UA Alum Publishes History of African Americans in Arkansas Sports

In African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories, alumnus Evin Demirel (BA’05) brings to light a little-known part of Arkansas history.

The journey from his roots in central Arkansas to historian is a bit circular. He went to Central High School in Little Rock, where he said race relations was a common topic discussed in hallways and classrooms. At the U of A, he majored in Classical Studies and taught Latin for a time.

But he got back into doing what he loved most: writing, specifically about public history.

In July, Demirel brought some of his previous essays and features together into African-American Athletes in Arkansas, a 200-page volume he seif-published. Many of the chapters, both previously published and brand new, are about the Razorbacks. “When it comes to sports in Arkansas,” Demirel said, “they are the defining brand, a unifying force for the state.”

He said that on the surface of this unifying force, there seemed to be a total exclusion of African-Americans prior to 1960. “But there were these exceptions to the strict rule of Jim Crow,” he said, “essentially all the time.”

These exceptions, and other important stories about African-
Americans in Arkansas, are often not remembered and little known. “There is a vast disparity in the public records of whites and blacks in Arkansas,” Demirel said.

In his introduction, he says the history of pre-integration African-American communities is vanishing as the people who lived through those times die. To that end, he created heritageofsports.com. One of the site’s purposes is to support an ongoing online project to commemorate people and events relating to sports and race in the South.

He said he wants to inject these “forgotten stories” into the sphere of public history. “I want it to become part of our states history and part of the curriculum at high schools and at the U of A,” he said.

“I don’t see this as the end of something,” he said, “but the start of something.”

The above originally published in the October 2017 issue of Arkansas, an alumni magazine produced by the University of Arkansas.  Delani Bartlette is the author.

Muhammad Ali’s 1969 Visit to Philander Smith College

In 1969, Muhammad Ali visited the historically-black Philander Smith College in downtown Little Rock during a five-day swing through the capital city, Pine Bluff and Fayetteville. Ali’s primary purpose on the trip was to advocate for key tenets of the Nation of Islam’s pro-black philosophy, which included segregation of the races. As I write in my book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories, he said:

“Black and white people do not hate each other, but it is the nature of the two races to oppose each other. When you try to integrate, you have weakened the the races because you have bucked the law of God….”

Ali certainly struck notes far from the conciliatory tone of earlier civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. when he told the Philander Smith students they were not free and “here you don’t own a thing. You don’t even belong here. You have nothing with which to identify. This country only becomes ‘your country’ at draft time.”

The Arkansas Democrat reported large cheers greeted this statement.

Here’s a student newspaper clip of Ali’s visit, courtesy of the Philander Smith College Digital Archive:

Philander Smith

About a month after Ali’s visit, Philander Smith student Robert Edgerson penned an editorial in The Panthernaut pushing back against the idea of racial separation. The column, excerpted below, provides a good historic lens through which we can learn what “Black Power” meant to at least one socially engaged African-American male in late 1960s Little Rock:

Continue reading Muhammad Ali’s 1969 Visit to Philander Smith College

Ludacris to Play an Arkansan in Upcoming Movie about the NBA’s Jackie Robinson

ludacris-2014-billboard-music-awards-performance-650

 An upcoming major motion picture about Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African American to sign an NBA contract and play in an NBA game, will have strong Arkansan roots. Clifton, who grew up near England, Ark. in Coy in the 1920s, starred with the New York Knicks in the 1950s and was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame alongside Nolan Richardson last summer.

 The character of native Arkansan Louis Jordan also features into the plot for “Sweetwater.” Jordan, who grew up in Brinkley, Ark., was one of the towering entertainment figures of the 1930s through early 1950s, a star in the music and film businesses with wide appeal across all races. He briefly attended Arkansas Baptist College before heading north, where he ultimately landed in New York City. There, he fell into the same circles as Clifton and Clifton’s mistress, an aspiring blues singer, according to Martin Guigui, the movie’s writer and director.

