Sports Role Model – Playing For Pride … And More

Go Lean Commentary

These blog/commentaries started in March 2014. But this source article was published on November 15, 2013. It never seemed appropriate to reach back and feature this article – until now. This marks the occasion of a Black College Football Game (Classic) being staged in Nassau, Bahamas on September 13, 2014 in the new Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.

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 CU Blog - Playing For Pride - Photo 2

The foregoing article was adapted from the book by Samuel G. Freedman, Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights. (It is available at and at bookstores nationwide).

Title: Playing for Pride
By: Samuel G. Freedman

The yearly gridiron matchup known as the ORANGE BLOSSOM CLASSIC helped to even the playing field for black players, coaches and fans. But it was about so much more than football.

The calendar of Black America includes several specific holidays. Juneteenth, celebrated every June 19, honors the day the Union Army liberated slaves in Texas following the end of the Civil War. Kwanzaa, beginning on Dec. 26, is a seven-day festival of African heritage. On Dec. 31, which is called watch night, churches hold worship services to commemorate the way their forebears had stayed up all night awaiting the issuance of the ­Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

And for a 30-year heyday beginning in the late 1940s, the Orange ­Blossom Classic football game and festival in Miami was the most important annual sporting event and the largest annual gathering of any kind for black Americans. For most of those years, more than 40,000 spectators attended the game in the Orange Bowl stadium, while tens of thousands more thronged to marching-band parades. Black tourists flocked to the hotels, restaurants and clubs of Miami’s Overtown and Liberty City neighborhoods. Pro-football scouts with binoculars, Ray-Bans and stingy-brim hats elbowed their way along the sidelines to scout prospects.

While the Orange Blossom Classic lives only in memory now — it served as the de facto black college championship until 1978 and was still played sporadically until 2004; it was ultimately the unexpected casualty of racial integration in sports and in society — its spirit persists in the dozens of “Classics” played between football teams from ­historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). There are 37 on the schedule this season, and several of the most famous are coming up. Florida A&M University plays Bethune-Cookman University on Nov. 23 (2013) in the Florida Classic in Orlando, Fla., and Grambling State University faces Southern University and A&M College in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 30 (2013) in New Orleans. [2014 games are scheduled for the same corresponding weekends].

Football, though, is only part of a Classic. Marching bands, step shows, networking, gospel concerts and shopping excursions are all parts of the experience. These Classics continue to draw crowds as large as 70,000 for the on-field rivalry and a broader sense of affirmation.

“Historically speaking, there were not always so many opportunities for African-Americans to socialize in public,” says Todd Boyd, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in race and popular culture. “So the opportunities that did exist often took on added significance. Yet over time, the events became part of a larger tradition. I think the games now have a nostalgic feel. So it’s all about tradition and ritual once again.”

As sporting event and communal celebration, the Orange Blossom Classic rose as an answer to invisibility, the kind Ralph Ellison famously rendered in his novel, Invisible Man. In 1937, when Miami opened the Orange Bowl stadium, a public facility built with public funds, it excluded blacks from all but one section of the eastern end zone. No integrated football team was permitted onto the gridiron until the Nebraska Cornhuskers played Duke in the 1955 Orange Bowl. Blacks were barred from participating in any of the pageants and events related to the bowl game, much as they were barred from patronizing the resort hotels in Miami Beach. The black maids and janitors and cooks and bellhops who comprised the ­human infrastructure of those establishments had to obtain identification­ cards from the police. Even the black performers who drew the crowds — Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald — were forbidden from staying in the hotels where they entertained.

During the 1930s, Miami blacks began their own competitor to the Orange Bowl festivities, which they called the Coconut Festival. It had its own beauty queen, its own parade and its own football game, played in Dorsey Park, a segregated square block named for Miami’s first black millionaire. The Coconut Festival game, though, lacked much football pizzazz. That’s where J.R.E. Lee Jr., the son of Florida A&M University’s president, came in.

Even before Lee, black colleges had sought to create their own version of season-ending bowl games. In the 1920s, Lincoln University and Howard University began playing annually in the self-proclaimed Football Classic of the Year, and Tuskegee University met Wilberforce University yearly at Soldier Field in the Midwest Chicago Football Classic. Inspired by these ­examples, Lee conceived a “Black Rose Bowl,” naming it the Orange Blossom Classic. In the first game, in 1933, Florida A&M beat Howard by a score of 9-6 before 2,000 spectators at a blacks-only ballpark in Jacksonville, Fla. For the next 13 years, the contest migrated among the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, becoming an itinerant attraction that gradually built its audience and reputation.

