UT’s first black quarterback was Donnie Little.
“It’s more prevalent now in the last 10 years. You see more black quarterbacks in the NFL, all over. It wasn’t like that when I came through,” Little says.
Little sort of dismisses the racism he faced. He talks about it in a special Longhorn Network program in recognition of Black History Month.
“Are you smart enough to call a play? Can you check off at the line of scrimmage? Can you be articulate and read a defense? It’s no different than the other guy,” Little says. “But, to them, it was a new thing.”
The network brought together Little and two other well-known black quarterbacks who led UT: James Brown who, more than 15 years after Little, became just the second black quarterback to guide UT through an entire season; and Vince Young who led the Longhorns to a national championship in 2005.
“As a young man, you hear the negativity about black quarterbacks about how they can’t function, they can’t read, they can’t do this,” Vince says.
Young says this was more something he head about than experienced. Brown says by the mid-90s, things were better for him than they had been for Donnie Little.
“You know I got a few pieces of hate mail,” Brown says. “I think I said maybe four or five maybe – and that’s four or five more than other people got and I do understand that but I just kept it pushing and just tried to be positive and focus on being better than those who preceded me.”
Starting with Brown in the mid-90s, each new black quarterback at UT became part of a sort of family. The patriarch was Donnie Little who helped recruit and reach out to them. He had returned to campus a decade before Brown’s arrival to raise money for Longhorn athletics.
“Because they looked like me, I had to share my experience with them because I wanted them to know that these things could happen but hopefully they’ve been accepted and they’ve gone away and you won’t have endeavor through some of the stuff that I went through,” Little says.
It’s the sort of thing Vince Young is doing now – but not on the football field.
“Most people thought that because I was coming to campus, it was going to be at the athletic side of it,” Young says. “But I really respected President Powers for putting me somewhere on campus where it was needed and I could be a voice for not only the university but a lot of kids that I can relate to- to help them get to college.”
Young is working with first generation college hopefuls to help them move beyond stereotypes and negativity to reach success in school. Graduating college is his top memory from UT – bigger even than winning the national championship.
“Yeah that was huge for me because me being a young man growing up that’s all you heard was you’re not going to graduate, you’re not going to college there’s always something you’re not going to do,” Young says.
But that doesn’t mean the battle for equality on the field is over. It took more than 120 years of Texas football before UT hired a black man, Charlie Strong, to head coach the team.
“Wow wow wow,” Little says. “Great! I never thought that I’d see it in my lifetime.”
Both Little and James Brown say they hope this is more than just a temporary gesture of colorblindness.
“I think Charlie Strong has strong values and he’s going to be a good coach, he’s a good leader I think. And they’ll win,” Brown says. “Coaches don’t win, those players are going to have to win. They’re going to have to bind to it and they’re going to have to work harder than everyone else to win games, it’s as simple as that.”
So is racism on the college football field a thing of the past?
“It’s over between us peers and mentors,” Young says. “We’re not saying we’re blind to the fact but I’m just happy they’re starting to change and understand that us black athletes can think and throw the ball and make plays and change plays. We can do more than the system, be better than the system and do it the right way. And show them that we can play ball and get an education, be lawyers, be anything you want to be as a black, successful young man.”
You can hear more from Vince Young, Donnie Little and James Brown Thursday at 10 p.m. on the Longhorn Network.