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University of Georgia


Because professional football has primarily been a post-World War II phenomenon, historical research efforts have been minimal. There have been a few investigations of the sport's prewar development. They have demonstrated that football teams in small towns - like Pottsville, Pennsylvania - provided a sense of community identification for its working-class residents. The Maroons also illustrated how these small town teams transformed from an amateur club, composed largely of local players, to a professional team recruiting players from outside the local arena. In contrast, clubs from Western Pennsylvania evolved from the efforts of upper class nouveau riche organizers, who sought to professionalize the game around the notion of a Victorian ideology. Research efforts have also examined the mythology that surrounded football stars, like Bronko Nagurski, and the meaning it gave for the lives of the people who made them their heroes.(2)

The investigation of prewar professional football is a bit complicated due partly to its regional origins. The game evolved from tough mine and mill towns in western Pennsylvania and Ohio in the 1890s, to large urban areas by the mid-1930s. By 1934, Green Bay was the only small city left in the NFL. Only a few works described the game's organized structure. Future scholars will have to rely on biographies, like those concerning George Halas or Jim Thorpe, or works done by journalists, like Tex Maule, in order to reconstruct the NFL's organizational efforts. Even more challenging is the fact that prewar football's social stratification transcended race, ethnic, and class lines. Clearly the game's significance and meaning took on a variety of forms given its saturation across different socioeconomic groups).(3)

The NFL's early years were also marred by its quest for respectability. The professional game was overshadowed by college football, which blossomed in the 1920s, and most college graduates found career pursuits in other avenues more attractive. Early NFL franchises were very unstable. Between 1921 and 1932, thirty-six different franchises played in the league, with as many as 22 in 1926. The newspapers all but ignored the NFL.

It was within this context that a small cadre of African Americans played in the NFL. Primarily amateur historians have done scholarship on the black experience on the gridiron. They highlight both the early black pioneers' contribution to the game and their athletic prowess on the field. For example, Joe Follis was the first known black player to play prior to 1920, a period that can best be described as professional football's semiprofessional era. Robert "Rube" Marshall played for the Rock Island team, while Fred "Duke" Slater starred for the Chicago Cardinals from 1926 to 1931.(4)

Both Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard and Paul Robeson have received the most scholarly attention in the prewar era. John Carroll states that Pollard was one of the NFL's elite stars, and was the first African American to play in the American Professional Football Association. Two years later, that name was changed to the National Football League. One of Carroll's insightful contributions was the role of the head coach in the game's early years. Pollard, who coached the Akron Pros, had a limited role and he could not coach from the sidelines. The early NFL head coach had to sit in one place on the bench, while the team captain ran the game on the field.(5)

Paul Robeson was another standout professional in the 1920s. An All-American at Rutgers University, Robeson played professional football primarily to pay his way through law school. Scholars who interviewed Robeson indicate that he rarely reminisced about his days as a football player. Robeson reinforced the notion that professional football was a disreputable sport in comparison with its college counterpart. To the Rutgers All-American, professional football was a stepping stone to his eventual career as an actor and social activist.(6)

From 1934 to 1946, blacks were excluded from the labor force only to reemerge when the NFL faced a rival challenge from a new league, the All-American Football Conference (AAFC). The rationale for the exclusion of African Americans from the NFL is somewhat problematic to explain. Interestingly enough the policy of exclusion coincided with the efforts of the NFL owners to make their game more respectable. They adopted a two division format with a championship game at the end of the season, and established the College All-Star game, where the NFL champions of the previous season played the top All-Americans. Historian Thomas Smith points out that observers blamed Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall for the exclusion of blacks from the NFL. Marshall was an influential owner, who was responsible for many of the innovations that placed the game on a respectable footing. To avoid offending Marshall and southern athletes and fans, NFL owners may have tacitly agreed to bypass black athletes. Other owners, like George Halas and Art Rooney, argued that both the absence of quality black talent at the collegiate level and financial constraints prohibiting the NFL from developing scouting systems accounted for the absence of blacks in the NFL. Financial realities undoubtedly discouraged owners from scouting black colleges. But, as Smith points out, there were several standout minority athletes on major college teams in the 1930s. Moreover, during the depression decade it was bad public relations to hire blacks when so many whites were without jobs.(7)

Previous research efforts suggest that both 1946 and 1960 were "banner years" regarding African Americans entering professional football's labor force. Both years coincided with a challenge from a rival league - the AAFC and the American Football League (AFL). The AAFC's challenge occurred at a time when the NFL appeared to be on the brink of stability. All league clubs, with the exception of Green Bay, were located in large urban areas. As a means of sustaining competitive balance between clubs, a player draft system was developed. Innovations on the field served to stimulate fan interest. The Bears' T formation was instrumental in crushing the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL championship game. The league also raised the price of a franchise from a 1933 level of ten thousand dollars to fifty thousand dollars in 1940.

To date, only Charles Ross has examined the re-integration of professional football from 1946 to 1962. He argues that the process of re-integration was a slow one, and by the end of the 1940s only 26 blacks played professional football. Many of these players had only one year careers and served primarily as "tokens" on their respective teams.(8)

Several factors contributed to this slow process. First, many of these African American players were "stacked" at certain positions. For example, of the 20 blacks who played by the end of 1949, the majority were confined to positions like halfback, defensive back, or end. A second factor was the practice of adding and dropping blacks from player rosters, as a means of diminishing criticism. In 1955, 40 black players played on various rosters, except for the Washington Redskins. The following year this number dropped to 34, with the Detroit Lions falling back into a lily white pattern. This pattern of dropping and adding gave clubs the appearance of actively recruiting black players, who were grossly underrepresented on certain club rosters.

