Dallas Upbringing Shaped John Eisenberg’s Writing

It seems fitting for an aspiring writer who grew up in Dallas to author a book exploring the history of football, particularly the Dallas Cowboys.

John Eisenberg has done that as part of a career spanning four decades and 11 nonfiction books about sports history, from baseball to horse racing.

But his latest project brings him back to the gridiron. Rocket Men: The Black Quarterbacks Who Revolutionized Pro Football examines the checkered legacy of stereotypes and racial integration at the sport’s highest level.

The book was published in September, about seven months after Super Bowl 57 was the first to match two Black starting quarterbacks — Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.

“It’s a story of opportunity more than anything else,” Eisenberg said. “There were almost no Black quarterbacks for years. How did we get here that we’re almost a century into the history of pro football and this is still on the table in any degree?”

Eisenberg has lived for the last 40 years in Baltimore, where he worked as a longtime newspaper columnist. He visits Dallas frequently to see his mother, former proprietor of the independent bookstore House of Books at the Preston-Royal intersection.

That’s where Eisenberg worked the cash register during his teenage years as a student at Greenhill and where he nurtured his early passion for literature.

“It was a great little store. I grew up in a house where books and reading were definitely emphasized,” he said. “Reading the books and newspapers there definitely had an influence on me.”

Eisenberg later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. “I basically majored in the student paper,” he said. In the early 1980s, he returned home to work at the Dallas Times Herald

After relocating to the East Coast, he started writing books on the side. His first was published in 1996, about champion horse Lil E. Tee.

“It was a real rags-to-riches story. I was looking for a subject and got it written,” Eisenberg said. “There’s no better feeling than when you hold it in your hand for the first time. That’s a big deal.”

Eisenberg has touched on the convergence of race and athletics in some of his previous works, but never as prominently as Rocket Men. 

“I’m very careful with what I choose to write about. I look for stories that will resonate beyond the boundaries of sports — whether they have a lesson or interesting takeaway,” he said. “I don’t only like to write about the winners.”

He spent three years on interviews and research for his new book, which features perspectives from some pioneers who struggled to receive fair treatment and equal opportunity.

“I think it’s important in our world to shine a light on some things and tell what happened. You can’t sweep it under the rug,” Eisenberg said. “Things are so much better now for Black quarterbacks, but to get to this point, we’ve gone through a lot. It doesn’t hurt to put that out there.”

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