Green Bay Packers defensive end Willie Davis, who played in the NFL from 1958-1969 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, passed away 2 years ago on April 15th, 2020, which is Jackie Robinson Day. Davis, who lived to be 85 years old, was the Packers’ First Black Captain in franchise history while playing for Vince Lombardi’s championship teams of the 1960’s. On a day that is honored every year by the MLB and many other organizations, I wanted to take a moment to recognize both of these men.
Jackie Robinson, who was qualified from a talent standpoint to play in the MLB years before he made his debut on April 15th, 1947, endured racial slanders and death threats from teammates, coaches and fans during his time in the league.
“He was not just deprived decency, civil liberties, respect, decorum, he was also deprived years in advance of what he had earned and what he had deserved, and had his rightful place in the sport of Major League baseball, it was delayed”, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN said on First Take Friday morning.
Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and the 1949 MLB MVP Award. He was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1962. He broke the MLB color barrier that had hovered over the league for more than 50 years, all the while absorbing punch after racial punch.
“If you’re African American, you got to be twice as good to accomplish the same thing”, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said in a recent interview. “I was born 2 years after Jackie broke the color barrier and most African Americans at that time were Brooklyn Dodgers fans because of Jackie. Jackie gave us a lot of pride about being black”.
“Whenever I would get mad or get in a fight or whatever, my dad would ask me, what would Jackie have done in that situation? He was very influential in my life as a kid. He was an inspiration to us all, no matter what race you are”.
Known as “Doctor Feel Good” by his Packers teammates because of his sunny disposition and inability to be angry, Willie Davis was the kind of guy who was joyful and kind hearted to everyone. However, that doesn’t mean his life didn’t come without its challenges. A black man living in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the 1960’s was an extreme outlier.
“Willie Davis is the finest combination of leader and player I ever saw…to this day”, former Packers Center Bill Curry said, who is white.
“Willie Davis was a leader in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the blacks, and for the Green Bay Packers on defense. He did the job”, Hall of Fame RB Paul Hornung once said.
“The NFL in the 1960’s was a microcosm of society in general. The Washington Redskins at the time, in 1963, hadn’t been integrated yet as a team, so there was a lot of work to be done”, Joe Horrigan of the Pro Football Hall of Fame said. “Green Bay was one of those cities where great strides were being made”.
Vince Lombardi drafted African Americans in the 1st and 2nd round in a time where that was unheard of. To his credit, Lombardi said that the Packers don’t draft by color but draft by football ability, and the only colors in Green Bay are green and gold. Lombardi was someone who faced prejudice in his own life, when he was once turned down a coaching job for being Italian.
“He did things that no other coach and no other team had managed to do, and he did it believing he was doing the right thing”, Willie Davis said. “I played against white players who called me the n word, white players who spit on me. The more something negative would come at me, the more determined I was to overcome it”.
On Jackie Robinson Day, as well as the 2 year anniversary of Willie Davis’ passing, we honor the courage and leadership of these men and recognize all the black men in sports who have endured unfair hardships in the name of equality and progress.——————
Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a diehard Packers fan. Alex\\\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.