  Rap superstar Ludacris will play Jordan. Guigui said last summer he discussed the project with Ludacris, a veteran of multiple movies such as Fast and Furious 6, and the entertainer told him he wanted to be involved any way he could. Guigui decided Jordan’s character was the best fit for Ludacris’ talents. Ludacris will also be involved in the not-yet-made “Sweetwater” soundtrack, which may feature contemporary hip hop music as well as updates to Swing Era classics.

  Actor Wood Harris, perhaps best known for his role as Avon Barksdale in the HBO series The Wire, will play Clifton.

The Pine Bluff Native Whose Protest Rocked the College Football World: Part 2

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Below is the second act of my two-part series on Ivie Moore, an Arkansan sports pioneer who should be remembered.  

It cost all of them.

Eaton didn’t sympathize. Indeed, his reaction was the opposite of what the players hoped for, Hamilton recalled in a wyohistory.org interview:

 “He took us to the bleachers in the Field House and sat us down, and the first word out of his mouth was, ‘Gentlemen, you are no longer on the football team.’ And then he started ranting and raving about taking us away from welfare, taking us off the streets, putting food in our mouths. If we want to do what we want to do, we could [go] to the Grambling [College] and the Bishop [College], which are primarily black schools, historically black schools.

And so he–he just berated us. Tore us down from top to bottom in a racial manner.”

The players emptied their lockers that same day. They requested a future meeting with Eaton along with school administrators, but Eaton didn’t show up. In the ensuing weeks, Laramie became the epicenter of a national civil rights debate involving students’ rights, the power of the athletic department and free expression.

 “As the student and faculty groups sought to challenge the dismissals, the demise of the Black athletes began to garner support around the WAC and around the country.  The success of the football team and program guaranteed national exposure, evidenced by the arrival in Laramie of ABC, CBS, and NBC film crews,” Clifford Bullock wrote in a scholarly article for the University of Wyoming.

“On October 23, 1969, President Carlson and Coach Eaton held a press conference and announced an immediate change in Eaton’s rule regarding protests. This policy change would not affect, however, the Blacks already dismissed.  It was at this press conference that Sports Illustrated reported that President Carlson admitted that at Wyoming, football was more important than civil rights.”

Continue reading The Pine Bluff Native Whose Protest Rocked the College Football World: Part 2

The Pine Bluff Native Whose Protest Rocked the College Football World: Part 1

The story of Arkansan Ivie Moore, center, has largely been forgotten.
The story of Arkansan Ivie Moore, seated mid center, has largely been forgotten.

Ivie Moore will likely never meet Razorback Jonathan Williams. It appears Moore has hit some serious hard times down in the Pine Bluff area. For Williams, four decades younger, life in Fayetteville is ascendant. The All-SEC running back helped power one of the strongest Arkansas season finishes in decades and come August will headline a dark horse contender for the SEC West crown. God willing, he’ll be training for the NFL this time next year.

While the lives of Moore and Williams have little in common these days, they did intersect once. As college football players, both took brief turns in the spotlight as supporting characters in a much larger drama involving social movements sweeping the nation. Williams’ moment happened just a few weeks ago, with a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture captured on national television. Moore’s time came more than 45 years before, as one of the “Black 14” whose legacy is cemented in Laramie, Wyoming…


The late 1960s were a time a massive social upheaval in the United States. The Vietnam War and Beatles were at full blast, and in the span of three months in 1968 political icons Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Young Americans openly rebelled against authoritarian figures for a variety of reasons and sports presented no sanctuary from the winds of change. Basketball, track and football student-athletes participated in protests against racial injustices and Vietnams across the United States.

In October, 1969, one of the sports world’s most significant political protests sent tremors through the University of Wyoming, where Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore was starting at defensive back. Moore, a junior, had transferred from a Kansas community college and was part of a perennial WAC championship program that had in recent years beaten Florida State in the Sun Bowl and barely lost to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. In 1969, Wyoming got out to a 4-0 start, rose to No. 12 in the nation and was primed to pull off the most successful season in school history.

