Unsung Sports Pioneers

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In keeping with the theme of “Black History” Month the shortest month of the year to acknowledge the important contributions of the Black Race. Over the next few weeks I will profile some “Unsung Sports Heroes” individuals that many of you may have forgotten or never heard of. Enjoy

Willie Thrower
Ht/Wt: 5-11/182,Team(s): Chicago Bears, Toronto Argonauts (CFL), and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) (Signed as F\A in 1952 by Chicago Bears)
College: Michigan State 

Chicago Bears QB Willie Thrower became the first African-American quarterback to solely play quarterback in an NFL game on October 18, 1953 against the San Francisco 49ers. He played under center and received the snap directly, making him the first African American QB since Pollard in 1923. Thrower a native of New Kensington, Pennsylvania had already been the first African American QB in the Big 10 conference, playing for Michigan State from 1950 to 1952, helping them win the National Championship in 1952. In his historical game, Thrower went 3 for 8 for 27 yards in a 35 to 28 loss. What was unfortunate about the game was George Blanda, who had struggled was reinserted into the game at the 5 yard line to complete a drive Thrower had started. After his debut against the 49ers, Thrower never appeared in another NFL game. Before the next season Thrower, who made the Bears team in 1953 as basically a “walk-on” was cut the following year in 1954. Thrower wanting to play QB and without any other takers in the NFL decided to go to the Canadian Football League, playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and semi pro in Toronto for four years before injuries shortened his career. He retired at age 27. His feat of a black man playing quarterback was considered such an oddity for the time that “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” featured him in a story. Thrower had a good outlook on his brief time at QB in the NFL and told The Valley News Dispatch of Tarentum, Pa., before he passed away in 2002. “I look at it like this: I was like the Jackie Robinson of football. A Black quarterback was unheard of before I hit the pros,”

 Photo and info Courtesy of bqb-site.com  The African American Quaterback Website

 

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Black, White & Brown “That’s how it goes down”

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As I casually strolled across the dingy Boston playing field on a brisk Sunday afternoon the winds began to whip through my jacket and the words watch your step scrolled across my mind as I carefully navigated through the debris that is a part of many urban ball fields , broken glass, geese droppings, etc. Wait a minute is that human feces?  I finally made it to the sideline set up my portable sports chair and got ready to watch an M2Sports flag football game between the Giants and the Eagles. The only reason I was at this game was to watch my son Tony aka “Tadow” along with the rest of his Giant teammates “H8me, Sho Nuff, Killa, Toby, Javafi,Jeebies, El Negro, Phil, Cbert and P.T compete.  

Before the game started the first thing I noticed was how diverse the teams were, there were men of all racial, social, religious and economic backgrounds playing side by side or as opposition.  The formation of the league was the brainchild of Mario Lopez a Latino brother who had the vision to create a format where men can be men have fun, stay in shape and release the stress of daily living at least once a week and have the freedom to unleash their alter ego’s with names like K-Dogg, Speedy, Mr. Puerto Rico etc. It was great to see such a diverse collection of men gathered together.

The game finally began and immediately there was a lot of trash talking, this was my first time attending the games, so the language assault I experienced caught me off guard, I was sure someone was going to take the comments out of context and blows would be thrown, this was definitely not a PG-13 event and don’t get it twisted just because it’s a flag football league, this sports is not for little boys, hits on the sideline are legal and people can and do get cracked, much to the delight of the crowd on run backs or blocking at the line.  Both teams spent a fair amount of time and energy trading verbal air assaults from ethnic put downs to the questioning of “Manhood” for everyone to hear and laugh at on the sidelines.  The contest was intense and went back and forth the Giants scored first then the Eagles and this pattern lasted over two hours, until “Tadow” scored the game winning touchdown. What happened at the conclusion of the game is what really impressed me, I just knew that after all the jarring that took place the end of the game would be the opportunity for someone to over react to something that was said and blow it out of proportion, as I watched the teams walk toward each other at midfield,  the teams simply shook hands, embraced, laughed, shared water and a genuine respect for their brothers after all it was just a game they left their differences on the football field.

At that very moment I pondered the following, why can’t these same men who represent something larger than themselves come together for a common cause away from the playing field and take that same passion and energy back to the community to help tear down the walls that separate us and make a difference?  What is it that keeps our neighborhoods segregated once they exit the playing surface? After the games are over, the blacks will go their way and hang out with the blacks, the Latino’s will hang with the Latino’s and so on for the white males. It’s been said that sports serves as a microcosm of the larger society in many ways, but it’s ironic that the same people who can spend hours together as teammates or engaged in healthy competition go their separate ways and live in different worlds once the games end. Imagine how powerful it would be to see these same men standing side by side leading voter registration drives, mentoring programs, policing the block to make the hood safe, visiting classrooms, and juvenile detention centers. They would be excellent role models in demonstrating to our youth that beneath the obvious differences of color and race we can get along. On the playing fields diversity is what helps a team come together, the successful teams adopt the philosophy of inclusion and appreciation of variety and they figure out how to make those differences work together for a common goal, “winning”.  Yet that same approach is rarely seen in other area’s politics, education, religion and employment to name a few.   

Perhaps one day we will find a way to make society a microcosm of sports, rather than the other way around.