Edited By William M. Reynolds
Chapter Twenty-Eight: “We All Came Together on the Football Field”: Unpacking the Blissful Clarity of a Popular Southern Sports Story
“We All Came Together on the Football Field”: Unpacking the Blissful Clarity of a Popular Southern Sports Story
NATALIE ADAMS AND JAMES ADAMS
There are two indisputable facts about the South: We love football and we have a horrific history of race relations. We also love a good story—whether it’s true or not. Unsurprisingly, all three of these converge to create a popular narrative about sports in the South. It goes something like this:
The often-told story about one of the South’s greatest coaches, Coach “Bear” Bryant of the University of Alabama, is illustrative. In 1970 (7 years after Governor George Wallace’s infamous stand at the schoolhouse door, a vain attempt to prevent Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling at the University of Alabama), the all-white UA football team played their opening game against the powerhouse, and integrated, Southern Cal team. Southern Cal beat the Crimson Tide 42–21, with their black running back Sam “the Bam” Cunningham delivering a spectacular performance. After the game, Coach Bryant went to the Southern Cal locker room and asked Cunningham to accompany him to the Tide’s locker room, where he told his players, “This is what a football player looks like.” The next year, the popular story goes, the UA football team was integrated with absolutely no questions, no fanfare, and no protests.1
This story of the power of sports to bring about social change was brought to...
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