An acclaimed sportswriter offers an inside look at the Black quarterbacks whose skill and grit transformed the NFL
In Rocket Men, John Eisenberg offers the definitive history of Black quarterbacks in the NFL—men who shaped not only the history of football but the cause of civil rights in America. From early pioneers like Fritz Pollard to groundbreaking modern standouts like Marlin Briscoe and James “Shack” Harris, Black quarterbacks had to be twice as good as their white counterparts to get playing time—and even then, many never got that chance. That didn’t begin to change in earnest until the 1990s and the 2000s, when racist notions about what Black quarterbacks supposedly couldn’t do began to fade, paving the way for today’s stars like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
Drawing on deep historical research and exclusive interviews with Black quarterbacks and players, coaches, and talent evaluators who have worked alongside them, Rocket Men is a celebration of the athletes and activists who transformed the game.
About the Author
John Eisenberg is the author of ten books, including The Streak and The League. He won nearly two dozen writing awards at the Baltimore Sun, where he wrote five thousand columns over three decades. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
“A vigorously told story of the battle for equity on the gridiron, a battle that is still playing out.”
“Compelling…Eisenberg meticulously chronicles the struggles and success of NFL Black quarterbacks.”
“An insightful behind-the-scenes peek at the NFL and its continuing prejudices that negate the concept that the best quarterback should play, regardless of race. Rich with commentary from interviews, this expansive narrative is ideal for football lovers and readers interested in developments in U.S. race relations and the compelling stories behind some athletes’ paths and experiences.”
“An incisive appraisal of how racism has shaped who gets to play the ‘most pivotal and glamorous’ position in football.”
“In Rocket Men, John Eisenberg pulls off a tough but neat trick. He has written a book that offers both a compelling story and a blunt look at the history of race in the NFL through the sport’s most important position. It is written with grace, kindness, and an understanding eye towards the players who endured horrid discrimination, without sparing the perpetrators of that bigotry. Highly recommended.”
—Mike Freeman, author of Football’s Fearless Activists
“Rocket Men expertly tells the story of an important evolution in pro football over the course of nearly a hundred years, encompassing everything from the reluctance of teams to play Black quarterbacks Marlin Briscoe and James Harris at the beginning of the Super Bowl era in the mid-'60s all the way to the historic matchup of Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts starting against each other in Super Bowl LVII. As expected, Eisenberg's interviews and research are flawless.”
—Gary Myers, New York Times–bestselling author of Brady vs. Manning
“Rocket Men shines a spotlight on the important, yet often overlooked story of Black invisibility in professional football. This comprehensive history reveals that talented African American quarterbacks, whether unjustly passed over, benched, or shifted to different positions, have been hidden in plain sight since the earliest days of the NFL. Moving from the likes of Willie Thrower to Doug Williams to Lamar Jackson, Eisenberg traces pro football’s institutional racism, both on and off the field, with honesty, measure, and eloquence.”
—Theresa Runstedtler, author of Black Ball