The response to this slow process of re-integration was increased external pressure from both the black press and civil rights groups, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Both the black press and the NAACP sought to heighten the awareness of the black community regarding the plight of black players. They also sought to mobilize African Americans through the use of boycotts and picketing to exert pressure on NFL owners to hire blacks. They targeted the league's worst offender, the Washington Redskins. Both Smith and Ross argue that external pressure - primarily from junior members of the Kennedy Administration, and from civil rights groups, like the NAACP and CORE - was instrumental in forcing Marshall's hand to desegregate the Redskins.

Unfortunately, the black experience has received little or no scholarly attention in the 1960s. Information can be derived from player biographies, investigative reporting conducted by journalists, popular works, and a few sociological studies. While these works provide useful information, they lack historical context.(9)

The 1960s ushered in a period of expansion for the NFL that eventually led to its existing organizational structure. The era began with a rival challenge and eventual merger of the AFL into the NFL's league format. Even more significant, football became the first major league to expand into the South. The AAFC operated a franchise in Miami for one year, while the NFL resided briefly in Dallas in the 1950s. From 1960 to 1968, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans were granted professional franchises.

The 1960s also marked the start of what historians August Meier and John Bracey refer to as a "revolution in expectations" among American blacks. In other words, a new sense of urgency to speed the dismantling of barriers to racial equality emerged. The result was an outpouring of nonviolent direct action, that by the early 1960s, came to characterize this most recent phase of the civil rights movement. Tens of thousands of people - black and white - were mobilized for the first time. The rise of new organizations like SCLC, SNCC, and many local organizations mounted a frontal assault against all existing racial barriers to political, economic, and social equality.(10)

African Americans in professional football exemplified this new sense of urgency to speed up the dismantling of racial barriers. They were less willing to accommodate and accept the insults and humiliations that inevitably confronted them at every step. But as sociologist Harry Edwards accurately states, blacks were not yet completely free to respond as men. However, as the number of blacks in professional football increased, they began to speak out louder than ever before against racism. For example, several black athletes within the NFL demanded that Commissioner Pete Rozelle resign because of his insensitivity to racism within the NFL. Bobby Mitchell, star halfback of the Washington Redskins, spoke out against quotas limiting black players on NFL teams. Dallas Cowboy fullback Don Perkins of Albuquerque spoke out against the color line within and outside the Dallas team. Perkins, who held a $50,000-a-year contract with the Cowboys, complained that none of the blacks on the team could get decent housing in Dallas.(11)

By the 1970s, despite the increase of African American players in professional football, several journalists and social scientists began investigating the professional team sports industry. They attacked the romantic notion that professional sports had provided an avenue of mobility for blacks unavailable elsewhere in American society. This resulted in sociologists conducting theoretical and empirical examinations of racial segregation in the sports industry. Both professional baseball and football were chosen to test the unsubstantiated assumption that professional athletics have "done something" for African Americans.(12)

The empirical studies of the 1970s can be divided into two categories: the Loy-McElvogue model and the emulation thesis. Sociologist Joseph McElvogue and John W. Loy divided playing positions into "central" and "peripheral" categories. These classifications did not refer to spatial relationships, but rather to the frequency of interaction among the players. They demonstrated that black athletes were channeled into peripheral positions. They became running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs. From these positions, both black and Hispanic players were less likely to move on, after retirement, to managerial roles. Chi square tests also illustrated that the observed patterns were very improbably random. Once Loy and McElvogue introduced into sport sociology the distinction between central and peripheral positions, other sociologists were able to chart the path that leads from central positions to coaching jobs.(13)

In 1975, Barry McPherson offered an alternative to the Loy-McElvogue model. In what can best be described as the emulation theory, McPherson argued that African American youths may segregate themselves in particular positions because they imitate black stars. This view was contrary to the belief that stacking could be attributed to discriminatory acts by members of the dominant group. McPherson maintained that the playing roles to which black youths aspire were those in the offensive and defensive backfields and defensive linemen. Therefore, the subsequent imitation of their techniques by black youths had resulted in blacks being overrepresented in those positions.(14)

Amid these debates, one of the most innovative sociological inquiries was conducted by Johnathon J. Brower. He was granted permission to study an NFL team during two successive summer camps in 1970 and 1971. After studying professional football media guides that covered a twelve year period from 1960 to 1971, Brower also interviewed players, coaches, scouts, and owners. He also collected anecdotal data and pointed out that the team, fictitiously named the Jaguars, had no idea he was studying racism. Brower discovered a subtle but pervasive form of racism, resulting in a culture clash, involving the inappropriateness of the black culture in the white professional football world. Since the game was, and still is, infused with traditional white middle-class values, Brower points out that the people who control the game spend a great deal of effort seeing that football remained the last bastion of American values. But by the 1970s, the NFL's labor force was 30 percent African American, and they began to question white ethnocentric assumptions with racist overtones.(15)

Brower's study also highlighted the assumption that professional football has "done something" for African Americans. According to the game's ruling elite, the entire black community was gaining pride and a sense of commitment to the American system because blacks have made good in football. Moreover, these blacks were living proof of the fact that opportunity and open competition flourished in America.

