Archive for April, 2017

Jefferson Street Joe

Joe Gilliam was a black quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers before their Super Bowl run in the 70s. I have always been intrigued by what could have been with him. It was my opinion that Joe may have been a better quarterback than Terry Bradshaw. From the little I recall and viewed, he had a great arm and was accurate. Also, he appeared to read defenses better than Bradshaw. His brief career as a starting quarterback lasted only six games during the 1974 season. He began with a bang but quickly disappeared with more than forgettable performances. He was a sad case where the player closed the door on opportunity. Why did his opportunity close? A writer, Dexter Rogers, has taken a different view that I hold – he believes it was racism.

Mr. Rogers, Dexter and not Fred, claims it was a racial issue. I have given Rogers the benefit of the doubt and have reviewed his argument, but I find that he uncovers racism where there is no racism. Rogers writes, “The combination of the social climate and race played a role in Gilliam’s eventual demise.” This is flat out wrong. Another errant statement is, “Sadly Gilliam turned to drugs to cope with his surprising demotion.” Rogers is looking to place blame on the white authority rather than Gilliam himself. The problem with that Rogers doesn’t know what the reasons were and makes assumptions to fit his narrative.

He does not know or understand who the Rooneys were or who Chuck Noll was. It is easy to understand why he doesn’t know who Chuck Noll was, for there are very people that do. Noll was a private person but one that did not march to the beat of society. Rogers does have interviews with different people, so this should have illuminated why Gilliam was no longer the starter. When studying these two, one can easily conclude that racism was not a factor. As evidence, we can see Noll’s relationship with Joe Greene and Bill Nunn.

The simple fact is Joe Gilliam was a good quarterback who could have been great but drugs destroyed him. His drug use didn’t begin after he was benched but more likely before he started the season. His drug use began to affect his play and led him to be late for team meetings which contributed to his being benched. The Players were aware of his drug use and John Fuqua and Joe Greene had stated in interviews for the book, “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work”. Joe Greene even stated that he wanted Bradshaw as the starter over Gilliam. Gilliam was undermining his future and the team’s and his teammates were aware of this. Gilliam’s drug problem forced Noll to roll with Bradshaw and dispose of Gilliam.

Joe Gilliam’s downfall was not the result of racism; it was the result of drugs. This is not to say Joe was not dealing with racism. The country was in the middle of change for the good but change never the less. He was the recipient of racial insults and slurs, but this wasn’t the reason for his fall. No, Gilliam’s downfall was the drug use. To say it was because of racism would be an excuse for an easy answer and one that would be popular with many people. Drug use killed Jefferson Street Joe and likely kept the 70s Steelers from winning more than four Super Bowls.