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 SRU History Professor's New Book Details Integration of Professional Football 




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‘Tackling Jim Crow: Racial Segregation in Professional Football’

 SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -- While most sports fans know the story of Jackie Robinson and the integration of Major League Baseball, few know the sequence of events leading to the integration of professional football. Slippery Rock University history professor Dr. Alan Levy is helping to change that with his latest book "Tackling Jim Crow: Racial Segregation in Professional Football."

The 172-page work, published by McFarland and Co., Inc., is available at bookstores and on line. The book offers an in-depth and well-researched study of the segregation and integration of football and of the surrounding culture and politics.

 "Sports and social history are areas of research in which I have always been interested," Levy explains. "My first sports book "Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist," published in 2000, detailed the life and times of pitching legend Rube Waddell. My new book on football takes on the controversial topic of racism in America and its many manifestations in the history of the sport of football."

Levy, a member of the SRU faculty since 1985, conducted most of his research at the Library of Congress. His book includes photographs of some of the early African-American pro-football players, obtained through the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

"Baseball and football were integrated at much the same time. The social impact of baseball's integration was much more profound than football's," Levy explains. "In the 1940s, football did not have nearly the fan interest it has today." The more established sport during the segregation era, baseball had a fully formed set of African-American leagues. Levy's book details how some people tried to develop such organizations in football but were unsuccessful. Still, football had the college level of play which had no counterpart in baseball, and here African-Americans were not always excluded. "This was part of the tragedy," Levy emphasizes, "for many African Americans achieved notoriety in college ball, but they were never given a chance to play in the NFL."

"In the 1940s, the racial barriers began to crumble." Levy details how "World War II presented the obvious point that the nation was fighting to end the evils of racism as carried out by Hitler, and, for at least some Americans, the maintaining of racial segregation at home was too obvious and embarrassing a contradiction. Still, paradoxically, baseball and football maintained segregated teams during the war despite incredible manpower shortages."

Levy shows how the Cleveland Browns of the old All-America Football Conference and the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL initially broke the racial barriers in 1946. Kenny Washington and Woody Strode signed with LA; Marion Motley and Bill Willis were signed by Cleveland. Both Willis and Motley are in the Hall of Fame. Other teams then began to integrate gradually. The Washington Redskins, Levy notes, were the last to integrate in 1962, and then only because of political pressure. The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs were the first to have a 50-50 racial mix. Washington was the worst team in the league while it resisted integration; the '69 Chiefs won the Super Bowl.

Levy's analysis includes a review of the schemes NFL owners used to ban African Americans from the league in the '30s and '40s, and how integration was "slower" at certain positions such as free safety, middle linebacker, center and quarterback. "There has been," he adds, "a glass ceiling for minority coaches, and even more so for minorities in the front offices."

Levy has also written books on American music, including a biography of the composer Edward MacDowell. He is currently finishing a biography of the baseball manager Joe McCarthy.                            


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