It appeared that the NFL management had a valid argument. While the sociological studies illustrated high incidences of positional segregation, both imposed and under institutional control, their works also revealed an 18 percent increase by blacks in the labor force in the 1960s. The question now becomes the extent to which this increase was facilitated by league expansion, or whether external pressure was the significant factor in opening opportunities for African Americans. A few sociologists point to the formation of the AFL in 1960, increasing the demand for black labor. Others acknowledged the civil rights movement's growing momentum, and state it could have possibly been an instrumental element.(16)

Clearly, to test NFL management's claim that football provided an avenue of mobility unobtainable elsewhere, a comparative analysis across industries and institutions would have to be conducted. There is historical evidence that suggests that this assumption does not hold water. Blacks benefited from the post-World War II economic boom, more than doubling their median income from 1940 to 1960. The northward migration of nearly three million African Americans brought gains in professional, white-collar, skilled and semiskilled occupations. Where whites competed with blacks for even the lowest-paid jobs during the Depression, in the postwar years employment and salaries spiraled upward through the late 1940s and 1950s, easing fears that black gains would threaten white affluence and security.(17)

The reintegration of professional football coincided with the elimination of segregation in the armed forces. Historian Manning Marable points out that in the two decades after World War II, the number of blacks in all services almost tripled, from 107,000 in 1949 to 303,000 in 1967. In the 1960s, African Americans had made major inroads in high level federal government positions, as well as filling younger executive positions in growing numbers. Even more significant historically, the economic well-being of blacks has traditionally improved during periods of labor scarcity: World War I, the 1920s, World War II, and the Vietnam War. In other words, this was a period in which blacks had more job opportunities opened to them. This progress occurred at a time when the NFL had hired only two black assistant coaches and, of course, no black head coaches. Clearly a historical investigation of the movement of blacks into professional football's labor force and managerial positions is in order.(18)


It should be noted that professional football's expansion era coincided with the transition of the post-World War II Civil Rights Movement. The culmination of both external and internal forces resulted in the movement's undergoing a tactical transitional phase. Externally, a significant shift in white public opinion in the direction of racial equality occurred. Internally, what was once a liberal white and African American upper-class movement became a completely black led and almost entirely black, largely working-class movement.

There was also a shift in strategy. Since the civil rights movement's inception in the early twentieth century, the protest tactic of gradualism predominated the movement. Even the most humanitarian reformers concerned with racial injustice counseled gradualism. Northern liberals preached the necessity of deferring citizenship for blacks until the freedmen were ready for it. They emphasized the long term gains to be derived from education, religion, and economic uplift and denigrated strategies predicated on agitation, force, or political activity. In the post-war era, the strategy shifted to what became known as direct action techniques - a series of non-violent protests, picketing, and agitation. Moreover, the aim of direct action protest was to mobilize the potential power in the ghetto along political and economic lines.

In the 1980s, civil rights historians sought to reshape the African American historiography. Their central question was whether the civil rights movement could be properly understood as a coalition of national organizations, pressuring Washington to correct racial injustices. They suggested that the research focus should shift to local communities and grass roots organizations. Dr. Martin Luther King and other well known players would not vanish from view. They would take a back seat to the men and women who initiated protest in small towns and cities across the South. These local agitators acted according to their own needs rather than those of central organizations headquartered in New York, Washington, and Atlanta.(19)

The examination of the civil rights movement on the grass roots level provides the best linkage to the process of desegregating the team sports industry. Previous research efforts reveal the presence of local civil rights chapters furthering the cause for racial integration in sports. As noted previously, Smith indicated that both the NAACP and CORE began protesting George Preston Marshall's refusal to desegregate the Washington Redskins. Interestingly enough, CORE's involvement in the Redskin protest occurred at a time when that organization was experiencing a renaissance. At the height of the Cold War, CORE had almost ceased to exist. Gradually, local chapters began a process of restructuring, recruiting new members, and some level of activism developed. In 1959, Brooklyn Dodger great Jackie Robinson, a guest of the South Carolina NAACP, was threatened with arrest along with his welcoming party for using the "white" waiting room at the Greenville airport. The incident aroused the city's blacks, and provided the local CORE chapter with an opportunity to utilize direct action protests and receive valuable publicity.(20)

In his article, "Baseball's Reluctant Challenge," Jack Davis highlights black baseball players' discontent with segregated conditions in spring training facilities. Responding initially to being excluded from a breakfast sponsored by the St. Petersburg chamber of commerce, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Bill White took his grievance before the public in 1961. In addition, other ball players had come forward to protest the inequities of spring training, and to demand that baseball management contest the South's unsavory form of hospitality. Davis points out that White and others were actually following the lead of Florida's black citizens, some of whom were members of the local NAACP, who were engaged in their own struggle for equality.(21)

Previously, sociologists pointed to 1960 as African Americans' "banner year," in terms of making inroads into professional football. It was evident that the formation of the AFL was significant in opening job opportunities for blacks. But the emergence of the new league coincided with an event that resulted in what John Hope Franklin referred to as "the most profound revolutionary change in the status of black Americans ... since Emancipation," the sit-in movement. The sit-in movement made direct action the predominant strategy for advocating civil rights. The movement exemplified the mind and mood of black youths, many of whom were barely in their twenties, that simmered across black college campuses. They viewed the legislative maneuvers of the NAACP with politely hidden contempt. They knew little, if any, of the earlier efforts of civil rights activists, like W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph. Even more important, as historian Vincent Harding indicates, the sit-in movement was not a rejection of the American Dream. It generated necessary, albeit ambiguous, steps towards its culmination.(22)

A similar argument can be made for the African American players in the NFL. By 1961, a grass roots movement of sorts was occurring among star black players on various teams. The most outspoken among the black stars was Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown. The Browns' All-Pro had no intentions of "playing in Texas if for any reason I am restricted from living with my teammates." Brown also indicated that black teammates Bobby Mitchell and John Wooten felt the same way. Philadelphia Eagles fullback Clarence Peaks stated he would positively refuse to accept any Jim Crow living quarters as long as he was a professional athlete.(23)

Clearly the proposed boycott of games by these black players reflected the mind and mood of the black youths who participated in the sit-in movement. Black stars in the NFL recognized their advantageous position. The mere presence of a new league gave them more job mobility than they previously had. NFL owners would have been reluctant to allow an All-Pro, like Brown, to defect to the AFL. Further, these black stars personified the post-war generation in an era of change. Despite their exploits on the field, they experienced the same racial indignities their parents' generation endured. More important, the threat of black player boycotts points to a new direction which needs to be taken if scholars are to expand their understanding of the process of integration and the dismantling of racial barriers in both sport and American society.