It never happened. Not after Mel Hamilton, one of the school’s 14 black players, learned about an upcoming Black Student Alliance protest in advance of an upcoming home game* against BYU. The year before, in Wyoming’s victory at BYU, some of the black players said the Cougars players taunted them with racial epithets, according to a 2009 Denver Post article. “The Wyoming players had also learned that the Mormon Church, which BYU represents, did not allow African-Americans in the priesthood.” Hamilton, Moore and the other 12 black players wanted to show support for the protest by wearing black armbands.

Their militaristic head coach, Lloyd Eaton, had reminded them of a team rule forbidding factions within the team and participation in protests. The black players met and decided it would be best if as a group they met with their coach to discuss what they felt was a matter of conscience. On October, 18, the day before the BYU game, they dressed in street clothes and walked to his office wearing the black armbands they had been considering for the game.  “We just wanted to discuss this in an intelligent manner,” “Black 14” member Joe Williams recounted in the Laramie Boomerang. “We wanted to play this game no matter what. We hadn’t even decided to ask permission to wear the armbands during the game.”

“It kind of scared me at first because I knew every one of the Black 14 could have played pro. I knew if we stood up it could damage our careers,” Ivie Moore said in Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football. “But I knew that at some point in time you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in.”

“And after thinking about it, I stood up.”

Click here for the second half of this story.

Top 50 (ish) Major College Football Rivalry Trophies: Part 1

More than 60 major college football trophies are out there, just itchin’ to be broken down on a criterion-by-criterion basis and judged. Break out the metaphorical Aveeno. They need itch no more.

Below is a countdown of the Top 48 rivalry trophy game trophies, ranked in a three-part system of these factors: originality, tradition and Sheer Awesomness. See here for more details, but bottom line is that number at the far right is the total score (L-R: scores are for originality, tradition and Sheer Awesomeness)

46.

Governor’s Cup Kentucky-Louisville 1994 1 2 4 7

By far looks the most awesome of the three rivalry series governor’s cups nationwide. But such an unoriginal premise….

(Year in italics marks first year awarded was given)

45.

Victory Cannon Central Michigan-Western Michigan 2011 2 3 2 7

Already was a trophy w/ “victory” in its name out there. And others involving a cannon.

(PS – The scoring above works like this: originality 2 

 + tradition 3

+ Sheer Awesomeness 2 = Total Score of 7 [of maximum of 15] )

44.

Legends Trophy Notre Dame-Stanford 1989 3 2 3 8

Leave the beautiful, symbolic hybrids of Irish crystal and California redwood to the art museums.

43.

Platypus Trophy Oregon-Oregon State 1959 5 2 1 8

Not a game trophy; goes to alumni associations instead.

42.

Apple Cup Washington-Washington State 1962 2 3 3 8

Conceptually, this is just such low-hanging fruit, state of Washington.

And he doesn't mind AT ALL.
Not that he minds AT ALL.

41.

Jefferson-Eppes Florida State-Virginia 1996 2 4 2 8

Elegant, yes. Awesome? No.

40. and 39. (PS: Sorry, I’m an irrational maniac with these tandem groupings. I know.)

Governor’s Cup Georgia-Georgia Tech 1995 2 4 2 8
Governor’s Cup Kansas-Kansas State 1969 2 4 2 8

Sigh. Yet another Governor’s Cup. Someone needs to legislate a limit here.

38.

Bronze Stalk Ball State-Northern Illinois 2008 3 4 1 8

Sorry, but I’m not playing even an ounce harder for the propsect of winning a giant corn and neither should you.

