The month of February is recognized as Black History month. A month where we celebrate impactful African American contributions in science, history, innovation, and much more. Perfect Performance will use this month to recognize “Black History” in football. We will choose historic figures and moments to discuss how it has impacted the game of football today!
For this final week I will highlight other African Americans who have made great contributions and had a historic impact on our game today:
Jim Brown: Jim Brown is one of the greatest football players of all time but his historic significance extends beyond football. Jim Brown was an athlete, activist, actor, and mentor to many future NFL stars. Jim Brown was a very influential person during the civil rights movement. Brown faced discrimination during his career including what most believe him being snubbed of the Heisman trophy because of the color of his skin. Despite these challenges Jim Brown excelled in multiple arenas which has opened doors for many athletes today.
Ernie Davis: Ernie Davis made history becoming the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. Ernie Davis attended Syracuse University following Jim Brown, one of the greatest running backs in history. Ernie Davis’s Heisman is not only impactful because he was the first but due to the time period in which he won. Davis played in the age of Jim Crow and when there was heavy racial tension in the NCAA and the world. Davis faced discrimination in stadiums, lockerrooms, and even award banquets. Ernie Davis would be drafted 1st overall in the NFL draft but would unfortunately be diagnosed with Leukemia and pass away at the young age of 23.
Emlen Tunnell: Tunnell made history becoming the first African American to be inducted into the hall of fame. Tunnell played in an era where not many black players were in the league, was undrafted, and is now recognized as one of the greatest defensive backs of all-time. Emlen Tunnell was the first African American reach football immortality and opened doors for many players we see today .
Art Shell: Art Shell was the first black NFL head coach of the modern era. In our previous blog we discussed that Fritz Pollard was the first African American head coach in the pre-modern era of football. However once the color barrier was set and later broken it wouldn’t be until 1989 that the first black head coach of the modern era would be announced to coach the Raiders. A number of great black head coaches have followed Shell and we are continually in search for more to be granted the same opportunity.
Colin Kapernick: Colin Kapernick is historic because he was willing to put his career on the line to raise awareness for inequality and oppression towards african americans in a peaceful protest. Although his methods were very controversial at the time, his protest brought light to many of the problems that are still relevant today such as police brutality. In the year of 2020, we saw many violent protests towards the wrongful killings of Goerge Floyd, Breeana Taylor, and unfortunately many more. Colin gave athletes an opportunity to realize their platform and speak out against injustice. Today we are seeing more athletes than ever use their voice more than ever to raise awareness.
Cam Newton: Cam was the first black quarterback to unanimously be awarded NFL MVP (Steve McNair was named Co-MVP in 2003).
This is probably a surprising entry for many people. Cam Newton has been in headlines recently for many reasons and today people are questioning if Cam can still be an NFL starter. I believe whether Cam Newton’s career end’s today or 10 years from now his historical significance is solidified and should be recognized. I believe Cam Newton’s biggest impact is helping change the perspective on black quarterbacks in the NFL and opening doors for a lot of quarterbacks today. There have been plenty of black mobile quarterbacks to black in the league but the perception was that those players do not last long and their skill set does not translate to the NFL. He proved all of his doubters wrong and helped open doors for many players after him such as Lamar Jackson, Colin Kapernick, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and many more.
More History to Come:
My challenge to everyone is to not only highlight and learn about black history in the month of February. There are many influential African American players and moments that I did not mention. There are also more people who are continuing to make history. Take the time to research and celebrate the people who have broken barriers to shape the game of football that we all love today. Embrace the moment of time we are in and pay respect to the players who have paved the way for players of all races.