The limited historical research on African Americans and football has revealed the presence of local civil rights chapters engaged in the struggle to desegregate the game on the field. This research focus has suggested that external pressure was essential in forcing the Washington Redskins to hire black players. But historians have yet to assess whether external pressure was instrumental in increasing the number of blacks on teams on which they were grossly underrepresented. At the same time, with professional football expanding into the South a further assessment is essential to determine both the impact upon the integration of football and advancing the cause of civil rights.

There is still plenty of room to assess the impact the proposed boycotts by black players had in terms of facilitating both the integration of professional football and the civil rights struggle. Yet they also raise the question regarding football's role in the process of desegregating southern society. Previously, both the NFL and AFL added five southern cities to their respective leagues - Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and New Orleans. Marable accurately states that many corporate leaders, always looking at the social cost of doing business in the South, had concluded that desegregation was inevitable. Furthermore, the Federal government's appropriate role was to ensure the civil order which was essential to business expansion. Yet these efforts were undermined by the rise of reactionary groups, like the White Citizen's Council, that utilized the tactic of massive resistance to retard social change. The close-knit nature of white leadership, particularly in small southern cities, made it possible for white politicians and businessmen to act together to obstruct racial change.(24)

Professional football illustrated that the process of desegregation did not only occur on the field. This was a period when segregated seating in most playing facilities in the South was the norm. Responding to the segregated seating policy at an exhibition game, Baltimore halfback Lenny Moore stated that he and other members of the Colts were definite in their stand against the segregated seating issue in Roanoke, Virginia. Ross has traced the efforts of local civil rights groups in Houston attempting to abolish the Oilers' segregated seating policy.(25)

Even more important, this was an era in which civic leaders in cities throughout the United States were attempting to lure an existing team, or to obtain a professional franchise in a new league. This included the aforementioned southern cities. If the cities of the South desired professional franchises, then it was evident that civic leaders had to come to accept the death of Jim Crow. The question now becomes what role the expansion of the professional team sports industry played in the process of desegregating southern society. There is evidence that suggests there was no monolithic response to the process of desegregation. Local businessmen and politicians, both black and white, in Dallas Texas, asserted their preference for thriving commerce and racial peace. As early as 1948, Cotton Bowl officials worked carefully behind the scenes to ease their fears and avoid any unexpected confrontations, due to the presence of two black players on the Penn State Nittany Lions. In addition, the white press temporarily refrained from making any references to the Nittany Lions' black players or the larger significance of the racial milestone that was approaching. In what could best be described as a policy of racial moderation, bowl officials and city fathers understood the financial and public relations benefits Dallas gained from the flexibility in athletic scheduling. It also gave the Cotton Bowl a competitive advantage over both the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl. When the sit-in movement reached Dallas, white leaders adjusted quickly, desegregating forty stores and major hotels with minimal resistance. Several factors contributed to this model transition: sustained black unity, a history of close ties between black and white leaders, a substantial black political and economic presence in the city, and a low-profile treatment in the black and white press. Moreover, Dallas's cohesive business community quickly dealt with and rejected the cost of protracted conflict. It promptly met the student demands and went on enjoying boom times.(26)

Other southern cities, like Miami, New Orleans, and Houston were slow to make this transition. Martin states that the Orange Bowl committee lacked the authority to establish its own racial policies. The Orange Bowl Stadium was owned by the city of Miami, Florida, and by the late 1940s, the State Board of Control adopted a formal policy specifically prohibiting all public colleges from hosting integrated home games. Local custom in New Orleans dictated that seating and facilities at Tulane University Stadium be strictly segregated. Tulane Stadium was the site of the annual Sugar Bowl; by the late 1940s, Sugar Bowl tickets even stated that "this ticket is issued for a person of the Caucasian race." In Houston, the combination of the black press and the Progressive Youth Association, an activist group born out of the sit-in movement, protested against the Oilers' segregated seating policy.(27)

All three of the aforementioned cities have two things in common - demographic location and the fact that each was granted professional franchises in the 1960s. Civil rights historians argue that the sit-in movement was not as successful in the Deep South as it was in the Upper South and South Atlantic states. The question now becomes to what extent did the presence of black players in both the NFL and AFL, and their willingness to boycott games that sanctioned segregated seating, result in prompting civic leaders and politicians to reassess their segregated seating policies. It should be noted that both the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints played their home games in the same stadiums that established formal segregated seating policies, the Orange Bowl and Tulane Stadium. Did these proposed boycotts influence the thinking of white leaders in Dallas who were making concerted efforts to desegregate public accommodations? After all they began the 1960 season with franchises in both the NFL and AFL. And why did Miami, New Orleans, and Houston respond so slowly to this transition? The AFL as a whole (New Orleans was in the NFL) suffered at the gate, and alienating potential paying customers was not in their best economic interests. Finally, what role did local civil rights chapters play when black players threatened to boycott games in the South? It was clear by 1961 both factions, particularly the NAACP, had a common interest to rally behind - the elimination of racial barriers.(28)

In the team sports industry, it was evident that the demand for black labor increased initially because of the expansion of the league structure. Additionally, it has been the competitive resources which have been most influential in creating greater opportunities for blacks as players. In professional sports, there exists a strong pressure to win and because performance is measurable, the best players are sought.

