Racism In College Football Essay

3457 words - 14 pages

Integration in Ole Miss Football
Today, African American athletes play a strong and predominant role in the football program at the university however, this was not always the case. Less than fifty years ago, the Ole Miss football program was just as segregated as it had been in its early days. As a whole, the Southeastern Conference of the NCAA was the last to instrgarate black athletes with the current white ones (Paul 297, 284). Of the ten teams in the conference at the time, the University of Mississippi was the last to integrate (Paul 287). This integration of the team took place ten years after the University itself was integrated. Not only did the school refuse to integrate until ...view middle of the document...

In addition to its long standing racial traditions keeping the university from integrating football, the integration of the university itself contributed to the delay of integration of the football team. The Ole Miss football program faced a set back in its integration process as a result of its long standing racial mentality and the repercussions of the integration of the university itself however, once the team was integrated, a smooth transition was made.
Of the multitude of reasons that exists why the Ole Miss football program was so delayed in its integration process comes the necessary role the football program played in keeping the university open during the integration of the university itself. As the entire university went into turmoil, the football program stood strong. During the 1962 season, which was played parallel with Meredith’s appearance on campus, the team went undefeated and still is considered one of the greatest teams since. In his essay explaining the parallel between the integration of Ole Miss and the ’62 team, Wright Thompson states, “The 1962 Ole Miss football team fascinated me. That year, perhaps because of the school’s near self-destruction over integration, or perhaps in spite of it, the team managed the most remarkable season seen in Oxford before or since” (1). This strong and winning team, lead by coach Henry Vaught, kept the university running when it looked as though it would implode on itself. Many turned to the idols of the campus, the football players, to keep sanity among the chaos. Chief Burns Tatum, head of security at the time of integration on the Ole Miss campus, turned to Buck Randall, one of the stars of the ’62 team, in an attempt to calm some of the students during the rioting. When half of the state of Mississippi called for the university to close, there was only one overwhelming reason for the university to stay open, the prevailing Rebels football team: if the school closed the football’s teams season would end. Robert Kennedy called coach Henry Vaught himself saying, “Coach Vaught, I want you to do what you can to keep the situation calm” (Thompson 8). Following the days of violence and rioting, “a school and a football team have to pick up the pieces” (Thompson 7). Because the football team was one of the only forces holding the team together, no one dared attempt to integrate it. Integration took such a long time to occur on the football field at Ole Miss because it could have easily torn the university apart.
Henry Vaught proved to be a strong force in the delay of integration of the Ole Miss football program. Even today, Vaught is considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of Ole Miss football. In addition to his leadership skills on the field, Vaught also possessed a strong anti-integration policy for his football team. Not only did Vaught keep African American athletes off his own team, he also refused to play teams who had moved with the times and integrated: “The...

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