Continue reading Top 50 (ish) Major College Football Rivalry Trophies: Part 1

Worst 15 Trophy Rivalry Games In Major College Football

Behold: the jaw-slackening Non-Glory of the nation's worst major college trophy game.
Behold: the jaw-slackening Non-Glory of the nation’s worst major college trophy game.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press produced a “Best Traveling Rivalry Trophies” list that does scant justice to the ritual. Simply passing a hat between scribes and listing old-ish trophy games, one through ten, ain’t cool, AP. No description? No evaluation? Nary a mention of criteria!?

Smh.

Our nation’s great game deserves better. It deserves more. It deserves a Greg McElroy-in-SEC Network-film-room-bunker-style breakdown of each and every one of the current trophy rivalry games at the major college level along with the involved programs. Rest assured, such an arch-analysis – and master ranking – is coming soon to an SB Nation page near you.

One major aspect of the rivalry game ranking should be coolness of the trophy itself. Along these lines, I have devised a 15-point scoring system to produce a score that is actually a composite of three sub-categories:  “Originality,” “Tradition” and “Sheer Awesomeness.” Each of these sub-categories is worth 0 (worst) to 5 (best) points.

“Originality” represents how unique the trophy and its name are, as well as how unique and relevant its origin story is for the students of the involved programs. Naming a trophy “Governor’s Cup” is not looked kindly on in this department. Tradition represents the extent to which the trophy has meaningful ties to the programs and/or native region, and the significance the trophy holds in the larger context of game-day rivalry rituals between the programs.

The last metric here is “Sheer Awesomeness,” which admittedly can sometimes be in an eye of the beholder type thing. But here it’s simply a blended answer to two very straight-forward questions:

1) You’re Scot warrior William Wallace, of 13th-century kicking-ass  fame. You’ve been parachuted across time into modern America and before you learn what a cell phone is you’re told to fight for Trophy X. Upon first seeing it, how hard does your brave heart start beating?

2) If a group of major college football players were to win a spot on Extreme Makeover: Apartment Edition, how much would they enjoying seeing Trophy X appear in the corner of their TV room, regardless of what college they play for?

Ok, that part was easy.

Now, on to the next step: Add the point totals from all three categories together and you get my final, cumulative trophy score. It’s dubbed “Sweetness of Trophy,” or S.O.T. for short. I’ve highlighted each S.O.T. score in red below.

As of a point of reference, after the names of the programs, the categories from left to right follow as such:


Year Trophy First Awarded;    Originality;    Tradition;    Sheer Awesomeness;   Sweetness of Trophy   


Let’s get on with the rankings. We’re starting at the bottom:

62.

Textile Bowl Clemson-North Carolina State 1981 1 1 0   2

Finding out this rivalry is considered by those who know it exists to be “friendly” is bad. Seeing the actual trophy – possibly the sport’s most anodyne – is worse.

61.

Shillelagh Purdue-Notre Dame 1957 1 2 1      4

Were there an American Gaelic war club trophy club, Notre Dame would be its charter member.

60.

Hardee’s Trophy Clemson-South Carolina 1999* 0 2 2 4

Some reports indicate the Hardee’s era is mercifully over. South Carolina’s sports department tells me it will be around for at least one more Palmetto Bowl.

59.

The Bell Ohio-Marshall 1997 1 2 1 4

How is this not a farcically blatant rip off of nearby Miami(Ohio)-Cincinnati’s Victory Bell?

Continue reading Worst 15 Trophy Rivalry Games In Major College Football

How Jarryd Hayne’s Sprint Time Compares to NFL Stars’

Will Hayne be the Neil Armstrong of Rugby/NFL dual superstardom?
Hayne could be the Neil Armstrong of Rugby/NFL dual superstardom

While the headlines Australian rugby superstar Jarryd Hayne generated last month by announcing a crossover to the NFL have simmered down, the training for his new life in the U.S. has heated up. How efficiently  the 26-year-old can train his body to handle the demands of American football in the coming months will to a large part determine his future success.

