What the black students and black football players recently accomplished at Missouri is remarkable. They are to be commended, because they stood up for what they believed, showing their willingness to sacrifice for a cause in which they believed.   Moreover, they brought their “allies” along with them, as their white teammates, their coaches, university faculty and others supported them as well.

 

Fifty years ago, in 1965, another group of black football players, made a similar stand for justice.  They were the black players of the AFL, the old American Football Conference, during the 1965 AFL All-Star Game, which was to be played in New Orleans, La.   Following the 1964 AFL season, 21 black players refused to play the all-star game in New Orleans, after being discriminated against by establishments within the city.  They were refused taxi service repeatedly, denied entrance to restaurants and even had a gun shown to them, as a warning, when they insisted on entering an establishment.  But they would not accept this sort of treatment, and they decided to boycott the game.   Some refer to their action as “The Stand.”

And “stand,” they did.  Black stars of the AFL such as Cookie Gilchrist, Abner Haynes, Ernie Warlick, and others stood up rather than subject themselves to the indignity of racism at a time when their courageous stand clearly put their football careers at risk.   One of them, Abner Haynes, then of the Kansas City Chiefs, and later of the Denver Broncos, said, “It was time for some men to stand up and be counted.”  Another player said this at the time, “You’re asking us to sacrifice our principles and play when the conditions that surround us outside are deplorable. This is an unfair request.”    As a result of their stand, the game was moved to Houston, TX, where there was already an AFL franchise.   This 1965 All-Star Game boycott, initiated by the black players of the AFL, joined by their white peers, was historic, going down as the first time a group of professional players boycotted the host city of a game.  And they—these black men—took this stand to combat racism.

Clearly, this incident mirrors in many aspects the actions of the black Missouri players recently.  In both cases, there were men who decided to possibly sacrifice their futures for something much larger, dignity and self-respect.    The Missouri players could have lost their scholarships or their spots on the team.  Instead, their actions helped to rally others to their cause.  In the case of the 1965 AFL black all-stars, a number of them later saw this act of courage as adversely affecting their careers and in some cases, causing them to be traded or shortening their careers.

The actions of the Missouri players speak to the extraordinary power of sports in American culture. But their actions also speak to a tradition of black activism, one which links them to black athletic activists of the past, such as John Carlos and Tommie Smith of the Mexico Olympics, and the great Muhammad Ali and his courageous stance, and, also to the little known boycott of the City of New Orleans by the black AFL All-Stars of 1965.   For more information on their stand, please see the links:

http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11288098-123/50-years-ago-how-new

http://www.milehighreport.com/2014/5/14/5674204/afl-football-history-has-a-lesson-for-the-nba

 

http://www.buffalobills.com/news/article-1/When-football-makes-history-Bills-lead-the-1965-AFL-All-Star-game-boycott/2a84b3cb-6d92-4f9b-8c38-babfb181ff84