Then, in 1947, Lee linked the game’s fortunes to the Coconut Festival’s and settled it in Miami. Miami had the largest stadium in Florida. Miami also had the greatest concentration of media anywhere in the state. And Miami, as it entered the postwar boom, was beginning to shake off its rigid segregation, largely owing to the influx of Jews from the North, most of them either tacitly or actively supportive of civil rights.

The very first Classic game in Miami made racial history. For the first time, black fans were permitted to sit in the main stands of the Orange Bowl. And when a Florida A&M Rattler receiver named Nathaniel “Traz” Powell caught a 45-yard pass to break a 0-0 tie with Hampton Institute, he became the first black man to score a touchdown on the Orange Bowl’s previously whites-only gridiron. Powell had grown up in Miami as the son of a laundress and a laborer at the city’s incinerator. For years to come, blacks around the state would speak about his touchdown as if he’d been Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her seat.

The civil rights analogy was apt. Black colleges and their football teams operated in a kind of parallel universe during the segregation era. Even as they sent hundreds of players into the pros, the mainstream media rarely covered the schools. The proliferation of sports-focused talk radio and cable TV was decades away. So Jake Gaither, Florida A&M’s legendary coach, set about raising the Orange Blossom Classic to the status of a de facto black championship. Year in and year out, his Rattlers ranked near the top. And because Florida A&M hosted the Orange Blossom Classic, Gaither invited the strongest possible opponent.

As a result, the Orange Blossom Classic far outdrew the University of Miami’s football games and, later, those of the new National Football League (NFL) franchise, the Miami Dolphins. In Black America, it supplanted the Negro League All-Star game as the biggest single event. Florida A&M’s renowned “Marching 100” band pranced in two parades, one through the black neighborhoods and the other downtown, each drawing thousands upon thousands of spectators.

One year, comedian Nipsey Russell joined the Rattlers on their sideline; another time it was Sammy Davis Jr. All week long, the streets of Overtown and LibertyCity were “crowded like the state fair, music pouring out of doorways,” as one participant remembers. At the Zebra Lounge and the Hampton House, in the Harlem Square Club and the Rockland Palace and all along the stretch of Northwest Second Street called the Great Black Way, stars of jazz, soul and rhythm and blues headlined. Women spent a year’s savings on their Orange Blossom dresses, and beauty salons stayed open all night to handle the demand. When the parties ended near daybreak, people went their ways for breakfast before a sunrise snooze.

“The Classic was bigger than the Fourth of July,” says Marvin Dunn, author of the history book Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. “It was a black thing, and it was well done, and it added to the sense of pride. Even if you didn’t go to the game, you’d have all these people massed along the parade route. And the clothes — you had to get a new suit, a new dress for the Classic. There was not a seat to be had in a barber shop.”

No game brought more luster and historical significance than the 1967 matchup between Florida A&M and Grambling. They were the two greatest black college teams with the two greatest black college coaches (Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson, respectively) and the two finest quarterbacks to play at each school (Ken Riley and James Harris, respectively). Robinson very deliberately was developing Harris to break the quarterback color line in the pros, to forever lay to rest the canard that no black man was smart enough to play that most intellectual of positions. As Leon Armbrister, the sports columnist of The Miami Times, the city’s weekly black newspaper, exalted, “The selection of Grambling adds Super Bowl status to the Classic.”

In many ways, the Orange Blossom Classic in 1967 also embodied the recent progress in race relations. The Grambling and Florida A&M teams both stayed in integrated hotels on Miami Beach. The P. Ballantine & Sons Brewing Company sponsored a tape-delayed broadcast of the game on television stations in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York. Buddy Young, the first black executive in the NFL’s front office, provided the on-air commentary. The local publicity for the game was handled by Julian Cole, a transplanted Jew who counted the ritziest Miami Beach hotels among his clients.

The Orange Blossom Classic’s souvenir program featured advertisements from major national companies, including Humble Oil, Prudential Insurance and RC Cola. Coca-Cola sponsored a float carrying the Grambling College queen and her court in the pregame parade. The celebrities in attendance included the first wave of black executives hired by corporations in search of black consumers. Pepsi-Cola, the leader in the field, dispatched its vice president for special markets, Charles Dryden, a bona fide war hero as one of the Tuskegee Airmen. Greyhound sent Joe Black, the former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, who recently had been ­appointed the bus company’s vice president of special markets. F.W. Woolworth, a company trying to repair a reputation damaged by its segregated lunch counters in Southern cities, dispatched Aubrey Lewis, a former Notre Dame football star and FBI agent it recently had hired as an executive recruiter.

The competitive tension built as the game approached. As Grambling ran through its practice session at a junior college, two busloads of Florida A&M players arrived. They jogged around the field, chanting, “It’s so hard to be a Rattler,” before haughtily driving off. Grambling’s Eddie Robinson, incensed, told his team, “The peace dove flies out the window tomorrow!” At a pregame banquet, he had to remind his players not to start jawing at the Florida A&M team, saying, “Take it out on the field.”

