Four-time Pro Bowler. Super Bowl Champion. NFL Rookie of the Year. United States Football League Man of the Year. Bay Area Pro Athlete of the Year. Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Hall of Fame. Maryland Athlete Hall of Fame—and the list goes on.
Raymond Chester is widely considered one of the greatest tight ends of his era. From his days with the historic, undefeated Morgan State team of 1968 to playing in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Colts, Chester has always been among the best of the best.
But the football legend has yet to be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite his long list of accolades and impressive statistics comparable to those of the eight tight ends enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
The tight end position has evolved over the years, and the standards that measure a player’s performance have shifted. In the 1970s and 1980s, tight ends were required to be a jack-of-all-trades, performing the grunt work of an offensive lineman while also being a clutch receiver.
“John Mackey set the standard, and Raymond Chester is of that same mold,” said Derrick Ramsey, Chester’s former teammate in Oakland. “He’s a big guy, a very strong guy, but also had the speed of a wide receiver, which was unheard of during the time he first got into football. The guys that were similar to him…they’re already there .”
Ramsey has partnered with Black Sports Legends Foundation founder Ron Bethea and board member Vince Robinson to launch an e-mail voting campaign for the nomination and selection of Raymond Chester into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015. Their goal is to generate at least 250,000 emails to the members of the Senior Selection Committee by June 1, the deadline for the preliminary list of eligible nominees. Because Chester’s football career concluded more than 25 years ago, he is only eligible as a Senior Nominee.
The foundation is working with Morgan State, as well as public schools in Oakland and Baltimore to promote the campaign. In addition to recognizing Chester’s accomplishments, they hope to also raise awareness of African American history and the importance of historically Black colleges and universities.
“The students want to learn about their history and their legacy,” said Robinson. “What happened 40 years ago set the movement that athletes are able to go to college, get a quality education and be successful in life. We’re promoting the value of athletics and how it pertains to education.”
After retiring from professional football, Chester managed his own golf company in Oakland for more than 20 years. Today, he works as a consultant and remains an active member in the Oakland community.
While the personal recognition would be nice, Chester said he is more concerned about the platform the Hall of Fame could provide.
“I think the inspiration that could be developed from my induction would help the smaller schools recruit,” Chester said. “Recruiting is the toughest thing in the world for historical Black colleges now. As much recognition that we can give players who came from historical Black colleges, I think it’s very valuable in assisting those colleges to recruit young athletes, and for people who go to those schools to understand that their opportunity—educationally, professionally, and sports-wise—is just as great as it would be had they attended the larger school.”
After larger state universities opened their doors to African American students, HBCUs have fought an uphill battle to stay relevant in college athletics. While a few Pro Football Hall of Famers such as Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) and Michael Strahan (Texas Southern) have hailed from HBCUs, in recent years the schools have struggled with declining enrollments and drastically reduced state funding.
“I think it’s time that the Hall of Fame selection committee go back and recognize some of the guys who were absolutely the best player in their era,” said Chester. “And no one can dispute that I was one of the top three players at my position in my era. No one can dispute that.”
For more information on how to nominate Raymond Chester for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, visit BlackSportsLegendsFoundation.org.