In whichever city he ultimately lands, that transition won’t easy. [UPDATE – Hayne signed with the San Francisco 49ers in early March, 2015 after running a 4.53 40 yard dash in December]

Take it from the British rugby player Hayden Smith, who attempted a similar transition.  “American Football is about short bursts of speed and power. The guys are bigger but then they don’t have to have the endurance that rugby players do,” he told The Telegraph in December, 2012 after a season in the NFL. “So, having come back, one of the things I need to work on is getting my conditioning back to where it  needs to be to play rugby again. You spend more time in the gym and then sprint training and body control. It is key to be able to change direction quickly without breaking stride.”

While both sports at their highest levels require unusually high combinations of speed, agility and strength, American football is driven much more by structured set pieces while rugby tends to be a more free-flowing game.  There, positions – and body shapes – have become more specialized. In rugby, meanwhile, body sizes across all positions tend to be more uniform.

It’s been rumored up to six NFL teams have been interested in trying Hayne out, including the Detroit Lions. Detroit running back Reggie Bush firsthand saw Hayne’s rugby ability this summer on a visit to Australia and said he felt Hayne’s extraordinary vision, quickness and powerful frame would help him excel in the NFL were he to choose that path.

After Hayne announced he was indeed going down that path on October 15,  he said he has no doubt about the difficulties the change entails.  “We’ll take it week by week and see where I’m at and whether I’m in that condition to progress for a trial or not,” he told The Guardian. “If we go down that avenue, then so be it. But the overall plan is for 12 months and to do as much training as I can and to prepare and to learn all the routes, learn all the schemes … I just want to get the basics down pat.”

Hayne said he needed to shed 10 kilograms, improve core strength through a rigorous gym program and markedly raise his sprint speed. The challenge is huge, as at the 2014 NFL Draft Combine 20 wide receivers were clocked at less than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In the strength department, 12 participants lifted 102kg (bench press) more than 16 times in a row, with 23 reps the highest.

So how do Hayne’s metrics stack up?

First off, rugby prospects’ speed aren’t measured using the NFL’s standard 40-yard dash. They instead run 100 meter dashes. Hayne has claimed a time of 11.20 seconds, making him Australia’s third-fastest rugby player, according to The Telegraph.

That time does not, however, convert to elite NFL speed. The following graph shows 100 meter times of a few NFL running backs and kick returners who have been measured at that length  (These are the positions for which Hayne is seen as a most likely fit).

Notable 100m Dash Times of NFL Players

Player     Position     100m Dash Time

Jamaal Charles RB     10.18

Trindon Holliday KR     9.98

Devin Hester KR/WR     10.42

Reggie Bush RB     10.42 (High School)

Pre-season workouts: How NFL stars prepare for action

As if simply looking at NFL stars’ bodies wasn’t enough, the above times are clear indicators NFL players are world-class athletes. To maximize their performance, though, they must follow pre-season drills and exercises specifically tailored to their individual body shape, physiology and fitness goals.

Continue reading How Jarryd Hayne’s Sprint Time Compares to NFL Stars’

Will Jermain Taylor Sign His Own Death Warrant After Defeating Sam Soliman?

Tonight, Little Rock native Jermain Taylor took home the middleweight IBF title with a unanimous decision take-down of 40-year-old Sam Soliman. On the surface, that’s great news for one of Arkansas’ most beloved athletes. In reality, it could present an opportunity for the former Olympic gold medalist with tragic consequences.

Because this Soliman win returns some prestige to Taylor’s once-matinee brand, many boxing pundits believe it’s likely HBO will attempt to schedule a fight between the 37-year-old Taylor and undefeated Ganndady Golovkin, who at age 32 has the highest KO ratio (27 of 30 fights) in middleweight championship history. Golovkin, aka “GGG,” has never been knocked down or knocked out in over 375 fights. If the promise of large purse trump the publicly stated intentions of Taylor’s promoter Lou Dibella, it could pose serious health threats to Taylor, who was severely beaten the last time he fought boxers remotely near Golovkin’s caliber. As Jake Emen of ProBoxing-Fans.com writes:

