- - Monday, September 5, 2022

Historically black colleges and universities have become attractive partners for big-time college football programs to fill out their schedules.

With the heightened interest in HBCU programs — their profiles raised in part by the hiring of former NFL stars like Deion Sanders at Jackson State and Eddie George at Tennessee State — many Power 5 schools have recognized that scheduling a Howard or a Prairie View A&M draws the attention the big programs crave while also, almost always, delivering the resume-padding win the powerhouses need.  

Alabama State will make $590,000 to play UCLA Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Next year, UCLA will pay North Carolina Central $700,000 for a September game, also at the Rose Bowl.

Notre Dame will pay Tennessee State $1 million next season, according to Bloomberg, for what is almost sure to be a blowout.

“The revenue we’ll be generating will be huge,” North Carolina Central University athletic director Louis Perkins told Bloomberg. “I don’t want to say it’s essential for our survival, but it’s very, very important.”

It’s a shame that taking money for beatings on the field is “very very important” for their survival, because at one time, these programs were healthy enough to produce NFL Hall of Famers on a regular basis.

I think if you are going to watch some of the HBCU programs take the field in national games, you should at least know the glorious history of some of these schools — local schools like Howard, Morgan State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, all with remarkable stories of producing NFL great.

A book by Alois Ricky Clemons called “Inbounds — the Evolution of Historical Black College Players in Professional Football” is a valuable resource for sports fans and historians to gain an important perspective of how important these programs have been to the development of professional football in America.

Clemons, a former vice president of public relations and marketing with Major League Baseball and currently a lecturer in the Health Human Performance and Leisure Studies Department at Howard University, traces the roots of black participation in professional football back to Charles Ellis, who played for the Shelby (Ohio) Athletic Club in 1902, and Fritz Pollard (who the Fritz Pollard Alliance is named after), and Paul Robeson (who went on to become a noted actor, singer and civil rights activist).

Clemmons writes about the early days of black players in the NFL, and the ban on black players in the league from 1933 to 1945, a ban led by Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall.

These stories are illustrated in drawings by freelance artist John Dupree from Greenville, North Carolina, a former courtroom artist for WTTG-TV and WJLA-TV here in Washington.

While the HBCUs may profit from these games, it is not without cost. Clemons doesn’t believe these games are good for the schools. “The HBCU players are at serious risk of injury,” he said. “They are outweighed at every position. The games are not competitive and hard to watch. The payouts contribute to the HBCU’s athletic budgets but the impact on the players can be devastating to their well-being and overall health.”

The football histories of these HBCU programs are laid out in detail and their players who have gone on to play in the NFL.

He also writes about the 30 HBCU players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including such players as:

— Mel Blount, a cornerback from Southern University, who went to play for four Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl teams and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Defensive Player in 1975.

— Bob Hayes, wide receiver from Florida A&M University, who would win two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics and gain the nickname of “The World’s Fastest Man” and go on to play 10 seasons in the league.

— Emmitt Thomas, from Bishop College, who played 181 games at cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1966 to 1978 and was a four-time Pro Bowler. He would go on coach for numerous teams, including the Washington Redskins from 1986 to 1994.

— Michael Strahan, from Texas Southern University, who went on to be named to seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro first teams from 1993 to 2007. He has since gone on to become a popular television personality. 

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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