It is hard to imagine a time when it was newsworthy that a number of black athletes were drafted into professional football leagues. The article titled “Pro Football Drafts Many Negro Stars” published by the Cleveland Call and Post on December 29, 1962 shows that black athletes began to be a significant force in professional football in the 1960s.
In 1946, the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, the first black athletes to play for the NFL marking the integration of the National Football League (NFL). However, it was not until the 1960s that both the NFL and the American Football League (AFL) recognized the talent and potential of black college athletes and began drafting black players into the respective leagues. In fact, the article notes “most of the players were so highly regarded that they were picked by clubs in both leagues.”
Among the athletes mentioned in this article is Junious “Buck” Buchanan, a defensive tackle from Grambling State University, a historically black college in Louisiana. Buck Buchanan went on to a successful career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Buchanan is particularly noteworthy because he was the first black athlete selected as the number one draft choice in professional football.
Although the 1960s marked the increase of the integration of black athletes into professional football, both the NFL and AFL struggled with issues related to integration for years to follow. This historical context is often overlooked today when black players largely dominate the NFL and it is now a powerful forum for black players to attempt to effect social change.