On the night of Dec. 2, 1967, before more than 40,000 spectators, Grambling and Florida A&M produced a classic for the Classic. The game went down to the final play, with the Tigers holding off a final drive by the Rattlers to win 28-25. Florida A&M compiled 396 yards of total offense, slightly more than Grambling’s 382. James Harris threw for 174 yards, and Ken Riley nearly matched him, with 110 yards passing and 62 more rushing.

CU Blog - Playing For Pride - Photo 1The scouts certainly noticed. Harris, then a junior, would be drafted by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in January 1969. He went on to become the first black quarterback to regularly start in the NFL, leading the Los Angeles Rams to the conference title game twice in the mid-1970s. Every black quarterback to follow, from Doug Williams and Warren Moon to Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, came through the door that James Harris opened. As for Ken Riley, he was moved to cornerback in the NFL and had an illustrious 15-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals. Even now, 30 years after retiring, he ranks fifth in NFL history in career interceptions.

In the aftermath of the 1967 Orange Blossom Classic, Grambling was able to bring black college football to the nation as a whole. The following September, the Tigers played Morgan State before a sold-out crowd in Yankee Stadium in a fundraising game for the National Urban League, a prominent civil-rights organization. That example inspired the dozens of black-college classics being played today, keeping a precious thread of prideful history unbroken.
SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN is a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a New York Times columnist.

The foregoing article depicts reality for the Black American population for much of the 20th Century. Despite the differences in population, cultural heritage and language, much of the historical experiences were parallel in the Caribbean until majority rule and/or de-colonization came to fruition in these tropical homelands.

This foregoing article therefore relates to more than just sports, but history, culture and civil rights cause-and-effect. The foregoing therefore harmonizes with the book Go Lean…Caribbean which also stresses the need to Transform Sports and Change the Course of Civil Rights but this time for the Caribbean region. The Go Lean book studies the assessment of the 30 Caribbean member-states and posits that the region is in crisis, with the societal engines at the precipice due the an unsustainable rate of human flight. The African-American experience in the US has thusly improved over the last century, the current US President Barack Obama is of African-American descent; the dreaded co-existence (segregation) of Blacks along side Whites is no longer the status quo; their community is more color-blind. This creates strong motivation for Caribbean residents to consider an American migration. In fact 70% of the Caribbean college-educated population, some from American HBCU’s as depicted in the foregoing article, have abandoned their homeland and live abroad, mostly in the US.

The City of Miami, prominently featured in the foregoing article is largely comprised of the Caribbean Diaspora. (In the interest of full disclosure, this Go Lean blogger attended one of the schools prominently featured in this foregoing article, Florida A&M University, and separately lived in Miami for 17 years).

The underlying issue in this consideration is sports and the game of (American) football.  A compelling mission of the Go Lean book is to foster the eco-systems for sports enterprises in the region. The book posits that sports, collegiate sports included, can impact a community’s economics and surely its pride.

An important mission of this Go Lean message is to simply lower the “push and pull” factors that lead many to abandon their Caribbean homeland for American shores. The “pull” factors were miniscule in the mid-20th Century; Caribbean citizens of Black and Brown heritage may not have found the (southern) US so welcoming. But times have changed, and the minority experience in America is different; more enticing and appealing to Caribbean citizens seeking to relocate.

While the Caribbean may not have the sports business eco-system, we do have the underlying assets: athletes. The Caribbean supplies the world, including American colleges (NCAA), with the best-of-the-best in the sports genres of basketball, track-and-field, FIFA-soccer and a few football players (NCAA & NFL). The Go Lean book recognizes and fosters the genius qualifiers of many Caribbean athletes.

The Go Lean goal now is to foster the local eco-system in the homeland so that  those with talent would not have to flee the region to garner successful returns on their athletic investments.

The Go Lean book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU), a technocratic federal government to administer and optimize the economic/security/ governing engines of the region’s 30 member-states. At the outset, the roadmap recognizes our crisis and the value of sports in the roadmap, with these statements in the Declaration of Interdependence (Page 13 & 14):

xix.    Whereas our legacy in recent times is one of societal abandonment, it is imperative that incentives and encouragement be put in place to first dissuade the human flight, and then entice and welcome the return of our Diaspora back to our shores. This repatriation should be effected with the appropriate guards so as not to imperil the lives and securities of the repatriated citizens or the communities they inhabit. The right of repatriation is to be extended to any natural born citizens despite any previous naturalization to foreign sovereignties.

xxvi. Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

xxxi. Whereas sports have been a source of great pride for the Caribbean region, the economic returns from these ventures have not been evenly distributed as in other societies. The Federation must therefore facilitate the eco-systems and vertical industries of sports as a business, recreation, national pastime and even sports tourism – modeling the Olympics.

