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Integrating the Gridiron

Integrating the Gridiron: Black Civil Rights and American College Football

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 194
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  • Book Info
    Integrating the Gridiron
    Book Description:

    Even the most casual sports fans celebrate the achievements of professional athletes, among them Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Louis. Yet before and after these heroes staked a claim for African Americans in professional sports, dozens of college athletes asserted their own civil rights on the amateur playing field, and continue to do so today.Integrating the Gridiron, the first book devoted to exploring the racial politics of college athletics, examines the history of African Americans on predominantly white college football teams from the nineteenth century through today. Lane Demas compares the acceptance and treatment of black student athletes by presenting compelling stories of those who integrated teams nationwide, and illuminates race relations in a number of regions, including the South, Midwest, West Coast, and Northeast. Focused case studies examine the University of California, Los Angeles in the late 1930s; integrated football in the Midwest and the 1951 Johnny Bright incident; the southern response to black players and the 1955 integration of the Sugar Bowl; and black protest in college football and the 1969 University of Wyoming "Black 14." Each of these issues drew national media attention and transcended the world of sports, revealing how fans-and non-fans-used college football to shape their understanding of the larger civil rights movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4931-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    Floyd Keith, head of an organization called Black Coaches and Administrators (BCA), considers the lack of African American coaches in college football “an outright disgrace.” For twenty years, the BCA has advocated for minorities within the NCAA coaching ranks, reminding fans of some startling figures. As of 2009, only 3.4 percent (that is, 4 of 119) of the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I) schools employ black coaches. BCA has even called on minority candidates to consider pursuing litigation under federal civil rights legislation should the number of black coaches remain so low.¹

    Led by the BCA, along with sportswriters...

  5. 1 Beyond Jackie Robinson: Racial Integration in American College Football and New Directions in Sport History
    (pp. 5-27)

    On 3 December 1898, Harvard’s football team held a banquet to celebrate the end of a dramatic year.¹ Having completed an unbeaten season, the squad enjoyed surprise victories over several Ivy League rivals, including the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. The evening’s featured speaker, Theodore Roosevelt, proved to be a boisterous, energetic orator and a huge football fan. Roosevelt, a Harvard alum and newly elected governor of New York, received a warm ovation from an audience of influential administrators, students, and boosters. Yet the evening’s largest cheer came with the introduction of Assistant Coach William Henry Lewis. While a...

  6. 2 “On the Threshold of Broad and Rich Football Pastures”: Integrated College Football at UCLA, 1938–1941
    (pp. 28-48)

    On the morning of 9 December 1939, the UCLA football team prepared for the most important game of the year. That day’s contest versus crosstown rival USC marked the end of a tumultuous regular season, the pinnacle college football match-up of 1939 , and a game that drew more than 100,000 spectators to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (at that point the largest audience ever to watch a football game). Yet some who felt the excitement, anticipation, and fear did so for very different, more important reasons. Five African American student athletes stood among the sixty UCLA Bruins warming up...

  7. 3 “A Fist That Was Very Much Intentional”: Postwar Football in the Midwest and the 1951 Johnny Bright Scandal
    (pp. 49-71)

    After earning National League MVP honors in 1949, Jackie Robinson sent a letter of congratulations to Harold Robinson, a young athlete of no relation who had just made the football team at Kansas State University. “He didn’t know my address,” recalled the younger Robinson, “so he just sent it to K-State Athletics.”¹ Ten years after almost reaching the Rose Bowl, Jackie Robinson congratulated the young man for becoming the first African American scholarship athlete in the Big Seven Conference. The letter was more than just a thrill for Harold and his family; it also revealed the importance Robinson placed on...

  8. 4 “We Play Anyone”: Deciphering the Racial Politics of Georgia Football and the 1956 Sugar Bowl Controversy
    (pp. 72-101)

    On the night of 2 December 1955, 2,500 hundred students from the Georgia Institute of Technology marched through downtown Atlanta, broke into the Georgia state capitol, and later marched to the Governor’s Mansion, where they congregated on Governor Marvin Griffin’s front lawn. Streaming out of every dorm and fraternity on campus, the crowd carried signs reading “Griffin Sits on His Brains” and “To Hell with Griff.” After burning an effigy of the governor, the students broke through a cordon of police officers surrounding the capitol. By two o’clock in the morning, the mob had overturned trash bins and broken windows...

  9. 5 “Beat the Devil Out of BYU”: Football and Black Power in the Mountain West, 1968–1970
    (pp. 102-133)

    “Athletics were a real nemesis to me,” recalled William Carlson, former president of the University of Wyoming. The accomplished D.V.M. and radiology professor took office on 1 January 1968—the same day the school’s football team went to the Sugar Bowl, and excitement surrounding the achievement surged throughout the state. According to his memoir, Carlson recognized the importance of athletics to the institution he now governed, yet he realized that the athletics department struggled to recruit successful athletes to the quiet university nestled 7,200 feet high in the cozy town of Laramie. Athletic officials “were often dealing with inner city...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 134-142)

    In the forty years since Wyoming students criticized the pressure white society placed on black athletes, college fans have continued to rely on sport to represent their institutions in ways that transcend mere “school spirit.” According to media reports, in 2007 Virginia Tech University turned to football’s “healing power” in the aftermath of one student’s rampage, when he gunned down thirty-two people on campus in the largest mass murder in the nation’s history. Four months later, the press announced that the Hokies opening home game against East Carolina University was “more than the start of a new season” when 66...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 143-168)
    (pp. 169-174)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 175-180)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-181)