#HiddenFigures in Sports

Written by: Shannon Crowner
Date: February 11, 2017

The movie Hidden Figures reminds us that African Americans made significant contributions to history, but are often left out of the story. Each Saturday this month, We’ll be highlighting fascinating pioneers in black history whose stories have gone untold.

Part 2: 5 African American contributions that have influenced sports.

Charles Haley (1964-) 

Football player

Charles Haley is the first player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. Haley was the San Francisco 49ers fourth round draft pick, but developed into one of the NFL’s most talented pass rushers. He won two Super Bowl Championships with the 49ers (Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV)  and three more Super Bowl rings after he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys. Stories of Haley’s “bad and unpredictable temper” dominated the media while he was in the NFL and caused his trade from San Francisco to Dallas. In 2002, Haley was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is now working as an advocate for mental health.

Moses Fleetwood Walker (1856-1924
Baseball

Moses Fleetwood Walker broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier six decades before Jackie Robinson. After Walker graduated from the University of Michigan he signed with the minor league team, the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1883. In the beginning of the 1884 season, the American Association (which would later become the modern-day American League) formed and the Toledo Blue Stockings was one of the first teams added to the franchise. On May 1, 1884, Walker, as starting catcher of the Blue Stockings, officially broke the color barrier of Major League Baseball. When his baseball career ended, Walker used his education to become a successful author, inventor, entrepreneur, and activist.

Issac Burns Murphy (1861-1896)
Jockey

Isaac Burns Murphy won three Kentucky Derbies and is considered one of the greatest jockeys of all time. After his father died as an Union Army solider in the Civil War, Burns and his mother moved to Lexington, KY. After the move, Burns mother worked at a racing stable. Isaac would often accompany his mother to the stables and his “small size” caught the eye of African American trainer, Eli Jordan. Under Jordan’s training, Burns entered his first race at fourteen. He won the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 1884 and also won the American Derby that year. Murphy won the Kentucky Derby again in 1890 and 1891. Calculations record Burns had 539 wins in 1,538 rides, a record still not broken. At the height of his career, Burns was making $15,000 and lived in a mansion in Lexington. Unfortunately, struggles with alcoholism and weight gain ended Burns career.

1966 Texas Western Basketball

Basketball Team

In 1966, the Texas Western Basketball team made history when they became the first team to win the NCAA championship game with five African American players in the starting line up. Matter of factly, before 1966, no major college team had ever started five African Americans in ANY game, better yet a championship. That starting five line up ended the regular season with a 27-1 record and No. 3 ranking. Their successful season led them to the edge of the Mason Dixon line in a championship game against the all white No. 1 ranking team, Kentucky. Texas Western’s 72-65 victory over Kentucky shocked the country and changed the game of college basketball forever.

Eddie Robinson
HBCU Football Coach

Eddie Robinson, the son of a sharecropper and domestic worker, is one of the most winningest coaches in college football. At the age of 22, Robinson was hired as the football coach of historically black Grambling State University and would spend the next 57 seasons there. By 1949, Grambling’s football team was gaining national attention after Paul “Tank” Younger signed with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, thus becoming the first player from an HBCU drafted to the league. Coach Robinson set the NCAA’s benchmark for wins in Division I with 408 victories. He ended his career with an overall record of 408 wins, 165 losses, and 15 ties. Most importantly, Coach Robinson sent over 200 HBCU players to the NFL and 80% his athletes graduated from college.

 “WHATEVER GOALS YOU HAVE, WHETHER YOU PLAY FOOTBALL, OR WHETHER YOU’RE A BUSINESSPERSON OR A SCHOOLTEACHER, THE GOAL IS TO ALWAYS ACHIEVE THE ULTIMATE…I’M A BALLPLAYER AND I WANT TO GET TO THAT BIG PRIZE…AND I’M WILLING TO SACRIFICE FOR IT. THAT’S THE KEY TO EVERYTHING: ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL? WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE?” -Charles Haley