Sunday May 27th, 2018 7:40PM

Brissett would make Pats history as first black QB to start

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BOSTON (AP) — From his den in Huntsville, Alabama, Onree Jackson will quietly root to see Jacoby Brissett under center when he watches New England host Houston on Thursday night.

Almost 50 years have passed, but Jackson still remembers his excitement when he was drafted out of Alabama A&M in 1969 by the Boston Patriots — the franchise's first black quarterback.

Back then, the team hailed his potential to be "the Willie Mays of pro football." But he never played in a regular-season NFL game.

Now, Brissett could establish a footnote for a franchise born in a city with a complicated racial past, its first African-American player to start at quarterback. While the Patriots have been racially progressive in other ways, the New York Giants are the only other NFL team to have never started an African-American quarterback.

Brissett's opportunity comes because of two unusual factors. Tom Brady, the team's cornerstone, is suspended four games for his role in using underinflated footballs in the playoffs in 2015. And Brady's backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, has a shoulder injury and is listed as doubtful for Thursday.

While none have started a regular-season game, the Patriots have drafted eight African-American quarterbacks. Michael Bishop played the most, appearing in eight games in 2000.

The potential distinction shows how much things have changed in 50 years.

"When I got there, there was a baseball player with the Red Sox and he said in the paper, 'You know they're not going to have an N-word quarterback here in Boston,'" Jackson, 69, recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It was funny to him, I think, because they had a picture of him laughing in the papers," Jackson said. "I had a shot, and I didn't make it under their rules."

Boston's professional teams — like the city's neighborhoods — had different reactions to the civil rights movement and the integration of professional sports.

While the Celtics and Bruins broke barriers in pro basketball and hockey, the Red Sox were the last Major League Baseball team to field a black player. Pumpsie Green took the field at Fenway Park in 1959 — more than a decade after Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers and even after Willie O'Ree took the ice for Boston in the all-white NHL. The Red Sox gave both Robinson and Mays tryouts in the 1940s before opting not to sign them.

Meanwhile, the Patriots neither led nor trailed the pack on such issues.

Jackson was drafted by Rommie Loudd, the AFL's first black assistant coach before he joined the Patriots in 1966. He moved to the team's front office and became its personnel director in 1969, one of the first black personnel directors in the NFL.

Jackson said he thought everything was fine until he drew consistent ire from then-coach Clive Rush, who told Jackson: "Joe wouldn't do that."

"He was talking about Namath," Jackson said. "Me being who I am, and where I was from and all, I just accepted that and went on."

Jackson was waived after a few months. Rush told the Frederick Daily Leader at the time that Jackson "was behind three other quarterbacks."

"As I've grown older, I can see little signs that said, 'You aren't going to make it because you're a black quarterback.' That's the way I interpreted it, anyway," Jackson said.

Rush was fired after a losing season in 1969 and 1-6 start in 1970.

New England has never had a black head coach. Romeo Crennel, now defensive coordinator in Houston, held that job in New England before he was head coach in Cleveland and Kansas City. Bobby Grier, who is black, was an assistant coach with the Patriots who rose to be vice president of player personnel from 1997-2000.

Richard Johnson, curator of the Boston Sports Museum, said while the quarterback milestone would be unintentional, there has never been talk of race influencing the Pats' personnel decisions.

"Under Bill Belichick, the best player has always played," Johnson said.

Richard Lapchick, who has pushed for diversity across college and professional sports from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, said the Patriots under owner Robert Kraft have consistently pushed for inclusion in several ways.

"They were working in the community on gender violence prevention in the early 1990s, 20 years before Ray Rice or even before O.J.," Lapchick said.

The Patriots were also one of the first teams to help NFL players finish their degrees.

Josh Johnson, who is black and one of three Giants quarterbacks, was surprised when told his team could be the last to cross this particular racial benchmark.

"It shows progress," he said. "That's all you want to see, progress. Good luck to (Brissett), I hope he goes out and takes advantage of it. Opportunities come far and few."

Though it didn't work out for Jackson, he said he's proud to have played a part toward seeing a day when no one notices who is or isn't under center.

"It's a pride thing now," he said. "I'm proud of what happened. Though I didn't make it, it was kind of a foot in the door type-thing."


This story has been corrected to show that Michael Bishop, not Rohan Davey, has played the most games for the Patriots as an African-American quarterback.


AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston and Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, New Jersey, contributed to this report.


Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Baseball , AP Online Football, AP Sports - Major League Baseball
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Revelers say goodbye to a year of conflicts, deadly violence
People around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts, deadly attacks at gatherings and celebrity deaths
11:58PM ( 1 year ago )
Get ready for a blockbuster sequel: Alabama vs. Clemson
Get ready for a blockbuster sequel: Alabama vs. Clemson, The Rematch
11:31PM ( 1 year ago )
With Ohio State shutout, Clemson earns another shot at 'Bama
Clemson's redemption: By shutting out Ohio State, the Tigers earn another shot at 'Bama
11:25PM ( 1 year ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Alabama 7-point favorite over Clemson in CFP Finals
Alabama is a seven-point favorite against Clemson in a College Football Playoff championship game rematch, according to gambling odds website
10:38PM ( 1 year ago )
Harden's has triple-double, career-high 53 in win over NY
James Harden scored a career-high 53 points with a season-best 16 rebounds and 17 assists for his second straight triple-double to lead the Houston Rockets over the short-handed New York Knicks 129-122 on Saturday night
10:38PM ( 1 year ago )
The Latest: Clemson's Heugel misses short field goal
The Latest: Clemson kicker Greg Huegel has missed a 31-yard field goal after Ohio State nearly jumped offside
9:18PM ( 1 year ago )
AP Sports
Cubs, Cavs douse droughts, cleanse curses with 2016 titles
Sports misery changed addresses in 2016
12:24PM ( 1 year ago )
Jackson powers Northwestern past Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl
Justin Jackson ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns to power Northwestern to only its third bowl victory, 31-24 over No. 22 Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night
8:04PM ( 1 year ago )
The king of 2016: LeBron James named AP Male Athlete of Year
LeBron James ended Cleveland's 52-year championship drought in 2016 and capped his big year by being named AP's Male Athlete of the Year
1:03PM ( 1 year ago )
AP Online Baseball
The Latest: Clemson wins coin toss, defers to Ohio State
The Latest: Clemson has won the coin toss at the Fiesta Bowl and deferred to Ohio State
7:12PM ( 1 year ago )
The Latest: Fiesta Bowl has a Buckeye-heavy crowd
The Latest: Ohio State fans have come out strong for the Fiesta Bowl
7:03PM ( 1 year ago )
Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook declares for NFL draft
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook has announced he will enter the NFL draft, less than 24 hours after the Seminoles defeated Michigan in the Orange Bowl
3:06PM ( 1 year ago )
AP Online Football
The Latest: Oakland sports teams donating to fire victims
The NBA Golden State Warriors say the team is donating $50,000 to help families affected by the deadly warehouse fire in Oakland
12:03AM ( 1 year ago )
Snow off to a slow start in Rockies, delaying some skiers
Autumn snow has been scarce in the Rocky Mountains, forcing some ski areas to push back opening day and causing some nervousness about how much water will be available next spring for the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the Southwest
8:14PM ( 1 year ago )
Voters overwhelmingly reject Chargers' plan for new stadium
Voters have called the San Diego Chargers' bluff, leaving the NFL team to decide whether to try one more time to get a new stadium built here or pack the moving vans for the trip up Interstate 5 to Los Angeles
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
AP Sports - Major League Baseball
Police say extremist shows no remorse for shooting Africans
A right-wing extremist suspected in the shooting rampage that wounded six Africans in central Italy was "lucid and determined, aware of what he had done" and exhibited no remorse for his actions, an Italian law enforcement official says
12:27PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Democratic, GOP lawmakers: Memo doesn't clear Trump in probe
Democratic and Republican lawmakers say a GOP-produced congressional memo on FBI surveillance powers does not clear President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation
12:20PM ( 26 minutes ago )
2 Amtrak workers killed, 116 hurt in South Carolina crash
A crash between an Amtrak passenger train and a CSX freight train near South Carolina's capital has left two Amtrak workers dead and 116 people injured
12:18PM ( 28 minutes ago )
7 weeks later, 'Jumanji' is no. 1 at box office
7 weeks after first opening in theaters, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" rose again to the top spot at the North American box office on a sluggish Super Bowl weekend
12:02PM ( 43 minutes ago )
Turkey's president to meet Pope Francis, discuss Jerusalem
Turkey's president is on his way to Italy to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican, where the status of Jerusalem is expected to top their agenda
11:39AM ( 1 hour ago )