Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Last Positions To Be Integrated

I was listening to sports radio this afternoon, the John Thompson Show, and they were interviewing Dwight Stephenson from the Super Bowl. Live from Radio Row in Ft. Lauderdale! Stephenson now owns a construction company in the area, and the group talked about local efforts to build some housing in blighted communities, a project Stephenson is active in.

Rich Walker mentions during the introduction, that it was not usual to be a center and be African-American in those years.
I hadn't been aware of that; and John Thompson hadn't been either. After a few minutes he circles back and asks why it was unusual to be an African-American, and play center. Stephenson discusses the "natural leadership" of the position: how it's a position of control, the huddle sets up around you, you lead the offense to the line of scrimmage, you make the blocking calls, etc. He states "Blacks didn't traditionally play that position."

Walker chimes in: "In football in general, it was pretty much an unwritten rule that you wouldn't play quarterback, center, middle linebacker, or free safety. You were never in the middle of it. So those were the last positions to be integrated."

I knew of the historical resistance to letting black players be quarterbacks. I'm not even sure we should call it "historical". Despite the successes of Warren Moon, Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham, and Donovan McNabb (among others), I think young black quarterbacks are still more likely to be shifted to safety when they get to college (or earlier!) than deployed at the QB position.

But I had not been aware that it extended to these other "leadership" positions up the middle of the offense and defense. Fascinating.

Podcast (9:50)
mp3 (4 mb)

Thompson asks his question at about 3:15, and Stephenson answers.
Walker's line about the last positions starts at about 5:05.

During his playing days in the 80s Stephenson was always described by the TV announcers as a great tactician at his position. I was intrigued to hear how he would sound. He comes across as an extremely classy, outgoing and bubbly guy. Energetic. Humble too: asked about his own playing career, he is careful to underscore his good fortune in teammates and coaches. He mentions Sylvester Croom. He also makes the case for Ray Donaldson to go to the Hall of Fame, starting at about 4:35. Donaldson was one of the last Baltimore Colts. Nice shout-out, Dwight.

1 comment:

  1. Dwight was one of the best I ever saw. Maybe the best.



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