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NFL Players, Coaches from ’70s Talk Racial Prejudice

Two questions were posed in the early 1970s to a handful of professional football players and coaches who were connected in some way to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes:

1. What do you think about racial prejudice?

2. Is there prejudice on your team or former team?

Their responses, recorded on a set of index cards, are among the many primary sources I am working through as I write my doctoral dissertation, one chapter of which examines how evangelical sports ministry organizations interacted with the social revolutions of the 1960s.

I thought readers might be interested in seeing how self-professed Christian football players and coaches 45 years ago responded to questions about racism, so I have posted most of their answers below.

“Racial prejudice is a product of ignorant parents. Children are not born with bias. They are carefully schooled to hate or belittle the minority group person or the different group. I feel there are probably degrees of racial prejudice on my team,” said Bob Vogel, offensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts.

“A man should not be judged because of race, color or creed,” stated Norm Snead, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. “There is always prejudice.”

Jimmy Ward, who played quarterback for both the Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagles in his three-year career, replied, “Racial prejudice could be called a form of dishonesty. The Christian man loves another man because he is another man, not because he’s black or white or red or brown.”

“Racial prejudice and the K.C. Chiefs were definitely in the excellent category,” asserted Jim Lynch, a linebacker for Kansas City. “The Chiefs are blessed with quality people who do not apologize for color nor ignore its existence – but we do realize the problems of our society and work to judge one another on merit alone.”

Baltimore Colts defensive tackle Fred Miller stated, “I think each man should have an equal opportunity to learn and display his talents, no matter what they might be. I have never played on a team where prejudice played any part.”

“I am intolerant to any racial prejudice – there is on our team racial prejudice,” revealed Roger Staubach, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. “We must accept our fellow man as a complete equal both socially and athletically – we cannot talk behind his back because he is black. There is not a real love between blacks and whites on our team but there are not outward troubles.”

“Our team has no racial problems,” said Minnesota Vikings running back Dave Osborn. “Everyone is created equal and should be treated equal.”

Carroll Dale, a wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers, replied, “Prejudice is wrong because it limits one’s potential in human relations and Christian service. Very little prejudice if any is on our team. The men respect each other. There are guys of all races that are lovable and otherwise.”

“Prejudice is a sin of carnal human beings that can only truly be erased through the message of Jesus Christ,” wrote Jack Kemp, a retired San Diego Chargers quarterback who later became a U.S. senator.

“Racial prejudice is present on all teams, really,” said retired Vikings cornerback Dick Westmoreland. “I feel it just a matter of time before things fall into place.”

“I think that there will always be a degree of prejudice,” asserted Houston Oilers quarterback Jacky Lee. “Not necessarily racial prejudice. But you have the Baptists looking down on Catholics, Negroes on Mexicans, Republicans on Democrats. It’s something that can be minimized but never eliminated.”

“No,” replied Don Shinnick, a retired Baltimore Colts linebacker, who was an assistant coach for several teams after retirement in 1969. “I have always thought that sports has done more for prejudice favorably, than the Church.”

Monte Clark, a defensive lineman who retired in 1969 and became a coach, said, “I’m very concerned about this in general, the real problem is not in football or sports. I wish I knew the answer because I’m afraid the destruction is just beginning, as shameful as it is.”

“I do not believe in racial prejudice, however I do recognize an inherent weakness in all of us to want to practice it,” stated Tom Landry, coach of the Dallas Cowboys. “I do not feel that there is racial prejudice problems on our team. Individual backgrounds determine degrees of suppression.”

“It is a problem that we must all work together on to solve,” emphasized Charley Winner, coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. “It is something we have and feelings will not change over night. Much progress has been made and more will be made. It requires an understanding and appreciation for everyone. We, like other teams, have had our racial problems but I feel we have solved them by working together and understanding each others problems. If we can’t learn to play a game together, how can we learn to live together in this world.”

Washington Redskins coach George Allen responded, “Never been a problem because we try to treat everyone as men as all alike.”

These perspectives on the prevalence of prejudice and racism from civil rights era NFL coaches and players is both historically interesting and insightful in light of the ongoing challenges of our society, which continues to be divided by race, religion, politics and other factors.

One is left to wonder what responses might look like in today’s NFL.

One conspicuous detail that stood out as I went through these: Only one African-American, Dick Westmoreland, responded to the questions.

In 1970, African-Americans comprised about 30 percent of NFL rosters, so the apparent dearth of black players connected to the FCA at that time is telling.

The absence of black coaches, however, does not tell us as much about the early-1970s FCA.

In 1989, Art Shell became the first black head coach in the NFL since the 1920s, and racial diversity among NFL coaches continues to be a serious problem.

Paul E. Putz is a doctoral candidate in history at Baylor University, focusing on 20th century U.S. history, especially the intersection of sports and religion. His writings can also be found on his website and Sportianity.com, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @p_emory and @sportianity.

Editor’s note: Putz spoke with EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn recently about the intersection of religion and sports in the U.S. The interview can be viewed here.