In order to test the notion that professional sports in America has become the nation's most desegregated labor market, a comparative analysis should be conducted. It is recommended that an internal investigation be conducted first, then an external one. In other words, a comparative analysis of professional baseball, basketball, and football be examined first, then a comparison with another industry or institution in American society. Currently, only major league baseball has generated historical inquiry into its desegregation process in the post-war era. Historian Jules Tygiel states that the process of integration was carried out at a snail's pace. He added, however, that no other agency in the 1950s destroyed as many racial barriers without the use of mass protest and federal intervention. Yet the same argument can be made for both professional basketball and football. Therefore, it would be necessary to analyze these sports in conjunction to validate this assertion.(29)

An institution that would be of interest for comparison with the teams sports industry would be higher education. Preliminary evidence would make a good case for the significance of federal intervention creating opportunities for African Americans. On the eve of World War II, post-secondary black enrollment was minuscule. Approximately 5,000 black students were enrolled in white colleges outside the South in 1939, representing one-half of one percent of total enrollments in the North. Furthermore, about half of these students were concentrated in fewer than two dozen institutions. Similarly, only a handful of blacks were enrolled in southern colleges and universities. Out of the handful, only about ten percent were enrolled in a predominantly white college or university. In 1946, President Harry Truman appointed an interracial committee to investigate civil rights conditions. In its report, the committee recommended not only the elimination of inequities in educational opportunities, but the abandonment of all forms of discrimination in higher education. In 1947, black enrollment nationwide was estimated at six percent of total college enrollments, a high point that was not surpassed again until 1967.(30)

Following the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, and later the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the enrollments of African Americans increased significantly. Black enrollments in northern colleges increased from around 45,000 in 1954 to almost 95,000 in 1967-68. African Americans attending white colleges in the South during the early sixties rose from 3,000 in 1960 to 24,000 in 1965, and to 98,000 by 1970. A comparative approach could determine the degree to which either the post-World War II economic expansion or federal intervention opened doors for blacks, as well as other people of color.

Sociological research has focused on patterns that have illuminated the ways in which head and assistant coaches have utilized black labor on the playing field. Perhaps another form of analysis would be to focus on individuals in upper management responsible for hiring coaches. For example, as a presidential candidate, John E Kennedy called for an end to discrimination through congressional legislation and strong executive action. As President, Kennedy moved cautiously on civil rights, choosing instead to combat racial injustices with symbolic gestures. He appointed a Committee on Equal Opportunity in Housing. To the dismay of African Americans, he also named some white supremacists to the federal bench. In addition, he failed to deliver on a promise to abolish discrimination in federally subsidized housing. In some ways, Kennedy's appointments and token gestures undermined his efforts to end discrimination through legislation and executive action.

Did similar hiring practices occur in professional sports, and what impact did they have on the process of desegregation? A basic assumption could be that unless management made a concerted effort to hire qualified blacks, discrimination would be perpetuated rather than eliminated. For example, when Branch Rickey became general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1951 to 1955, blacks finally entered the Pirates' farm system. When the Pirates finally climbed out of last place and won the World Series in 1960, they did it with a predominantly white team. But Rickey's - and later Joe Brown's, the Mahatma's successor - recruiting of black players into the farm system, led to the Pirates' possessing some of the top black stars of the mid-1960s. Black players, like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, and Bob Veale formed the nucleus of the Pirates' 1971 world championship. Clearly Rickey's earlier effort was instrumental in making Pittsburgh one of the top teams in the 1970s.(31)

Finally, in order to better understand the African American experience in professional football, an effort must be made to establish connections with the broader forces that have shaped the black experience in America. There is a belief, within white America especially, that black people are somehow monolithic as social and political groups. African Americans know better. For example, the entire political history of black America has been, essentially, a series of debates: Frederick Douglass versus Martin Delany in the 1850s; Booker T. Washington versus W.E.B. DuBois in the early twentieth century; Paul Robeson versus Walter White in the 1940s; the competition and conflicts within the civil rights movement of the 1960s involving the NAACP, the National Urban League, CORE, the SCLC, and SNCC; and Black Power versus integration in the 1960s.(32)

African American athletes were both a reflection and extension of these debates. In the early twentieth century black athletes, like Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, accommodated white discrimination, and through their exploits in the ring and on the track attempted to gain acceptance into the mainstream of society. Jackie Robinson endured Branch Rickey's noble experiment as a means to "open doors" for black athletes to follow. When integration stalled, Robinson was critical of the baseball establishment. The notion of accommodating to white discrimination and speaking out against these indignities resulted in a source of conflict among African American athletes. This conflict ignited the revolt of the black athlete in the late 1960s. But more research is needed to determine the extent to which these forces influenced both the post-war development of the team sports industry, and the African American experience in professional football.

Department of Physical Education and Sport Studies

Athens, GA 30602-6522


The author would like to thank Stephen Hardy, whose considerable insight and suggestions enriched this paper.

1. For accounts who advocate the aforementioned assumptions, see for example, Randy Roberts and James S. Olson, Winning Is the Only Thing: Sports in America since 1945 (Baltimore, 1989), 163-88; Benjamin G. Rader, American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports, 2nd ed., (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990), 307-27. Jules Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (New York, 1983), 319. Statistics on the increase of blacks in professional football's labor force are in Greg Guss, "Skin Games," Sport 88(May 1997): 55.

2. To date, the most definitive work on professional football origins prior to 1920 is Marc S. Maltby's "The Origins and Early Development of Professional Football, 18901920," (Ph.D. diss.: Ohio University, 1987). See also Keith McClellan, The Sunday Game: At the Dawn of Professional Football (Akron, Ohio, 1998). Other works on prewar football include: J. Thomas Jable, "The Birth of Professional Football: Pittsburgh Athletic Clubs Ring in Professionals in 1892," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 62 (1979): 13147; William Gudelumas and Stephen R. Crouch, "The Stolen Championship of the Pottsville Maroons: A Case Study in the Emergence of Modern Football," Journal of Sport History 9 (Spring 1982): 53-64; Ernest L. Cuneo, "Present at the Creation: Professional Football in the Twenties," American Scholar 56 (Autumn 1987): 487-501; Kevin Britz, "Of Football and Frontiers: The Meaning of Bronko Nagurski," Journal of Sport History 20 (Summer 1993): 101-26; Carl Becker, "The 'Tom Thumb' Game: Bears vs. Spartans, 1932," Journal of Sport History 22 (Fall 1995): 216-27.

