ever done that. Forget a learning curve, I didn’t get the luxury of being able to use that as an excuse. I wonder why.”
Peterman has 12 interceptions in eight games played. In 31 games, Manuel had 16. In Manuel’s last 16 starts he boasts 3,170 pass yards, 17 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions — numbers that are nearly identical to Dak Prescott’s. At the very least, Manuel played like a NFL starting quarterback.
This isn’t the only time Manuel has been vocal about the disparity. In 2016, he went further in describing the differences between black and white quarterback play. “The leash isn’t as long [as white quarterbacks’],” Manuel told SB Nation. “You have to take advantage of those opportunities when you get them. People are always a little critical toward [black quarterbacks] but it comes with the territory.”
The assumption was the Bills reached for a quarterback in 2013 upon selecting Manuel. He was frequently derided, a target of racist posts after losing performances. When he was eventually benched in 2017, he expressed that he’d moved to a depressive state.
“When I got benched, man. My confidence took a huge hit, honestly. I can speak on that very openly cause I’ve gone through a lot. I think I went through a period of somewhat depression. I was very upset. I was like, ‘Man, what is it that I’m not doing?’
By the end, the Bills declined to keep him and let him walk into free agency.
Yet none of this is revolutionary. The American understanding of blackness under center has always been one of chance; perhaps they’ll be good enough to play the position, but it’ll come as a surprise. It’s the erroneous notion that an intellectual wall keeps the black quarterback from athletic glory.
In September, a Texas superintendent said of Deshaun Watson, “When you need precision decision-making you can’t count on a black quarterback.” Ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, it was commonly suggested top prospect Lamar Jackson should make the move to wide receiver, despite winning a Heisman at the quarterback position at Louisville. In Buffalo alone, black quarterbacks have continuously been a target of degradation. Marlin Briscoe was the first black man to start at quarterback in the AFL. He set a rookie record for touchdowns in 1968 only to be benched and moved to receiver. James “Shack” Harris started a game at quarterback for the Bills in the same year, but not before he was forced to stay in a $6 room at a local YMCA instead of with the team. During training camp, the coaching staff attempted to move him to wideout and gave him a job cleaning team cleats.
If it is believed that the black athlete is incapable of performing at a coveted, well-paid position, then black play at the position will always have a cap. Such an environment is even more egregious during the Colin Kaepernick era, in which black athletes have used their platforms to fight against the horrors of racial injustice at the cost of their careers.
The problem isn’t solely that Peterman continues to play football. The problem is how many more Petermans will subsequently follow — and how many talented black quarterbacks will be left on the sidelines, or cast away off the field forever.