Make no mistake about it, Golovkin vs. Taylor would be an absolute disaster. Jermain Taylor is a fighter who has suffered bleeding on the brain. Caleb Truax knocked him down. Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham all brutally kayoed him. Prior to this fight, he didn’t sniff the top 10 of the Middleweight division. He has no business in the ring against somebody like Gennady Golovkin at this stage of his career, and more importantly, at this stage of his life. If anyone around him had any sense, they’d let this return to championship glory signal the end of Taylor’s career, a heroic curtain call enabling him to rest easy for the remainder of his years — not to mention allow him to sort out his pending legal issues. But no, that won’t happen, will it?

Before this match is actually scheduled, Golovkin must win his Oct. 18 match against Marco Rubio and it’s possible Taylor will fight once more too. Still, the stars seem to be aligning for what could be a catastrophe for Taylor – and the sport of boxing – given the brain damage Taylor suffered in 2009.

In 2011, the Nevada State Athletic Commission approved Taylor’s reapplication to fight after he’d gone through a battery of tests and received clearance from doctors.

Dr. Margaret Goodman, a long-time ringside physician for the NSAC, condemned the decision. “I think it is unconscionable that Jermain [Taylor] was relicensed,” she told Ring Magazine. “It is not about whether his brain has healed or how he looked in the gym. Jermain has shown a predisposition to cerebral hemorrhage, and irrespective of whether or not he bled, he has shown he cannot adequately handle a punch.”

Goodman ultimately said the commission was playing “Russian roulette” with Taylor’s life.

I love miracles and feel-good stories of redemption and all that, but not enough to see what could transpire if this fight happens. I hope Taylor still has enough of his wits about him to say “no” to HBO if and when the time comes.

Arkansan Mike Dunaway, Whom Greg Norman Called World’s Longest Driver, Dies

Mike-Dunaway-Golf-Magazine-Covers
Dunaway was the first professional long driver to   grace the cover of Golf magazine

It was in 1985 that Conway native Mike Dunaway announced himself to the world as not only one its most powerful drivers, but possibly golf’s savviest self promoter. On the cover of Golf, the former UCA linebacker stood atop a mound of money and boasted that he would pay anyone who could drive a golf ball farther than he could, that person could take the entire $10,000 beneath his feet.

“One soul stepped up to the tee, was thrashed, and the magazine bested its previous single-issue sales record,” the  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bobby Ampezzan wrote in 2009. That exposure and success propelled Dunaway, who died Monday at age 59 in Rogers, into becoming a one-man marketing hurricane in the niche sport of long driving, in which the act of hitting as much hell out of a ball as is physically possible with a piece of graphite becomes something like science.

“Long driving back then, you kind of got your name out there from folklore,” Dunaway told Ampezzan. “I mean, I’d do exhibitions, and I would hit the ball farther than anybody. But then if I came back in five or six years, to hear people talk about the distance, it would take two shots to match it — with an air cannon! Folklore and bar talk. But that’s all fishing was until they started those $1 million bass tournaments.”

Over the decades, Dunaway penned numerous instructional articles and appeared in videos touting his technique. In the 1990s, he hosted the TV show “Golfing Arkansas” and appeared at events with 1991 PGA champion and fellow Arkansan John Daly. PGA Tour great Greg Norman said of Dunaway: “This is the longest driver in the world,” according to a 1991 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article.

For Dunaway, the notion “Drive for show, putt for dough” did not apply. For years, he used a pure technique honed at the feet of the sport’s Yoda and a powerful 5-11, 245-pound frame to make a living from whacking living daylight out of pebbled sphere. In the early 1990s, he won a $25,000 distance shootout in Texas and $40,000 from the world’s richest long-drive contest in Japan. His longest drive in competition was a 389-yarder in Utah.

Continue reading Arkansan Mike Dunaway, Whom Greg Norman Called World’s Longest Driver, Dies