Michael Oriard on Football and Integration


I came across this article that Michael Oriard, a former college and NFL player, wrote on football and integration.  It’s six years old but very compelling.   I read through much of Oriard’s books Reading Football and King Football while I was researching for my thesis.

ReadingF KingF

Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Football has no Jackie Robinson, the lone racial hero whose achievement changed baseball forever and whose story is common knowledge thanks to the recent 50th anniversary celebration of his breaking the color line. Instead, the gridiron has William Henry Lewis, an All-American at Harvard in 1892; Paul Robeson, the first black student at Rutgers, who earned Phi Beta Kappa as well as All-American honors in 1918; Fitz Pollard, an All-American at Brown who played in the first integrated Rose Bowl in 1916; Duke Slater, another All-American, who played for Iowa in the late ’20s and later became a judge in Chicago; as well as Oze Simmons, Kenny Washington, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, and Levi Jackson—a collective “Jackie Robinson” who broke down racial barriers not in a single burst but a step at a time.

College football was integrated outside the South as early as the 1890s, but only marginally and unevenly. Lewis played for Harvard in 1892, but Princeton and Yale—the rest of the Big Three in football’s earliest years—had no black players until the ’40s (Levi Jackson’s election as Yale’s captain in 1949 warranted a front-page account in The New York Times). In any season before the Second World War, no more than two or three dozen African Americans played in what the black press called “mixed football.” Until UCLA fielded a team in 1939 with Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, and the one and only Jackie Robinson (with a fourth black player as a sub), no team had had more than a couple of black players at any one time.

Notre Dame, the “home team” for every despised immigrant in the ’20s and ’30s, had no black players before the ’50s. Army and Navy, as national institutions with numerous Southern students, were also late to integrate. The Big Six Conference (forerunner of the Big Eight and now the Big Twelve) officially integrated in 1947, the Missouri Valley Conference in 1950, the ACC in 1963, the Southwest Conference in 1966, the SEC in 1967. I’m old enough to have played (for Notre Dame) against Georgia Tech in 1969 and Texas in the 1970 Cotton Bowl, before those teams were integrated.

Read the rest of the piece here.

Oriard also put out a book this past summer called Brand NFL.   It’s probably a must-read for anyone who wants a career in sports and marketing or sports and finance.


3 thoughts on “Michael Oriard on Football and Integration

  1. Pingback: Pugs Progress « Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

  2. Harmon Brody

    I read Oriard’s article on College Football and integration and he is seriously missing some very significant information.

    The first University to integrate in the deep South was the University of Miami in 1966. The player was Ray Bellamy, wide receiver. The coach was Charlie Tate and the action was a determination by then President Henry King Stanford. Immediately LSU took Miami off their schedule as did other schools. Bellamy was joined by Rubin Carter, Burgess Owens, Woody Thompson, Chuck Foreman and others. Of the first 19 black players at Miami, 11 made NFL teams, a very high percentage.

    In addition the Sports Illustrated article on the same subject omitted Bellamy and Miami but in a correction, their online version ran this story. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/alexander_wolff/11/02/wolff.1102/index.html

    Bellamy now an dean for athletic academic affairs at Florida A&M University has remained in college football coaching following stints with Montreal Alouettes and the NY Jets.

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      Hey Harmon,

      This particular post of mine has received a decent amount of net traffic, but you’re the first person to say somethin’ about it. Thanks for stopping by and providing this information.

      How did you know about Ray Bellamy? I Googled him, and according to this article about the Orange Bowl, Bellamy was ” the first African-American student-athlete at the University of Miami” –a pretty huge deal. Not just football player but first black student-athlete? Why doesn’t he have a biopic already? The next Google search revealed that there is a very short documentary about him called A People Thing directed by Molly Smith and Matt Miller. It’s on the YT:

      UGA didn’t integrate until 1971, according to Georgia Trend.

      Googling of GaTech’s first black football player turned up this ESPN article and this NYT article (with quotes from our friend Michael Oriard!).

      Oriard’s book King Football, which was referenced in the NYT article does not even have Miami in the index! Nor Ray Bellamy. It’s possible that the index doesn’t have every mention of a school or person’s name.

      I looked up the Atlantic Coast Conference, and it has this much to say in the book’s introduction:

      “….the three major southern conferences remained entirely segregated until 1963, when Maryland took the lead in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the northernmost of the three. Integration by conference and within conferences proceeded north to south. The ACC was followed by the Southwest Conference in 1966, with all its schools integrated by 1970 when Texas and Arkansas fielded teams with black players. The Southeastern Conference was integrated last, beginning with Kentucky in 1967 and Tennessee in 1968, ending with Mississippi, LSU, and Georgia in 1972” (9-10).

      There was a footnote to the last sentence there. Oriard cites his source as “Paul, McGhee, and Fant, ‘Arrival and Ascendance of Black Athletes’; Pennington, Breaking the Ice.”

      Hmmm…curiouser and curiouser.


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