50 Years Before Colin Kaepernick, There Was 'Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players'

Recently discovered 1966 memo spells out how sports could help advance a more individualistic and more diverse society.



"The NFL happens to be in a position to make great contributions — not only to the Negro cause, which admittedly not every owner might agree to, but to its own competitive and financial situation, which is important to every owner, as well as to the League itself. Little or nothing has ever been done in this realm by professional baseball, basketball, or boxing; football has the opportunity to make a real contribution."

That's quote from a 1966 memo written by Claude "Buddy" Young, a former pro football player who was working for the NFL as director of player relations. Titled "Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players," the memo spelled out a series of policies the league would adopt 20 years later. The document also anticipates the context of ongoing controversy related to former 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 2016 refusal to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.

Writes Paul Lukas at The Undefeated site:

With the civil rights movement leading to increased tensions throughout much of America at the time, the memo warns that "some incident, however slight (a Negro player whose militant stand on the [civil] rights issue being cut by one team, for example, strictly on the basis of his performance on the field) could spark a demonstration, large or small, or picketing by the more fiery extremist groups." It reads like a fortune-teller's vision of the Kaepernick controversy and the recent national anthem protests….

Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, one of the founders of the Players Coalition, which has been working with the league to address social issues and criminal justice reform, saw the parallels between 1966 and the Kaepernick situation.

"It was almost like a premonition," said Jenkins. "He could recognize that these players still have to go back to their communities and be black men in America, and at some point they might feel they needed to take a stand. Honestly, some of the things in the memo are almost verbatim some of the same things we've been talking about. But it's a good feeling to see that what we're doing is not something new, and that we've actually kind of picked up the baton from those who've gotten us this far."

Lukas notes that the memo was written when blacks made up about 25 percent of NFL players; they now account for 70 percent of team rosters. Young called for demographic representation in front offices, coaching, and training positions as well. Young also called for classes for rookies in things such as financial planning. In all, it's a remarkable document that showed how a business entity such as the NFL could treat players as individuals while also creating a system more comfortable with and accepting of racial diversity. As such, it's worth reading today.

The memo can be read below or at The Undefeated and is an incredible document, especially for its time. Young worked for the NFL until his death in a 1983 car accident; his number, 22, was the first retired by the Baltimore Colts franchise.

Related: Matt Welch's excellent 2005 article, "Locker-Room Liberty: Athletes Who Helped Shape Our Times and the Economic Freedom that Enabled Them." It's a look at how basketball's Oscar Robertson, baseball's Dick Allen, and football's Joe Namath insisted on keeping more of the money they were making for sports teams, leading to profound changes that went far beyond sports.

NEXT: Three Years Ago, D.C. Passed Strong Transparency Laws For Asset Forfeiture. Nothing Happened.

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  1. He could recognize that these players still have to go back to their communities and be black men in America

    Or even, in Kap’s case, to the black community!

  2. How does self-selecting into enclaves help create a more individualistic society?

    1. Or bean-counting “in front offices, coaching, and training positions”.

  3. Nick is really reaching on this one.

  4. “…including blacks, who made up about 25 percent of NFL players in 1966 and now account for 70 percent of team rosters, in front offices, coaching, and training positions.”
    Doesn’t this fact show how America is not a super racist nation?

    Either that or the USA has some serious affirmative action going on in sports.

    1. It seems to me that college football teams function as a talent pool for professional teams. When more black men started going to college ( and colleges started recruiting them) professional teams started drafting them. Sports is one area that affirmative action is not needed, because you actually have to beat your opponents.

      1. Plus there are a lot of talented sports people, who happen to be black. Good for them.

      2. The reason why the AFL took only a few years to become better than the NFL was their willingness to use more black players…..It is the reason why the National League rife with guys like Mays, Aaron, Jackie & Frank Robinson, et al. in the early 50’s to mid 70’s blew away the American League….Heck the Boston Red Sox did not have their first black player until 1961, a full 14 years after Jackie!

      3. “Sports is one area that affirmative action is not needed, because you actually have to beat your opponents.”
        And all the other areas, where affirmative action is practiced, are where we have to conduct SJW experiments.
        No one cares how competitive business is or wants the best and brightest in other endeavors?

  5. I don’t know. This certainly has some interest as a historical document, but it actually looks like an exemplar of something that is firmly of its time, with little relevance to present circumstances–as a demonstration of precisely how much things have changed.
    The bit about the militant player demonstration (followed by employment problems for reasons of performance, it should be noted) is just something mentioned briefly in passing as a possible example of why “the role of the Negro in the NFL” is worth some reflection and attention. And, in that NFL and in that world, it certainly was.
    It’s not like the memo in any way centers around the protest scenario. And Kap–the racially ambiguous son of a wealthy white devoutly Christian family in a prosperous, safe community–isn’t remotely relevant to much of anything raised in the memo.

    1. How about you let Kap do Kap and then you do you?

      1. That is bafflingly irrelevant even by your standards, Tony.

        1. Tony being Tony.

      2. That’s been our argument from the beginning.

        Except that we recognize that ‘ Kap do Kap and then you do you’ means that the people ‘who do you’ might not want to associate with Kap anymore after ‘Kap did Kap’.

        Which is a freedom you don’t want people you don’t like to have.

    2. Kap’s good intentions aside, is not relevant to anything going on these days as well!…He & all the other black players screaming about a war on blacks by cops are totally ignorant…..There is a huge police state these days & many times they commit crimes on many Americans , but it is not racially motivated…Plenty of unarmed whites have been killed by cops, some even by black cops & the war is exacerbated by juries that keep letting the bad cops off the hook, even with solid evidence.

      The facts are these:From the 2015 FBI report released last year, it is 18.5 times more likely that a cop will be shot by a black person than a cop will shoot an unarmed black person & most blacks killed by cops would not have been if they had not resisted arrest!

      As for Kap’s playing ability: If he ever learned how to throw the ball with touch, instead of throwing everything on a line & too hard & if he ever learned how to read defenses, he would have a job in the NFL today!

      1. Facts are so un-PC.
        Clearly “libertarians” are just as much about feelz as is your average progressive.
        That’s why I call them cheapskate progressives – they want all the social programs, thy just don’t want to pay for them. That’s for “the rich”.

        1. I remember you! You’re here for just about every ‘cut retirement benies of public parasites’ article. That’s why I call you a public parasite.
          And an idiot besides: “…they want all the social programs, thy just don’t want to pay for them…” That’s a lie.

  6. BTW, comparing Kaepernick’s shenanigans to those who were serious regarding racial equality is a bit insulting to them.
    Kaep was a one-trick pony as an NFL QB, and given that Harbaugh really is a college coach, that was fine; he’d graduate before the other teams caught on (Harbaugh’s no mental giant either).
    Once Kaep got benched, he suddenly found a cause! AFAICT, that ’cause’ is keeping his name in ‘print’, in the hopes that some team is desperate enough to give him some sort of practice-squad contract.
    Looks like that’s not true.

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