As you may or may not know, I’m a huge fan of professional football. Over the past few years, however, I’ve become a big fan of college football. After all, the pros get their big auditions from playing college anyway, right?!
Well, I came across an HBO sports documentary on college football. It’s called Breaking The Huddle: The Integration Of College Football. It’s a documentary showing how segregation affected college football in the Southeastern, Southwest and Atlantic Coastal Conferences and their recruiting (or lack thereof) of black athletes.
The documentary showcased numerous black athletes that were denied the opportunity to play in great football programs in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. The one player that stood out to me was Bubba Smith, the former Baltimore great. A Texas native, Smith wanted to play in his home state, but was denied the opportunity because no schools were ready to integrate their football squads. Instead, he went to Michigan State in order to pursue his football career.
Another intriguing storyline they followed was former Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Wanting to integrate his football team for years, he feared the consequences from his White counterparts if he brought in Black players, so in 1970, he created a plan to bring in an integrated team, the USC Trojans, to play against. The plan was to show the university how Black players were needed in order to be consistent contenders for the national championship. It worked. After USC RB Sam “Bam” Cunningham ran all over Alabaama, the Crimson Tide program finally became one of the last programs to integrate it’s football team.
As a 29 year-old Black female, I cannot say that I can relate to this situation, because I live in a generation that is already integrated. However, after watching this documentary, it was definitely an eye opener for my naive mind. Having known that the National Football League had indeed been integrated by the time these stories took place, I thought that collegiate sports had followed the same moniker in order to be able to succeed on a professional level. Boy was I wrong. The images re-created were heart breaking, upsetting and full of hatred.
I am a huge fan of the Southeastern Conference, or better known to us as the SEC. I always said that if my son became very good at playing football and wanted to pursue it further, the SEC would be a good conference to get an NFL career started. Those programs are absolutely awesome, especially on defense, and any player has a great chance to be pro coming from the SEC. (I’d like to take a quick and lighter side note to add that, I’m a Florida Gators follower. So I’m quite biased of the SEC anyway. Oh and I’ll be rooting for them on Jan. 8th. Now back to our regularly scheduled program).
After watching this program, I did, and still do, have second thoughts regarding the programs and schools in the South. Forty+ years later after everything that has happened, it is totally disheartening to see how unfair people, MY people, were treated. While racism and prejudice has somewhat subsided and, to a degree, been suppressed, I feel strongly that some of those feelings and actions still have a lingering affect on today’s generation. While I’m well aware that this is 2008-09, some things never change. In fact, the old cliche says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”
I recommend any college football, or pro football fan to watch this documentary. To my father and uncle who pursued college football careers during this area, this may be nothing but a painful reminder for them. But to generations like myself, it’s brings a whole new perspective of segregation and the affect it had below the Mason-Dixon line and the Deep South
Side Note: I love sports documentaries. One that are very well produced and directed, have tons of sports history that I never knew of. If you love sports documentaries like I do, I suggest you see the following programs:
Rebels of Oakland: The A’s and the Raiders, the 70’s.
Great HBO documentary about the city of Oakland and how they were treated like stepchildren to the more desired neighboring city of San Francisco. Showing how both the A’s and Raiders put Oakland on the map, there are various story lines that really get your attention. Biggest info I learned?? How the Immaculate Reception should have never been. But because the referees were scared about what would happen to them if they called it an incomplete pass, the call held up.
The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Most recently showed on ESPN, this re-captures the 1958 NFL Championship between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Football Giants (as they were called in those days) in color. I love this story, mainly because my grandfather was a part of history, by going to New York and attending this game. So in a way, I feel a sense of connection to this story. Most of the former players say they never expected this game to change football to what it is today (mainly because of the sloppy plays and turnovers in this game). But the production is great, bringing in old Colts and Giants members to talk with current Giants and Colts members about that special game. Biggest info I learned? They brought in a expert to see if in fact, Frank Gifford did or did not get the controversial 1st down that would’ve allowed the Giants to run the clock out and win the game (he was ruled short during the game). According to the expert, the refs were right. Based on a sophisticated software they used, they confirmed that Gifford did NOT get the 1st down.