The National Football League (NFL) honored Pro Football Hall of Fame players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) before the start of Sunday’s Super Bowl LI battle between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, who won in overtime, 34-28.
Following an almost year-long partnership between the Black College Football Hall of Fame (BCFHOF) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (PFHOF), the NFL “reached out with the great concept of shining a light on the Historically Black Colleges and Universities by introducing those HBCUs Gold Jackets at Super Bowl LI,” PFHOF President and CEO Dave Baker said in a statement.
Of the 303 members of the PFHOF, 29 attended HBCUs. Grambling State University President Rick Gallot said in an interview that the amount of hall of famers that graduated from HBCUs highlights “the importance of HBCUs and how we have played a significant role in producing some of the greatest players to ever put on a helmet and shoulder pads.”
Atlanta Falcons team members who played in Sunday’s Super Bowl, Deji Olatoye (A&T State University) and Eric Weems (Bethune Cookman University), attended HBCUs as well.
Doug Williams, a graduate of Grambling State and MVP of Super Bowl XXII, was the narrator of a video that preceded the ceremony.
“There was a time when we judged football players by the color of their skin, before the content of their character,” Williams said.
“Some [attended HBCUs] by choice, many by necessity … the honor of their deeds opened the nation to racial equality.”
Pro Football Hall of Famers who attended HBCUs
Lem Barney, Jackson State; Elvin Bethea, North Carolina A&T; Mel Blount, Southern University; the late Roosevelt Brown, Morgan State; Willie Brown, Grambling State; the late Buck Buchanan, Grambling State; Harry Carson, South Carolina State; Willie Davis, Grambling State; Richard Dent, Tennessee State; the late Bob Hayes, Florida A&M; Claude Humphrey, Tennessee State; the late Len Ford, Morgan State; Bob Hayes, Florida A&M; Ken Houston, Prairie View A&M; Charlie Joiner, Grambling State; the late Deacon Jones, Mississippi Valley State; Leroy Kelly, Morgan State; Willie Lanier, Morgan State; Larry Little, Bethune Cookman; the late Walter Payton, Jackson State; Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State; Shannon Sharpe, Savannah State; Art Shell, University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Jackie Slater, Jackson State; John Stallworth, Alabama A&M; Michael Strahan, Texas Southern; Emmitt Thomas, Bishop; Aeneas Williams, Southern University; and Rayfield Wright, Fort Valley State.
The BCFHOF is now part of the new Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village in Canton, Ohio, adding to the history and association of HBCUs and their players’ influence on the game.
Many responded to the segment on social media.
Actor LeVar Burton, who had an iconic role in the TV miniseries “Roots,” tweeted:
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) February 5, 2017
Other Twitter users agreed:
— Clark Delon (@clark_delon) February 5, 2017
I truly appreciated the HBCU segment #SuperBowl
— JS (@JetSetHer) February 5, 2017
— David White (@dewjr87) February 5, 2017
HBCUs have produced both athletic talent and academic talent. The institutions make up just 3 percent of colleges and universities in the United States yet produce 27 percent of Black students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, according to U.S. Department of Education (DOE) data.
On the campaign trail and in his first two weeks of office, President Donald Trump has not disclosed, publicly, policy positions on HBCUs. Trump hosted a “listening session” on Wednesday for his African American supporters and administration members, which included questionable Frederick Douglass comments. TheGrio.com reported on Sunday that a group of Republican leaders plan to meet with heads of HBCUs this month to discuss ways to advance the institutions.