Once thing that hit me like a ton of bricks watching tonight’s BCS championship game between Texas and Alabama.
Did you know that neither team had a black man on their roster as recently as 1970 — 1970!
Wilbur Jackson, a very good running back for the San Francisco 49ers, was the first-ever black man to sign with Alabama. He suited up in 1971. In 1970, the first black man suited up for Texas, an offensive lineman named Julius Whittier.
That’s just 40 lousy years ago. That just astounded me when I thought about. Not one single black player on either team until the 70s. I checked the rest of the universities of the South. They all followed the same pattern. Clemson, 1970; Georgia, 1971; Auburn, 1971; Ole Miss, 1972; LSU, 1973!
Alabama was famously integrated after 1970 when Sam Cunningham (pictured) scored two touchdowns at Legion Field for USC. (Remember Sam “The Bam?” Once scored four touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. I actually watched that game as a kid. I think he gained a total of four yards on those four TDs.) Afterward, Bear Bryant knew he needed black players to compete against the best.
Fast forward to today. Less than a generation’s time span.
More than half the players in the BCS title game for Alabama and Texas were black. There were black and white Crimson Tide players hugging after winning the championship.
Six black men are head coaches in the NFL.
A black man sits in the White House. Just 40 years ago, seven full years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” on the Mall and five years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, a black man, no matter how talented, how fast, how strong, how powerful, was not allowed to play football for the University of Texas or the University of Alabama.
I have on three occasions listened to blowhards in bars bitch about black quarterbacks — all three times dropping the N-bomb in public (One time I almost got my ass kicked because I muttered a little too loudly “Jesus @#$%ing Christ” and moved down to the end of the bar.). I don’t know what it is about a black man playing quarterback that so bugs racists. They don’t have any trouble with black receivers or black running backs. Something about a black quarterback, though drives bigots nuts. Remember what a big deal it was when Doug Williams won a Super Bowl, after a reporter (allegedly) asked him “how long have you been a black quarterback?” You know, Warren Moon couldn’t land a job in the NFL when he graduated college in the late 70s. He had to play in Canada for six years before he finally got his shot. Now he is in the NFL Hall of Fame. Two other black QBs — Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair — are shoe-ins for the Hall of Fame. Think now how silly it is to even think about what colour a quarterback’s skin is.
Maybe football isn’t important in the big scheme of things, but sports are a microcosm of our society. We have come so far since 1970.
Good article, Pepe! It would be interesting to see how the northern universities integrated their athletic teams. I’m sure it would be somewhat similar.
I can remember when black men were NEVER seen on TV, except in subservient roles in the movies. You never saw a black news announcer, weather man, or game show host. Now, it is thankfully commonplace. I would imagine that most people now pay no attention to the black news reporter…which is the way it should have been all along.
We’ve come a long way…but we still have a very long way to go!
Em, did a google search on the Northern Univ. integration, looks like in 1889 William Henry Lewis played for Amherst and William Tecumseh played for Harvard.
Also, Yale, New Haven, CT, had the first black team captain, Levi Johnson in 1949. His father was a chef in Yale’s kitchen and was given a scholarship after serving in WWII.
So it looks like us Yankees up here in the North were a little more progressive than those Rebels in the South.
Believe me when I say being from Oklahoma we are familiar with the assholes that govern the NCAA…
oops that was for KQ!!!
I know Jim Brown and Ernie Davis were big stars at Syracuse back in the 1950s. John Henry Johnson was a star at Arizona State in the early 50s. Lenny Moore was a star at Penn State in the 1950s. Jackie Robinson was a football star at UCLA in the 40s. I’m sure there’s countless others I’m not thinking of.
As far as we might have come in NCAA Football Division 1 it would seem being “Black” is fine for Quarterbacking but not Headcoaching…
True dat, college football is the worst offender. You can blame the NCAA which is probably the most conservative organization in all of sports. Hell it took an act of congress for them to treat female sports fairly.
Good point. I think there might be more black coaches in the NFL than in NCAA Div. 1
Is there a “Black” Division 1 Coach at all? There isn’t in any of the “Big” Programs for sure…
I was right. There are 6 in the NFL and according to this article, there are only 4 out of 119 Div. I-A colleges.
Pathetic. You have to give the NFL credit for their progressive not only views but actions to give African American coaches more opportunities.
Great article with some valuable insight. We do have to look at the progress that we have made. It helps us put things into proper perspective.
Now to be a bummer but with every step forward we have to define what is the next necessary step.
How many openly gay athletes are in male team sports?
None that I know of.
I remember seeing a “Real Sports” story on Esera Tuaolo who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars when I had season tickets. He came out after his football career. But it was heartbreaking to hear him tell stories of what he had to deal with in a very homophobic environment. He talked about needing to date woman he was not interested in to the jokes he had to endure it was very moving.
The only true disappointment I have with Obama so far is that he has made no progress to end DADT and DOMA.
Hopefully after 40 years or better much sooner we will look back at LGBT rights and say what the fuck were we thinking as well.
I also don’t want to underestimate how far we need to go with our ethnic tolerance. As a scientist I utterly hate the word race because it means absolutely nothing in terms of being biologically significant. Our species even with our differences is still one of the homogeneous mammalian species. Genetically speaking there is more diversity in Africa than between the so called races because that where we all originated.
Great article. ‘Bama almost didn’t pull that one out even with McCoy out. Great perspective! That shocked me, ’70’s?!! Wow! Although, with Ole Miss, well… No kidding about black QB’s. It goes back to the old, they’re good muscle and athletes, but don’t have the wits to make executive snap decisions and ‘lead’ the team, they are to serve secondary positions serving the white man’s glory, or some such thing. I wonder how they feel about the growing trend of Polynesians moving from ‘just’ linemen to the QB slot? Gonna have to get creative with their epithets, ‘lei wearing pork eaters’?