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6 little-known facts about the first black QB to ever win the Super Bowl.

Doug Williams was playing for more than just a championship ring.

"If I'm able to get up and walk, then I'm going to finish this football game, pain or no pain."

If you watch enough sports, that probably falls short of inspiring. Just another "work hard, eat pain" trope from another hungry athlete with championship dreams.


GIF from "Bedazzled."

But on January 31, 1988, that statement wasn't just hype, it was a matter of far-reaching legacy.

Those were the words of Doug Williams, the first black quarterback in NFL history to win the Super Bowl.

If you're not already familiar with this barrier-crushing athlete, here are six facts to put his sheer, 6-foot-4, 220-pound bad-assery in perspective.

1. Only one scout showed up to see if he had what it took to be a pro.

Doug Williams and Joe Gibbs in a 2013 interview. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sirius.

Williams was a prolific four-year starter at Grambling with a winning record, leading the entire NCAA in passing one year and finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. When no other scout took notice, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs saw potential in the young quarterback and decided to see for himself. After some time in the gym, on the field, and in the classroom during the athlete's substitute teaching gigs, Gibbs urged Tampa Bay to draft Williams in 1978.

2. He was the first black quarterback to be drafted in the first round.

Image from NFL Films/Ian Ward/YouTube.

This was in the league's "modern era," after the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL to create the sport's preeminent organization. And in itself it was an historic accomplishment because it signaled to the growing league that it needed to get over its racial bias when it came to team leadership on the field.

ESPN's Greg Garber wrote: "Nobody said it out loud ... but there was once a widespread belief that African-Americans couldn't deal with the complexities of playing quarterback in the NFL. For years, black college quarterbacks were steered to other positions."

3. He defied career odds even before winning the Super Bowl.

Photo by George Rose/Getty Images.

The average NFL athlete's career lasts only six years (nine years for first-round picks). But going into Super Bowl XXII as a member of the team in Washington, Williams was already a 10-year veteran of pro football, with the aches and scars — as well as toughness and discipline — to show for it.

4. He had an emergency root canal the day before the Super Bowl.

This was not from the infamous Doug Williams root canal. But it seemed fitting. NFL Films/Ian Ward/YouTube.

Imagine the worst toothache you've ever had. Now imagine having it the day before playing in the Super Bowl and having to endure a four-hour dental procedure. And still playing. And winning. That was Williams. 'Nuff said.

5. A first quarter slip almost took him out of the game.

Photo by George Rose/Getty Images.

Denver had a 10-0 lead with only a few minutes left in the first quarter. In a near-fateful moment after a snap, Williams was dropping back to find a receiver when his right leg slipped from underneath him, causing a strain in his left knee.

It was so early in the game, and he was already hurt. Jay Schroeder took the reins for the rest of the quarter, but Williams refused to be counted out. He got up, shook it off, and launched a rally with an early second-quarter touchdown.

"If I'm able to get up and walk, then I'm going to finish this football game, pain or no pain," he said in a post-game interview.

6. Williams was the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl.

Photo by George Rose/Getty Images.

He wasn't even Washington's starter for most of the 1987 season. But through some wrangling and bittersweet luck with a 24-day players' strike, Williams found his way to the starting position.

It was not a decision to be regretted, as Williams ended up taking Washington to a decisive 42-10 victory over Denver in the Super Bowl, becoming the first black quarterback to win and be named MVP in the big game.

While plenty more black quarterbacks would follow the path Williams blazed, fans would wait another quarter-century to see a second black QB reach Super Bowl glory.

In February 2014, Russell Wilson and the Seattle squad reigned supreme, coincidentally, also over Denver.

Russell Wilson raises the Vince Lombardi trophy after winning Super Bowl XLVIII. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

On Feb. 7, 2016, Carolina's fun-loving Cam Newton will be the sixth black quarterback in 50 years to start in the Super Bowl, also coincidentally against the Denver Broncos. (Weird, right?)

If the Panthers succeed, Newton be the third black quarterback to boast the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy (and rock one of those god-awful rings).

But win or lose, Williams's legacy is plain to see.

The larger story of Super Bowl 50 is about the athletes, the teams, the fans, and (obviously) the commercials. What it's not about is race.

And try as the press may to persist tired and foolish narratives about the leadership ability of black quarterbacks, thanks to Doug Williams, it's now a lot easier for players like Newton to shrug them off and redirect them to the game.

Cam Newton. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

Williams, who has expressed his support for Newton in that effort, spoke to the same issue in his heyday. His thoughts are as relevant now as they were almost 30 years ago, in sports and beyond:

"I think for me going to the Super Bowl and getting the opportunity to play is some of the dream that Martin Luther King was talking about," Williams told NFL Films. "Not so much black and white, but the fact that as an individual, as a person, and no matter who you are, what color you are, just get that same opportunity that everybody else gets."

Watch a grainy but inspiring profile of the great Doug Williams:


Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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