January 31, 1988 was a defining moment in sports history and in American culture. Today marks 35 years since Doug Williams became the first Black NFL quarterback to start in a Super Bowl. He led the Washington Redskins (now the Commanders) to win that game, setting several Super Bowl records, and was named Most Valuable Player. During that time in American history, it was widely believed that Black players, while physically capable, lacked the intellect to lead as quarterbacks. Now, we are days away from a Super Bowl with two leading Black quarterbacks because of Williams’ impact.
“His Super Bowl win in Washington was felt in the Tampa Bay community. We all felt like we won that Super Bowl.” said Will Packer, whose production company has exclusive rights to produce a biopic on Doug’s life story. “It can’t be overstated the impact that Doug had on fans young and old, especially fans in the black community.”
Williams has made an unparalleled impact on the world of sport, as a professional athlete, college head coach, NFL Administrator, and HBCU Legacy Bowl owner. In his honor, The Doug Williams Center will highlight Black leaders in these four categories during its annual #28BlackStories campaign beginning February 1.
An Incredible Athlete
Williams was no overnight success. Before the NFL, he was a quarterback at Grambling State University under the leadership of the “winningest head coach in college football history,” Eddie G. Robinson. As quarterback, Williams kept a close ear to Robinson, led the team to three Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championships, and was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player twice. It’s no wonder that he became the first Black quarterback ever drafted in the first round when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him in the 1978 NFL Draft.
A case study from The Doug Williams Center reports that in spite of his historic draft selection, “Doug started his NFL career with a salary of $120,000 a year – by far the lowest salary of any starting quarterback in the league, and behind 12 [white] backups. The pay disparity was a norm for Black athletes.”
A Winning Coach
After retiring from the NFL, Williams worked as a college football analyst for Black Entertainment Television (BET) for a year before accepting respective coaching positions at Pointe Coupee Central High School, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Scottish Claymores of the World League of American, and Morehouse College and finally taking the reins from his former coach at Grambling State University in 1998.
During his time as GSU’s head coach, Williams led the team to four conference championships and a 90-39 record over his tenure. One of the athletes he coached at GSU is Brandon A. Logan, the founding Executive Director of The Doug Williams Center for the Study of Race and Politics in Sports.
“Coach Williams had an unspeakable impact on my life and instilled values in me that still guide my direction,” said Logan. “It is an honor to continue doing legacy-building work that he started decades ago and has never stopped.”
An Eye to the Future of Football Administration
Williams served as Director of Pro Personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and after that, a scout for the Washington Redskins (now Commanders). He also had a stint with the NFL as Senior Vice President of Player Development and is still appreciated for developing and mentoring hundreds of players.
In 2014, Doug Williams rejoined Washington as a personnel executive. In 2017, Williams was promoted to Senior Vice President of Player Personnel. In 2020, shortly after the hiring of Ron Rivera as head coach, Williams was named the team’s Senior Vice President of Player Development. In February 2021, Doug Williams became Senior Advisor to team president, Jason Wright.
Ownership as the Path Forward
In 2009, Doug Williams and James Harris co-founded the Black College Football Hall of Fame to preserve the history and honor the greatest football players, coaches and contributors from HBCUs. He is co-owner of the HBCU Legacy Bowl, a postseason all-star game presented by the Black College Football Hall of Fame. This Bowl game was created to showcase the best NFL draft-eligible football players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and broadcast live annually on the NFL Network.
A Lifelong Trailblazer
As Williams continues expanding the reach of his work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion legend, his legacy also continues through the The Doug Williams Center for the Study of Race and Politics in Sport. The Center is dedicated to promoting racial and ethnic diversity in sports, and it serves as a platform for research and social progress solutions for college and professional sport.
Doug has undoubtedly left a lasting impact on American culture and history as a pro football player, college head coach, NFL administrator, and Hall of Fame Co-owner. His contributions to the sports industry will be remembered for years to come.