The American Football League, which was more
innovative in virtually every way than the conservative NFL, showed
that aspect in recruiting minorities, as well. The AFL began
play in 1960 with Professional Football's first Hispanic-American
quarterback, the Oakland Raiders'
Tom Flores, who was in the league for its entire ten years, and
then went on to coach the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories.
Early on, the American Football League
began recruiting from small colleges, which the NFL had avoided.
Drawing on this source of talent that had been essentially untapped
by the NFL, in the AFL's first year its teams signed such stars as
Elbert Dubenion (Bluffton),
Lionel Taylor (New Mexico Highlands), and
Abner Haynes (North Texas State). For black players,
the AFL's recruitment from small colleges opened a door that the NFL
had cracked only grudgingly. On a per-team basis, the AFL had
a significantly greater number of black players than the NFL, which
had still not fully overcome the exclusion of blacks precipitated by
the entry into the league of openly bigoted Redskins owner
George Preston Marshall. Accordingly, the American
Football League hired many more black college talent scouts,
including the Houston Oilers' Tom Williams and The Kansas City
Chiefs' Lloyd C.A. Wells, pro football's first black full-time
scout, who was credited with signing AFL Hall of Famers
Buck Buchanan as well as a half-dozen other Chiefs who achieved
AFL All-Star status.
inception in 1920, the NFL, (as the "American Professional Football
Association") had several African-American players (a total of
thirteen between 1920 and 1933). However, by 1932
the NFL had only two black players, and by 1934 there were none.
This disappearance of black players from the NFL effectively
coincided with the entry of Marshall,
one of the leading owners in the league. Marshall openly refused to
have black athletes on his Boston Braves/Washington Redskins team,
and reportedly pressured the rest of the league to follow suit.
The NFL did not have another black player until after World War II.
The NFL's Cleveland Rams, in order to
move to Los Angeles before the 1946 season, were forced by their
lease with the L.A. Coliseum to integrate their team. There were no
black players drafted, the Rams simply signed contracts with Woody
Strode and Kenny Washington. In 1946, the Cleveland Browns of a
rival Professional Football league, the
All-America Football Conference, signed two black players:
Marion Motley and Bill Willis. Still, the NFL's Marshall was quoted
as saying "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem
Globetrotters start signing whites." In spite of this open bias,
Marshall was elected to the NFL's
"pro football" hall
of fame in 1963. As part of his "qualifications"
for enshrinement, the hall says: "Marshall was totally involved
in all aspects of his teamís operation and endured his share of
criticism for not integrating his team until being forced
to do so in 1962." I guess "enduring criticism"
for an act of bigotry is a criterion for induction. The Redskins had no black players
until they succumbed to the threat of civil-rights legal action by
the Kennedy administration. Similar to the Rams, they had to
agree to integrate before being allowed to play in their home team's
Even when the NFL did sign black
players, poor treatment was evident. Reportedly, black players
routinely received lower contracts than whites in the NFL, while in
the American Football League there was no such
distinction based on race (Miller
Farr, in the foreword to The "Foolish Club" by Jim Acho,
Gridiron Press, 1997).
Conversely, the American
actively recruited players from small colleges that had been largely
ignored by the NFL, giving those schools' black players the
opportunity to play Professional Football. As a result, for the
years 1960 through 1962, AFL teams averaged 17% more blacks than NFL
teams did. (Reference: Outside the Lines: African Americans and
the Integration of the National Football League. By Charles K. Ross.
New York: New York University Press, 1999,
ISBN 0-8147-7495-4). By 1969, a comparison of the two
league's championship team photos showed the AFL's Chiefs with 23
black players out of 51 players pictured, while the NFL Vikings had
11 blacks, of 42 players in the photo. Chiefs players stated that a
motivating factor in their crushing defeat of the Vikings in the
fourth and last AFL-NFL World Championship game was their
pride in the diversity of their team.
American Football League had the first black placekicker in Professional
Football in the U.S.,
Gene Mingo (no college) of the Denver Broncos; the first black Number
One draft choice in the Chiefs' Buck Buchanan in 1963; the first black
middle linebacker, Willie Lanier in 1967, also with the Chiefs; and the
first black starting quarterbacks of the modern era, Marlin Briscoe
(Nebraska) of the Broncos and James Harris (Grambling) of
the Buffalo Bills.