Two former USC students, Keyshawn Johnson and Jason Reid, returned to campus for a panel discussion Wednesday night. The two recently released books discussing the history of Black players in the NFL. They shared their own perspectives about the color barrier and the individuals who pushed for integration in the league.
Professor Jeff Fellenzer created the course “Sports Business and Media in Today’s Society” in 1999 and has since accrued a long list of notable alumni and guest speakers, most recently Johnson and Reid.
Johnson, a former USC wide receiver and No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft, parlayed his playing career into broadcasting after an 11-year stint with four different teams. Johnson’s book, “The Forgotten First,” highlights the first Black players to break the color barrier in the NFL.
Reid is the senior NFL writer for Andscape, an ESPN platform focused on telling Black stories. Reid is touring his new book, “Rise of the Black Quarterback: What it Means for America.”
“[Quarterback] is a uniquely American leadership position,” Reid said. “When we think of [a] quarterback in this country, what we think of is the best among us, the brightest among us … If Black men are just excluded from that, because they’re supposedly too stupid to handle the rigors of the position, what does that say about the country at large?”
When they wrote their books, Johnson and Reid conducted research and interviewed notable Black figures in football history. The two shared their thoughts on how Black athletes have been treated by the public and their team’s owners over the years.
“I was taken aback,” Johnson said. “I get a little pissed at times talking about it. When you learn that the owners of teams deliberately moved their teams to certain cities where Blacks were not allowed to go … it makes you angry because who thinks like that?”
Johnson told the story of how his co-author, Bob Glauber, pitched the idea of the book by asking Johnson if he knew who the first Black players were to break the color barrier in the NFL.
When he said he didn’t know, Glauber asked if he knew who the first baseball player to break the color barrier was, to which Johnson quickly replied, “Jackie Robinson.” The discrepancy in common knowledge was the reason Johnson decided to join the project.
Black players were banned from the NFL from 1933 to 1945. Reid discussed the effects of the ban and reintegration.
“What [Black people lost] out on is equity [in the league],” Reid said. “Equity is a very important concept. You talk about equity in a house, that’s how many people in this country accumulate generational wealth.”
When USC played Rice Saturday, sophomore Caleb Williams became the first Black quarterback to start for USC since Reggie Perry in 1991. Johnson pointed out biases in recruiting that have contributed to the extended time period without a Black quarterback.
“We have the same issues at the University of Southern California, I’ll be the first to tell you,” Johnson said. “How many quarterbacks have left this particular region, that happen to be Black, that went on to excel at other places because we focused on the blonde hair, blue-eyed [quarterbacks]?”
Having experienced the nuance of NFL management, Johnson emphasized the importance of Black people getting a “seat at the table” to enable athletes.
“When you have somebody at the table, opportunities open up,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’ll always say about life in general. When you got somebody who believes in you, who looks like you, and [who] you can trust and you know, then you’re going to take that opportunity … They open up the doors.”