3. George Halas, Halas by Halas: The Autobiography of George Halas (New York, 1979); George Vass, George Halas and the Chicago Bears (Chicago, 1971); Robert W. Wheeler, Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete (Norman, OK, 1979). Other popular works highlighting the NFL's organizational structure include: Tex Maule, The Game, rev. ed., (New York, 1967); Tom Bennett et. al., The NFL's Official Encyclopedic History of Professional Football (New York, 1977); Harry Wismer, The Public Calls It Sport (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1965); Harold Classen, The History of Professional Football (New Jersey, 1963); Allison Danzig, History of American Football (New Jersey, 1956); National Football League, 75 Seasons - The Complete Story Of The National Football League 1920-1995 (Atlanta, 1994). Although his work has some serious drawbacks, Robert Peterson's works provides some useful information. See Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football (New York, 1997). Articles covering individual teams of the early era include: Bob Braunwart and Bob Carroll, "Columbus Panhandles," The Coffin Corner 1 (October 1979): 1-7; idem., "The Rock Island Independents," The Coffin Corner 5 (March 1983): 3-6; Bob Carroll, "Akron Pros, 1920," The Coffin corner 4 (December 1982): 7-8.

4. For blacks in professional football's early years, see Joe Horrigan, "Follis Led Early Black Pioneers in Pro Football," (unpublished paper courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio); Bob Curran, Pro Football's Rag Days (New York, 1969); Ocana Chalk, Pioneers of Black Sport (New York, 1975).

5. John M. Carroll, Fritz Pollard: Pioneer In Racial Awareness (Urbana, 1992). Popular works chronicling Pollard's football career include: Chalk, Pioneers of Black Sport, 216-26; Andrew Spurgeon Young, Negro Firsts In Sports (Chicago, 1963), 69-87.

6. Virginia Hamilton, Paul Robeson: The Life and Times of a Free Black Man (New York, 1974); Dorothy Butler Gilliam, Paul Robeson: All-American (Washington, DC, 1976); Philip S. Foner, ed., Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews 1918-1974 (New York, 1978); Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson (New York, 1988); Lloyd Brown, The Young Paul Robeson: "On My Journey Now," (Boulder, CO, 1997).

7. Thomas G. Smith, "Outside the Pale: The Exclusion of Blacks from the National Football League, 1934-1946," Journal of Sport History 15 (Winter 1988): 255-81. Blacks did play on semiprofessional teams during this period. See Charles K. Ross, "Outside The Lines: The African American Struggle To Participate In Professional Football, 19041962," (Ph.D. diss.: Ohio State University, 1996), 64-104; Bob Gill and Ted Maher, "Not Only the Ball Was Brown: Black Players in Minor League Football, 1933-46," The Coffin Corner 5 (Spring 1989): 12-14.

8. Ross, "Outside," 105-220. While his focus was primarily on the Washington Redskins, Thomas Smith briefly examines this era in "Civil Rights on the Gridiron: The Kennedy Administration and the Desegregation of the Washington Redskins," Journal of Sport History 14 (1987): 194.

9. Player biographies include: Jim Brown, Off My Chest (New York, 1964); idem., Out of Bounds (New York, 1989); Roosevelt Crier, Rosey an Autobiography (Oklahoma OK, 1986); Johnny Sample, Confessions of a Dirty Ballplayer (New York, 1970). Dave Meggysey chronicles the plight of black players on the St. Louis Cardinals in Out of Their League (New York, 1970). Investigative reports include: Jack Olsen, The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story (New York, 1968); Jack Orr, The Black Athlete: His Story In American History (New York, 1969). Popular works include: Young, Negro Firsts In Sports; Edwin B. Henderson, The Black Athlete: Emergence and Arrival (New York, 1969); Chalk, Pioneers in Black Sport; Stan Isaac, Jim Brown: The Golden Year 1964 (New Jersey, 1970); Edna Rust and Art Rust, Jr., Illustrated History of the Black Athlete (New York, 1985). The sociological works will be discussed in detail below.

10. August Meier and John Bracey, Jr., "The NAACP as a Reform Movement, 19091965: 'To reach the conscience of America,'" Journal of Southern History 59 (February 1993): 26-27.

11. Harry Edwards, The Revolt of the Black Athlete (New York, 1970), 22. The examples of black speaking out in Donald Spivey, "Black Consciousness and Olympic Protest Movement, 1964-1980," in idem., ed., Sport in America: New Historical Perspectives (Westport, CT, 1985), 241-42. Spivey used these examples as a means of bringing the Olympic protest of 1968 into historical context. These examples provide an excellent lead for future historical research. Virtually all of these examples were drawn from black newspapers. An alternative to Don Perkins's protest can be found in Donald Chipman, Randolph Campbell and Robert Calvert, The Dallas Cowboys: and the NFL (Norman, OK, 1970).

