Last month, Doug Williams was the first former NFL player introduced during a Super Bowl pregame ceremony honoring some of the best players to attend historically black colleges and universities.
Currently serving as a personnel executive for the Redskins, the former Super Bowl MVP owes much of his successful career to a decision he made – or rather, one his mom made – after he graduated high school: attending Grambling State University.
Featured in a profile written by NFL Player Engagement, Williams explained how in the early 1970s, not many major universities had black quarterbacks, especially in the south. Grambling State's legendary head coach Eddie Robinson offered Williams a spot on his team and Williams' football career came into motion.
"My mom made the decision," Williams said. "It was 15 minutes from my house. She woke me up to tell me I was going to Grambling."
Williams had an extremely successful time at Grambling. He broke records on the field and earned an undergraduate degree and started working on a graduate degree shortly after. But Williams had also earned eyes from the NFL, and in 1978 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him 17th overall, making him the second black quarterback in history to be drafted in the first round.
He would lead the team to the playoffs three times and continued his career in the USFL for two years before signing with the Redskins in 1986. A year later, he would lead Washington to its second Super Bowl title over the Broncos, earning MVP honors.
It was his time at Grambling that prepared him for his journey ahead.
"[HBCUs] offer [learning about] survival," Williams said. "On the football field, we didn't have the best of facilities, but we had damn good players. Coach Rob used to tell us we had done so much with so little, we could do anything with almost nothing.
"If you've never been the minority it's tough being the minority," he added. "That's part of our problem now. There are a lot of African-Americans at a lot of other schools that would do better being at an HBCU. They'd probably feel more comfortable in a place where culturally [they feel like they fit in better] and where they can ascribe to be a better person."
Williams ended up returning to coach at Grambling State for two different stints later in his career. As someone with more authority there, he recognized the differences between HBCU's and other universities. Still, he explained that the goal is to provide students the best environment to learn and grow.
"There's no discrimination," he said. "We welcome the white students if they want to come. You'd be surprised how inclusive it is, and how they would love to see more white kids on their campus.
"I think people have a preconceived idea that going to an HBCU, that you're being taught about racism," he said. "But, [especially older guys], we all had similar stories. You didn't have a choice. You went there because that's where you could go. I was fortunate enough to play for Eddie Robinson. Coach Rob was instrumental in a lot of guys growing up as men, not just as football players. Every guy who's made it to the Hall of Fame would have made it in life anyway. Because of all the people who were pushing you."