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NFL Players and Coaches in the 1970s Talk Racial Prejudice

In the early 1970s (probably 1970 or 1971), a handful of professional football players and coaches connected in some way to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were asked these two questions: "What do you think about racial prejudice? 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 prepare for my next dissertation chapter, which looks at how evangelical sports ministry organizations interacted with the social revolutions of the 1960s.

One conspicuous detail that stood out as I went through these: only one African American 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 is telling. The absence of black coaches, however, does not tell us as much about the 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.

I thought readers might be interested in seeing how self-professed Christian football players and coaches forty-five years ago responded to questions about racism, so I have posted most of their answers below. I am not going to offer much in the way of analysis right now, but if you are at the 2018 meeting of the American Society of Church History, I'll be presenting a paper on the subject of evangelical sports ministries and the 1960s "revolt of the black athlete."

"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."

"A man should not be judged because of race, color, or creed. There is always prejudice."

"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. 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."

"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. 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. Everyone is created equal and should be treated equal."

"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."

Jack Kemp (retired 1969)
"Prejudice is a sin of carnal human beings that can only truly be erased through the message of Jesus Christ."

Dick Westmoreland (retired 1969)
"Racial prejudice is present on all teams, really. I feel it just a matter of time before things fall into place."

Jacky Lee (retired 1969) 
"I think that there will always be a degree of prejudice. 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."

Don Shinnick (retired 1969, became a coach)
"No. I have always thought that sports has done more for prejudice favorably, than the Church."

Monte Clark (retired 1969, became coach)
"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."

Tom Landry (coach)
"I do not believe in racial prejudice, however I do recognize an inherent weakness in all of us to want to practice it. 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. 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."

"Never been a problem because we try to treat everyone as men as all alike."


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