12. For accounts by journalists and social scientists attacking the myth of opportunity, see Jack Olsen, "The Black Athlete - A Shameful Story," Sports Illustrated 24 (July 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, 1968); Ocana Chalk, "Pro Football's Caste System," Black Sports 1 (September 1971): 36-39. Social scientists include: Norman R. Yetman and D. Stanley Eitzen, "Black Americans in Sports: Unequal Opportunity for Equal Ability," Civil Rights Digest 5 (August 1972): 21-34; Anthony H. Pascal and Leonard A. Rapping, Racial Discrimination in Organized Baseball (Santa Monica, CA, 1970); Gerald Scully, Discrimination: The Case of Baseball," in Roger G. Noll, ed., Government and Sports Business (Washington, DC, 1974), 221-73; Paul E. DuBois, "Sport, Mobility and the Black Athlete," Sport Sociology Bulletin 3 (Fall 1974): 40-61.

13. John W. Loy and Joseph McElvogue, "Racial Segregation in American Sport," International Review of Sport Sociology 5 (1970): 5-24. Two studies noteworthy in examining the transition of players in central positions to coaching jobs include, John D. Massengale and Steven R. Farrington, "The Influence of Playing Position Centrality on the Careers of College Football Coaches," Review of Sport and Leisure 2 (June 1977): 107-15; Jomills Henry Braddock II, "Race and Leadership in Professional Sports: A Study Of Institutional Discrimination in the National Football League," Arena Review 5 (September 1981): 1625. Studies that replicated the Loy-McElvogue model include, D. Stanley Eitzen and David C. Sanborn, "The Segregation Of Blacks By Playing Position In Football: Accident or Design," Social Science Quarterly 55 (March 1975): 948-59; Joseph Dougherty, "Race and Sport: A Follow Up Study," Sport Sociology Bulletin 5 (1976): 1-12; Donna R. Madison and Daniel M. Landers, "Racial Discrimination in Football: A Test of the 'Stacking' of Playing Positions Hypothesis," in Daniel M. Landers, ed., Social Problems in Athletics: Essays in the Sociology of Sport (Urbana, 1976), 151-56. Although he provides no data, Harry Edwards reinforces the findings of the empirical studies in Sociology of Sport (Homewood, IL, 1973). See also Clarence Eugene Burns, "Position Occupancy Patterns As A Function Of Race: The National Football League Draft 1968 to 1983," (Ph.D. diss.: University of California-Santa Barbara, 1988).

14. Barry D. McPherson, "The Segregation By Playing Position Hypothesis In Sport: An Alternative Explanation," in Andrew Yiannakis, Thomas D. McIntyre, Merrill J. Melnick and Dale P. Hart, eds., Sport Sociology: Contemporary Themes (Iowa, 1976), 17786. Marshall H. Medoff provides an economic hypothesis in "Positional Segregation and the Economic Hypothesis,' Sociology of Sport Journal 3 (1986): 297-304. Scholars who attempted to provide the statistics to support the emulation thesis include: Sandra C. Castine and Glyn C. Roberts, "Modeling in the Socialization Process of the Black Athlete," International Review of Sport Sociology 9 (1974): 59-74; Johnathon J. Brower, "The Racial Basis of the Division of Labor Among Players in the National Football League as a Function of Racial Stereotypes," Paper presented at the Pacific Sociological Association Meetings, Portland, April 13-15, 1972, 1-32.

15. For a detailed examination of Brower's study, see "The Black Side of Football: The Salience of Race," (Ph.D. diss.: University of California, Santa Barbara, 1972); see also idem., "Whitey's Sport," Human Behavior 2 (November 1973): 22-27; idem., "The Quota System: The White Gatekeeper's Regulation of Professional Football's Black Community," Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences 20 (Winter 1974): 50-61.

16. See, for example, Eitzen and Sanborn, "Segregation," 950; Braddock, "Race," 17; D. Stanley Eitzen and Norman R. Yetman, "Immune From Racism?" Civil Rights Digest 9 (Winter 1977): 3-13.

17. Robert Weisbrot, Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement (New York, 1990), 10-11; John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, 5th ed. (New York, 1980), 450-59.

18. Manning Marable, Race, Reform And Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction In Black America, 1945-1982 (Jackson, 1984), 111. Marable also points out that blacks were underrepresented in the officers' ranks and grossly overrepresented among enlisted personnel. For an account on the gains in both federal and management positions and increased job opportunities during periods of labor shortage, see Daniel R. Fusefield and Timothy Bates, "Black Economic Well-Being Since the 1950s," in Floyd W. Hayes, III, ed., A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies (San Diego, CA, 1992), 544-57.

19. For a complete historiography on the civil rights movement, see Steven F. Lawson, "Freedom Now: The Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement," American Historical Review 96 (April 1991): 456-76. See also Wiesbrot, Freedom Bound; Harvard Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality 1954-1980 (New York, 1981); Steven F. Lawson, Running for Freedom: Civil Rights and Black Politics since 1941 (New York, 1991); William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York, 1980); Robert J. Norrell, Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee (New York, 1985); Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York, 1984); Clayborne Carson, Civil Rights Reform and the Black Freedom Struggle," in Charles W. Eagles, ed., The Civil Rights Movement in America (Jackson, 1986), 19-38.

20. Smith, "Civil Rights," 202-03. Robinson incident in August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 (New York, 1973), 89-90, 72-134.

21. Jack E. Davis, "Baseball's Reluctant Challenge: Desegregating Major League Spring Training Sites, 1961-1964," Journal of Sport History 19 (Summer 1992): 144-62.

22. Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 463; Vincent Harding, The Other American Revolution (Los Angeles, 1980), 159.

