That Time Black Muslims Interviewed Chicago Bears Legend George Halas: Part 1

The integration of the NFL followed a jagged path, starting with a trickle in the 1920s, coming to a halt in much of the 1930s through mid 1940s and then slowing building in steam again. By 1963 every team had at least one black player. At that point, however, none of them played quarterback.

This was all the more surprising given not only were black quarterbacks excelling in traditionally black colleges, but they had also led major college programs like Michigan State, Minnesota and UCLA to national renown.

The question of why blacks in the early 1960s hadn’t yet gotten regular playing time at quarterback inspired a series of interviews which ran in Muhammad Speaks, then the name of the periodical produced by the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad. To tip off the series, a Muhammad Speaks writer spoke to George Halas, the longtime Chicago Bears founder/coach/owner and “O.G.” among NFL patriarchs.

Below is the first part of the interview, which originally published on January 31, 1963*:

“I don’t care what color a man is. I’m interested in winning games,” the Chicago Bears’ George Halas told Muhammad Speaks last week. Halas, whose 1962 Bears finished third in the National Football League western division with a record of nine wins and five losses, said: “I’ll use any man who can best play the position, regardless of his color.”

Whatever political complexities have entered the field to dilute this position on player use, the aging, active Halas would not say. However, so glaring is the discrimination against Negro quarterbacks and so important is this key position to the psyche and status of Negro players—it remains for galvanized fan pressures and a football “Jackie Robinson”** to break the barrier.

“Sandy Stephens (University of Minnesota’s All-American quarterback) was good, admitted Halas, known as “Papa Bear” throughout the sports world. “There’s no doubt in my mind Stephens could have made it. I would have used him myself if he could have beaten out Bill Wade.” (Wade is the first-string quarterback).

Below are my own notes:

*The Bears were then on the cusp of an 11-1 season in 1963, which would be the last NFL championship team Halas coached. Don’t look for glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most prognosticators have Chicago finishing with a losing record that starts early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.

** Technically, the NFL’s first black quarterback was Fritz Pollard in the 1920s. He played, however, before an unofficial ban against blacks beginning in 1933. Coincidentally, Kenny Washington, a UCLA football teammate of Jackie Robinson himself, was the first black to play in the NFL post-ban. It had taken Washington seven years to break through in 1946 after not being picked in the 1939 draft, “even though Chicago Bears coach George Halas tried to convince NFL coaches to lift the ban on black players for the Bruin star,” according to this ucla.edu press release.

Here’s a teaser for the film made about Washington and three other pioneering Bruin teammates:

Read Part 2 here. Subscribe to be notified of future interesting historical/sports posts.

Tim Tebow: Divine Revelation or Poor Tackling

With each passing week, the question rings louder.

Each time Denver’s second-year quarterback rolls up his sleeves, tightens his cleats and steers his Broncos to yet another improbable win, the clamor builds.

“Is Tim Tebow for real?!”

After six consecutive Denver wins, more people than ever believe the answer is “yes.”

More and more, that belief is expressed through irony. You’ve probably seen the NFL analyst remixes and the celebratory Tebowing in public. If Denver (8-5) beats New England (10-3) on Sunday afternoon, ironic praise will surely pour forth from the masses at historic levels.

And while so many sports fans focus on the Tebow’s outward expressions – the kneeling, the virginity, the gee-whiz vocabulary – Tebow himself seems zeroed in on winning two things – games and souls. For Tebow, achieving the former goal matters only so far as it expands his platform for his main evangelical mission.

After the Broncos beat the Bears on Dec. 12, linebacker Wesley Woodyard told the Denver Post that his quarterback had been giving just about the most reassuring motivational speech possible: “Tebow came to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ because God has spoken has spoken to him.'”

When discussing the Bronos secret to success, Tebow’s pastor was a little more blunt. “God favors Tim for all his hard work,” Wayne Henson told ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly.

It’s seems the question of whether  Tebow can succeed as an NFL  quarterback has been around for ages. The Broncos’ stunning recent success, however, pushes a truly ancient issue to the forefront:  Is there a God who interacts with humans? If so, has that God rewarded Tebow’s faith with football success?

I’m no theologian, but my sports saavy buddy Steve Sullivan graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and has been ordained as Baptist minister. Until the Bears game, Sullivan, who is a self-proclaimed progressive, chalked off much of Tebow’s success to luck. Surely, God’s concerned with more serious stuff than a quarterback’s prayers, he reasoned.

Continue reading Tim Tebow: Divine Revelation or Poor Tackling