The Go Lean roadmap calls for the market organizations to better garner the economic benefits of sports. One of the biggest contributions the CU will make is the facilitation of sports venues: arenas and stadia. Sports can be big business! But even when money is not involved, other benefits abound: educational scholarships, fitness/wellness, disciplined activities for the youth, image, and pride. No doubt an intangible yet important benefits is depicted in this Go Lean roadmap, that of less societal abandonment. A mission of the CU is to reduce the brain drain and incentivize repatriation of the Diaspora.

Another area of the Go Lean economic empowerment roadmap that relates to the foregoing article is the strategy is to create a Single (Media) Market to leverage the value of broadcast rights for the region, the resultant consolidated market would cover 30 member-states, 4 languages and 42 million people. The successful execution of this strategy will elevate the art, science and genius of sport enterprises in the region. Now is the time for all of the Caribbean to lean-in to the following community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies detailed in the book Go Lean … Caribbean to re-boot the delivery of the regional solutions to elevate the Caribbean region through sports:

Community Ethos – Deferred Gratification Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Principle – Consequences of Choices Lie in the Future Page 21
Community Ethos – Return on Investments Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Future Page 26
Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius Page 27
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Vision – Make Caribbean The Best Place to Live, Work and Play Page 46
Strategic – Staffing – Sporting Events at Fairgrounds Page 55
Tactical – Fostering a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Sports & Culture Administration Page 81
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Fairgrounds Administration Page 83
Implementation – Steps to Implement Self-Governing Entities (Fairgrounds) Page 105
Implementation – Ways to Deliver Page 109
Planning – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Planning – Ways to Better Manage Caribbean Image Page 133
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Hollywood Page 203
Advocacy – Ways to Impact the Diaspora Page 217
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Sports Page 229

With some measure of success, we should be able to reduce the “push and pull” factors that lead many to abandon the Caribbean region in the first place. We want our athletes to transform their sports and change our society, not some distant land.

Other subjects related to the sports world and it’s impact on society have been blogged in other Go Lean…Caribbean commentaries, as sampled here:

Date Published Blog Subject / Link
August 24 Sports Role Model – The SEC Network for College Sports Broadcasting
June 23 Caribbean Players Impact on the 2014 World Cup
June 22 Caribbean Crisis: More than 70 Percent of Tertiary- Educated Abandon Region
May 27 Sports Revolution for Advocate Jeffrey Webb
March 24 Collegiate Sports in the Caribbean
March 24 10 Things We Want from the US – #10 Sports Professionalism
March 21 Muhammad Ali and Advocate Kevin Connolly – Changing Society

The Caribbean has the capacity to be the best address on the planet, but there are certain missing features, such as intercollegiate athletics… and jobs. Why else would citizens choose to abandon their beloved homeland if not for the greater economic opportunities abroad. The foregoing article reminds us of the evolutionary nature of change, thereby aligning with this Go Lean…Caribbean roadmap. This effort is bigger than college sports; this is about Caribbean life; we must elevate our own society. The CU is the vehicle for this change, detailed here with the following 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

With the Go Lean roadmap, the people and institutions of the Caribbean can easily envision major sporting events like the Orange Blossom Classic of bygone days, having similar impact on society beyond the playing field. Sports can have that effect; we must therefore not ignore its significance and contributions.

The purpose of this roadmap is to make the Caribbean homeland, a better place to live, work and play. Sports falls under the “games people play” category. With the CU oversight on the economy, security and governing engines, our community can take time to play. As the Bible book of Ecclesiastes (Chapter 3 verses 1 – 8 of Young’s Literal Translation) relates, there is a right time, a season for “everything under the sun”:

  1. To everything — a season, and a time to every delight under the heavens:
  2. A time to bring forth, And a time to die. A time to plant, And a time to eradicate the planted.
  3. A time to slay, And a time to heal, A time to break down, And a time to build up.
  4. A time to weep, And a time to laugh. A time to mourn, And a time to skip [about].
  5. A time to cast away stones, And a time to heap up stones. A time to embrace, And a time to be far from embracing.
  6. A time to seek, And a time to destroy. A time to keep,  And a time to cast away.
  7. A time to rend, And a time to sew. A time to be silent, And a time to speak.
  8. A time to love, And a time to hate. A time of war, And a time of peace.

There was a time for the Orange Blossom Classic, for its impact on American society; there was also a time for the Classic to pass on, where it would no longer be required to showcase African-American athletic talent. The same applies for the Caribbean. Now is the time for all the Caribbean to lean-in for this roadmap to transform sports and changed the course of Caribbean society. Now is the season to Go Lean.

Download the free e-Book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

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