23. Ross, "Outside," 211-13.

24. Three popular works that investigate the process of expansion include: Bob Curran, The $400,000 Quarterback or: The League That Came In From The Cold (New York, 1965); George Sullivan, Touchdown!: The Picture History of the American Football League (New York, 1967); Joe McGuff, Winning It All: The Chiefs of the AFL (New York, 1970); David Harris, The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL (Toronto, 1986). Marable, Race, 80. For an example of a small white southern town utilizing the tactic of massive resistance, see David R. Colburn, Racial Change and Community Crisis: St. Augustine, Florida, 18771980 (New York, 1985). To date, Charles Martin has examined the impact of massive resistance in both collegiate basketball and football in "Jim Crow in the Gymnasium: The Integration of College Basketball in the American South," International Journal of the History of Sport 10 (April 1993): 68-86; idem., "Racial Change and 'Big-Time' College Football in Georgia: The Age of Segregation, 1892-1957," Georgia Historical Quarterly 80 (Fall 1996): 533-62; idem., "Integrating New Year's Day: The Racial Politics of College Bowl Games in the American South," Journal of Sport History 24 (Fall 1997): 358-77.

25. Ross, "Outside," 201-03.

26. For an account on both the policy of racial moderation regarding the Cotton Bowl game and the process of de, segregation in Dallas, see Martin, "Integrating New Year's Day,", 361 - 65; William Brophy, Active Acceptance - Active Containment: The Dallas Story,' in Elizabeth Jacoway and David Colburn, eds., Southern Businessmen and Desegregation (Baton Rouge, 1982), 137-50. The majority of scholarly investigation on post-World War II expansion has been conducted on major league baseball. See Charles C. Euchner, Playing the Field: Why Sports Teams Move and Cities Fight to Keep Them (Baltimore, 1993); Michael E. Lomax, "The League That Never Was: The Continental League and the Birth of the Expansion Era," unpublished manuscript, 1-34. The predominant investigation of post-war expansion has focused on the Brooklyn Dodgers' move to the West Coast. See Neil Sullivan, The Dodgers Move West (New York, 1987); Lee Lowenfish, "A Tale of Many Cities: The Westward Expansion of Major League Baseball in the 1950s," Journal of the West 17 (July 1978): 71-81; Thomas G. Himes, "Housing Baseball And Creeping Socialism: The Battle of Chavez Ravine, 1949-1959," Journal of Urban History 8 (February 1982): 123-43; Gary S. Henderson, "Los Angeles and the Dodger War," Southern California Quarterly 62 (Fall 1980): 261-89.

27. Martin, "Integrating New Year's Day," 367-74. For an account on the Houston response to the process of desegregation, see F. Kenneth Jensen, "The Houston Sit-In Movement of 1960-61," in Howard Beeth and Cary D. Wintz, eds., Black Dixie: Afro-Texan History and Culture in Houston (College Station, 1992), 192-221.

28. For accounts on the sit-in movements poor record in the Deep South, see for example, Sitkoff, The Struggle, 61-87; Weisbrot, Freedom Bound, 19-44; Harding argues that the explosive struggle for black freedom, ignited by the sit-in movement in the early 1960s, had shaken a nation out of a period of fear, conformity, and reaction. But no one knew where it led. This lack of direction could possibly explain one shortcoming of the sit-in movement in the Deep South. See The Other American Revolution, 157-66. Jack L. Walker points out that disunity was not always destructive. Investigating the Atlanta sit-in of 1960, Walker concluded that the division of labor between black student activists and more cautious adult negotiators brought about a peaceful and substantial resolution. See "The Functions of Disunity: Negro Leadership in a Southern City," in David J. Garrow, ed., Atlanta, Georgia, 1960-1961: Sit-Ins and Student Activism (Brooklyn, NY, 1989), 1729. Meier and Bracey point out that the NAACP had a impeccable record in combating discrimination in places of public accommodation in the 1950s. See "The NAACP," 25-26.

29. Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment, 319. Two books have chronicled the integration of professional basketball, although a detailed investigation is still needed. Yet these works could serve as a good starting point for historical inquiry. See Robert Peterson, Cages To Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years (New York, 1990); Nelson George, Elevating The Game: Black Men and Basketball (New York, 1992).

30. Statistical data drawn from the following sources: Christopher J. Lucas, American Higher Education: A History (New York, 1994), 240-42; Frank Bowles and Frank A. DeCosta, Between Two Worlds: A Profile of Negro Higher Education (New York, 1971), 61-80; Martin D. Jenkins, "Enrollment in Institutions of Higher Education of Negroes," Journal of Negro Education 9 (April 1940): 268-70; Hurley H. Doddy, "The Progress of the Negro in Higher Education," Journal of Negro Education 32 (Fall 1963): 485-92; Marjorie O. Chandler and M.C. Rice, Opening Fall Enrollment in Higher Education, 1967 (Washington, D.C, 1967), 52-134; W.R. Allen, "Black Colleges v. White Colleges," Change 19 (May/June 1987): 28-31. Secondary sources examining the process of desegregation in higher education of southern institutions include: Phineas Indritz, "The Meaning of the School Decisions: The Breakthrough on the Legal Front of Racial Segregation," Journal of Negro Education 23 (Summer 1954): 355-363; Guy B. Johnson, "Desegregation in Southern Higher Education," Higher Education 20 (June 1964): 5-7; Reed Sarratt, The Ordeal of Desegregation (New York, 1966); James H. Meredith, Three Years in Mississippi (Bloomington, 1966). James D. Anderson traces the efforts to hire African American faculty in northern universities in post-World War II America in "Race, Meritocracy, and the American Academy during the Immediate Post-World War II Era," History of Education Quarterly 33 (Summer 1993): 151-75.

31. Rickey's efforts to recruit blacks into Pittsburgh's farm system in Rob Ruck, Sandlot Seasons: Sport in Black Pittsburgh (Urbana, 1987), 186-91. For a detailed discussion, see Arthur Mann, Branch Rickey: American in Action (Boston, 1957).

32. Manning Marable, "Rethinking black liberation: towards a new protest paradigm," Race & Class 38 (April-June 1997): 1-13.
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Author:Lomax, Michael E.
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Date:Sep 22, 1999
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