By Tim Lacy, Special to the AFRO
George Taliaferro is a name known and revered by some, and cause for others to utter,”who?”
Whether you knew him, knew of him or didn’t, his legacy should be showcased right alongside Jackie Robinson.
Jackie was the first African-American to tie up his spikes in Major League Baseball, and George was the first to be drafted by an NFL team (Chicago Bears).
In this Nov. 2, 1950, file photo, New York Yanks football player George Taliaferro (20) poses in New York. (AP Photo/Murray Becker)
Some might argue that George didn’t have a career nearly as long as Jackie. But, I submit that Jackie didn’t play in 20 degree weather and didn’t have 250 lb. linebackers stalking him on Sundays with bad intentions.
Although a star athlete, George realized the climate in America was a little shaky for people of color. He attended Indiana University and led the team in punting, passing and rushing in different seasons. In 1945 he led the Big 10 in rushing. “’Atta boy George, we’re proud of you, but remember your place.”
Despite his accomplishments on the gridiron, while at IU he wasn’t allowed to live in the Dorm, swim in the pool or eat in the cafeteria. He could only attend movies on weekends and had to sit in the nosebleed section.
Although drafted by the NFL, he had committed to play for the L.A. Dons of the All American Football League (they lasted about as long as it takes you to shop for groceries). When the AAFL folded, George moved on to the NFL where he played for six seasons.
Being a pro athlete had its perks, but although presidents Roosevelt and Truman made an effort to ease the temperament of segregation in the country, Jim Crow reigned supreme in the South. This was evident by the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955, the same year George retired.
George left football and joined the ranks of Educators, putting in stints at Howard U and Morgan State; later moving back to Indiana U as assistant to the President.
My fondest memories of George come from some of our outings on the golf course. A brief story of one of our rounds paints a picture of George when he delivered a lesson to one of our buddies.
We had a penchant for putting up a little cash when we played, but one of our number had a habit of “innocently” doing things to distract you. On this occasion, the culprit–who shall remain nameless–started walking in the middle of George’s backswing. This distraction caused George to miss hit his shot badly. To let off steam, George dropped another ball and fired it into the woods. The ball hit a hornet’s nest and they came out looking for revenge. Needless to say, they unleashed a world of hurt on said culprit, and as George walked away he muttered, “you all right.”
Well George left us a few days ago. He was 91 years young. I am sure when he passed through the Pearly Gates if he was offered a football or a golf club, he’d picked up a 6 iron.